To Defeat The Taliban,
Pakistani Feudalism Must die
By Gul Jammas Hussain
12 May, 2009
After dithering for many years, it seems that the Pakistan military has finally decided to deal with the Taliban Frankenstein.
The world was wondering what Pakistan was doing, until it launched a full-scale military offensive last week to halt the Pakistani Taliban, which had taken control of districts only 100 kilometers from the capital.
Pakistanis were glued to their TVs, shocked to see troops of the group known as the neo-Taliban advance unhindered toward Islamabad, set on recreating the Stone Age state their namesakes had established in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Many Westerners were also horrified, especially in the United States, whose officials tried to create the impression that if the Taliban, who are mostly semiliterate villagers from underdeveloped, long-neglected areas of Pakistan, could only break the complex codes of the country’s nuclear arsenal, doomsday was around the corner.
The militancy Frankenstein in the region was initially coauthored in the 1980s by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and funded by U.S. dollars and Saudi riyals in order to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but it did not vanish with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. It survived on its own with a little help from Pakistan, which feels it cannot abandon its eternal quest for “strategic depth” in its western neighbor in case of an Indian attack from the east.
On Saturday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called the military offensive against the Taliban a “war for the country’s survival.”
But is it really so? Well, in some ways it is. Over the years, Pakistan has let the situation fester, allowing extremist and terrorist groups to sprout like mushrooms. The country’s chronic socioeconomic problems have left the downtrodden masses three choices: flee the country for greener pastures in foreign countries, become criminals at home, or join militant organizations that promise a better life, at least in the hereafter. When people don’t have the opportunity to live with honor, many choose to at least die with honor.
However, Pakistan’s military offensive against the Taliban will only solve the problem temporarily.
First, Pakistan has to free itself from the fatal U.S. embrace that has damaged the country greatly. For instance, the U.S. has given Pakistan $11 billion in assistance since September 2001, but the U.S. “war on terror” has cost Pakistan $35 billion, according to Prime Minister Gilani’s advisor on finance, Shaukat Tareen.
Moreover, Pakistan’s unholy alliance with the U.S. has radicalized its citizens and exacerbated the terrorism and militancy problems in the country once known for its tolerant peace-loving society.
Since the Obama administration currently appears reluctant to ditch George W. Bush’s wrongheaded policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan should distance itself from the U.S., which may be planning a very long stay in Afghanistan. But Pakistan must also put its own house in order.
Second, Pakistan has to uplift its underprivileged areas, which are the main breeding grounds for the militancy. Unemployment, poverty, lack of quality schools, massive corruption, a low standard of living, and the millennia of debilitating feudalism have accelerated the Talibanization of the country. One reason why so many people have joined various Taliban groups in the Swat Valley -- an area that is home to 1.3 million people with fertile land, orchards, vast plots of timber, and lucrative emerald mines -- is that the Taliban have successfully exploited the profound differences between wealthy landlords and their landless tenants. The Taliban seized power from about 50 big landlords who ruled the Swat Valley and then organized the long-suffering peasants into armed bands. The entire landowning clique fled the Valley, and the Taliban offered the economic spoils to the landless peasants of Swat Valley.
Now is the time to end the feudal landlords’ domination of Pakistan, which has put workers and peasants in a subservient position and kept the middle class out of the highest circles of power.
Feudalism and the Taliban are Pakistan’s evil twins. Pakistan has to finally eradicate feudalism to end extremism and enter the modern world.
Pakistan must introduce land reforms, build a more vibrant middle class, reduce poverty, improve the education system, build roads, implement infrastructure projects, and establish industry in order to give people more opportunities for a better life. Otherwise, feudalism and intelligence agencies will only create more Frankenstein monsters in the future, long after the Taliban forces are gone.
The writer is a Tehran Times journalist based in Tehran.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.