A reflection on Saleem Shahzad -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

A reflection on Saleem Shahzad

Farhat Taj

All kinds of colonial stereotypes were invoked to deceive the world into believing that al Qaeda militants, ‘state guests’ in the words of many tribal leaders, have been hosted by the tribes against the will of the Pakistani state.

Saleem Shahzad, an investigative Pakistani journalist working for Asia Times Online, was brutally murdered in Pakistan. Some weeks before his tragic murder he wrote two articles about Waziristan in Asia Times Online, ‘Taliban and al Qaeda: Friends in Arms’ and ‘Kicking Around in Waziristan’. Some people of Waziristan who had read the articles conveyed to me their reservations about some parts of the two articles. The tribesmen who wish to remain anonymous due to the prevailing insecurity where they live, informed that Shahzad’s articles are part correct and part misleading. They are of the view that probably being a casual visitor to Wana, South Waziristan, Shahzad was unable to discern what was really going on behind the façade of seemingly innocent activities, like the football match he was referring to. They asked me to question Shahzad through my Daily Times column for providing misleading information about their native land. I was in the middle of writing a response to Shahzad’s articles when the news of his tragic murder came in. Out of shock at his assassination, I could not complete the response and thought to wait for an appropriate moment before I critically analysed the two articles.

But two days ago a fellow columnist, Dr Mohammad Taqi, wrote a review of Shahzad’s book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 in this newspaper (‘A thousand and one tales of terror’, Daily Times, June 23, 2011). Dr Taqi also noted that it might not be easy to objectively critique this book in the emotionally and politically charged environment around Shahzad’s assassination, especially the journalists’ demonstrations across Pakistan. Nevertheless, Dr Taqi wrote a fine critique of the book highlighting its strengths and weaknesses.

Today I would like to only refer to the strength of Shahzad’s writings. Two important conclusions come out from Shahzad’s writings: one, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, Punjabi Taliban and the local Waziristan Taliban are deeply allied, and two, al Qaeda has infiltrated Pakistan’s security institutions. Both conclusions are close to the security-related reality in Pakistan.

Both conclusions are the fruits of the policy of strategic depth that promoted religious bigotry at all levels of the state to address the security threats perceived by the Pakistani generals. According to the Peshawar Declaration, a declaration unanimously adopted by over 1,000 tribal leaders and political activists across FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2009: “The strategic depth policy of the Pakistan Army has a complete background. The ideology of nationhood on the basis of religion served its foundation. Cantonments were labelled with the slogans of ‘Jihad fi sabil Allah’ [jihad in the name of Allah]. Big crossings and turnabouts in cities were furnished with tanks, fighter planes and replicas of the Chaghai hills to make a war-like environment. Instead of a welfare state Pakistan was made a security state.”

Our generals have made Pakistan a security state but the tragedy is that the generals are most reluctant to directly confront the regional power they have defined as the enemy of Pakistan: India. They have created private militant groups driven by religious ideology to fight India as well as in Afghanistan. I was thus not surprised when several tribal leaders in FATA told me that the Taliban are irregular units of the Pakistan Army. I kept saying to them that several of the militant groups are now out of the establishment’s hands, but they never agreed. One of them, who suffered injuries in a Taliban suicide attack on a tribal jirga that he was part of, told me this story to metaphorically explain that no militant group is out of the establishment’s hands.

Once there was a pir (holy man) whose abode was daily visited by all humans as well as all kinds of animals. Once a mouse requested the pir to make him a cat for a few days so that could see how it feels to be a cat in terms of the power that a cat has over a mouse. The pir lifted his stick in the air and the mouse was turned into a cat the next moment, who promised to come back to the pir after some days. When it returned, the mouse, now a cat, pleaded with the pir to make him a dog, a more powerful creature than a cat for a few days. The plea was granted and the ‘dog’ promised to come back in a few days. When it came back again, it requested the pir to make him a lion to enjoy the power wielded by this beast for some days. The request was again granted, but the next moment the ‘lion’ attacked the pir, who immediately lifted his stick in the air and the ‘lion’ was turned back into a mouse again. “So this is what happens to the militant who slips out of control of the establishment – he becomes a worthless mouse again,” said the tribal leader.

The state-nurtured bigotry over the decades has created an extremist mindset across all sections of the population in Pakistan. The military that is drawn from the same population cannot remain immune to extremism. ShahzadÂ’s finding that al Qaeda has infiltrated the Pakistani security forces aligned with the ground reality that has come into being as a result of the jihad policy in pursuit of foreign policy objectives. ‘Jihad fi sabil Allah’ is the slogan of the Pakistan Army, the Taliban as well as al Qaeda. For Pakistani extremists, whether in uniform or civvies, links with al Qaeda provide ideological legitimacy, vigour as well as financial resources to the former’s religious causes. How does one separate the two or could they even be separated? Did the security establishment ever intend the separation? Why were the foreign militants even allowed on Pakistani soil some decades back? Why were they not sent back to their countries of origin after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan or brought under the ambit of Pakistani law? Why was the false propaganda circulated around the world that the foreign militants have married women in the tribal areas of Pakistan and cannot be sent back because they are now ‘sons-in-law’? All kinds of colonial stereotypes were invoked to deceive the world into believing that al Qaeda militants, ‘state guests’ in the words of many tribal leaders, have been hosted by the tribes against the will of the Pakistani state. The tribal culture has been humiliated all over the world as a culture of violent jihad and yet key al Qaeda terrorists continue to emerge one after the other from the big urban centres of Pakistan.

From FATA to Karachi the whole country has become the home of al Qaeda. As long as the generals’ fascination with jihad in terms of abuse of the Islamic notion of jihad continues, Pakistan will continue to be a jihadi state, where the likes of former jihadi General (retd) Hamid Gul will roam around safely and those who dare to expose the jihadi connections of the generals with hard facts, be it journalists like Saleem Shahzad or tribal leaders in FATA, will continued to be silenced with brute force.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban
Source: Daily Times