Monday, April 27, 2009

Taliban seen as saviors by many

It has always puzzled a large number of people as to why the Taliban seem to be generating a lot of support in the Pakistani countryside. After all, a group that believes in a harsh interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence and acts to implement their beliefs should not be succeeding at this rate. Even in a society where women are not supposed to have equal rights, are not supposed to show their faces (or their bodies) to strangers, or come out in the open, the customs imposed by the Taliban are draconian. Women cannot come out of their homes unless escorted by a male relative (even if it is an emergency), cannot study in schools, and numerous other such practices are enforced by the Taliban in the area that they control. However, even men are not left untouched - music is deemed un-Islamic unless it is music in praise of Allah, men are forbidden to shave and should have turbans, no watching movies, be sure to follow the calls to prayer during the day, and so on. Recently, they killed both the man and woman who had eloped and whose families had reported them.
So, a bit of research, and one started reading a lot more about the society where the Taliban thrive. The rural areas of Pakistan are societies that are extremely backward; there is little economic development, feudalism and the power of the moneyed and the landlords is immense, the instruments of the state (bureaucracy, police, judicial, etc) are not of much help to the common man and corruption is immense. In such areas, the promise of bringing in Islamic law (sharia) that does not distinguish between the rich and the poor can attract a huge number of people, can make them converts. As a bonus, the people who make up the Taliban are people who resemble the poor rural folks a lot; they are less educated, poor; the difference is, they are part of a movement that can look the moneylender / police man / feudal lord in the eye and not have to back down. Here is an article that explains the Robin Hood type of image (link to article):

In radio broadcasts and sermons, Taliban militants have been promoting themselves as Islamic Robin Hoods, defending Pakistan's rural poor from a ruling elite that they describe as corrupt and oppressive. That message has been resonating throughout the Pakistani countryside, where the culture is deeply conservative and the people are desperately poor. "Justice [in Pakistan] is only for people who have money," Daoud said, while slicing through handfuls of grass with a small scythe. "We are illiterate," he added, "but we are hoping that with Islamic sharia law, our lives will get better."
Enforcement of sharia law is the platform the Taliban have been using to justify recent land-grabs, such as last week's armed occupation of the district of Buner, some 60 miles from the Pakistani capital. Militants have slowly taken over territory in northwestern Pakistan by first targeting unpopular landlords and bureaucrats, according to Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog. "Its systematic. The Taliban move into an area, they use local existing resentments. They often go in with the guise of being Robin Hoods," said Amnesty International representative Sam Zarifi. "They scare away some local thieves, they impose very, very quick justice, very harsh justice, and initially in some places they are even welcomed."

And how are the Taliban fought ? Attempts to reform society to make it more even and less corrupt do not go anywhere (or are not even made); the military has fought the Taliban in parts, but the battle is a battle in which innocents are affected and make them resentment of the efforts of the military; the presence of the US drones that make frequent bombing runs of villages in order to eliminate terrorists are seen as invasions of Pakistani sovereignty, and killing of innocents only serves to inflame the population even more.
What can be done ? The effort has to be bring down the Robin Hood image of the Taliban by reducing corruption levels, by making more development in these regions, and at the same time, confronting them militarily. One wonders whether Pakistan can do all this ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 2:35 AM