Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Terror in India about the Taliban

New Delhi has reacted with unusual alarm about Asif Ali Zardari's peace deal with the Taliban. In Pakistan's Malakand area, three million people will be subject to the will of the Islamic movement under the leadership of Soofi Mohammad. To India this is supping with the devil. Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee today insisted the Taliban was nothing short of a "terrorist organisation." "Taliban believes in nothing but destruction and violence. In my assessment, Taliban is a danger to humanity and civilisation."

To make sure the message gets out there's been a blizzard of opinion. Here's the editorial in the Indian Express:

The deal struck in the valley is dangerous in its implications. It has virtually made the entire area over to the Taliban, where their hitherto illegal writ in the garb of Islamic Sharia laws is now being accepted as a fait accompli. Under the deal, those forced to seek justice from Sharia courts will now have no right of appeal in a higher civil court. How could you have two parallel justice systems running in the same country? And knowing justice, Taliban style, leaves one with cold feet. The intolerant and brutal tribal warlords know no mercy, and have no regard for human life and dignity. Summary executions of men and women who do not subscribe to their brand of Islam are the only justice they practise.

And equally trenchant view from the Business Standard

The question is who is controlling whom—are the Pak generals controlling the Taliban, or is the latter an independent Frankenstein that is beginning to gain the upper hand? After Swat, there is the very real possibility that it could be the latter, raising the prospect of a virtual obliteration of the Durand Line and the de facto formation of some kind of Pakhtoonistan. Those painting worst-case scenarios should do serious work on how the world will deal with the possibility of the Islamist elements getting control of nuclear weapons. It is no longer as remote a possibility as it might have seemed till the other day.

Unfortunately no one - not the US, EU, China, Russia or India - can do much to contain the crisis. Outsiders have no purchase on the Taliban, who bow to a different God. Is the Taliban a real threat to Pakistan? I am not so sure. The danger is that state institutions, essentially products of western thinking, are being infiltrated by the wider Islamist movement and their sympathisers. A dangerous tipping point comes when too many bits of the Pakistani state are ready to do deals with Islamists.

The Pakistani army is probably the country's key player. It has spent decades building up one group before knocking it down. It has armed militant outfits, such as the Lashkar and Jaish in the Punjab. It has come to the aid of political goons in Sindh. It is now securing a deal with the Taliban. The Rawalpindi command's aim is that no one group gets strong enough to challenge the military's hold over the state. It sets paramilitary organisations against each other while fuelling whatever particular prejudice - be it anti-Shia or anti-Pashtoon or anti-Indian feelings - drives the violence.

No doubt the army will attempt to snuff out a true threat to itself - witness the decapitation of the Baloch separatists. The question is whether the Islamists can put aside their differences and pull together to present a potent unified front. That would be trouble for everybody.

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