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Where we stand on Malala

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  • Where we stand on Malala

    The discourse on the Taliban and militancy has become so charged with emotion that it is important to make a couple of clarifications before taking part in any discussion. Not everyone who opposes military action against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a closet Taliban supporter and not everyone who is against US drone strikes nurses sympathy for violent extremists. With that distinction made, it is necessary to explore why some political actors and their supporters tend to nurse a soft spot for the Taliban. The most obvious example here would be the leader of a political party, who makes it a point to say that a countrywide tsunami will bring in change, and who has expended most of his energy on vociferously attacking the US and its drone attacks while issuing only perfunctory condemnations of the Taliban.
    The reticence to criticise the Taliban and its supporters could also be spurred by fear rather than support. In a recent interview, Imran Khan claimed that he didnít want his supporters to be killed and so didnít speak out against the Taliban as much. After the murder of Salmaan Taseer, almost all politicians maintained the same undignified silence while ANP leader Asfandyar Wali went into hiding when his life was threatened. Only a few exceptions, like the current Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who lost his son in a Taliban attack, have been boldly and forthrightly open in their condemnation of the militants.
    In the case of Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who was targeted by the Taliban, all political parties have been able to express anger and sorrow, although the perpetrators of the attacks are often unnamed. Still, the reaction represents progress of some sort. For the most part, the media, too, has given the horrific incident the coverage it deserves, so much so that the Taliban has issued howls of protest about media bias. The Taliban would prefer that Malalaís shooting be covered in a less biased manner, as if journalists need to be even more objective than usual when reporting on a 15-year-old girl who was shot and wounded by terrorists. And, of course, the Talibanís method of media criticism is to threaten with violence those who donít heed their advice.
    Before we pat ourselves on the back too much for paying attention to the plight of Malala, we should know that there are many in our midst who may well be, by their silence, inaction or sympathy for the militants, be actually supporting the attempted murder of a schoolgirl. First, there are those who simply claim that no Muslim would carry out such an act. Then there are those conspiracy theorists who blame the omnipresent CIA-RAW-Mossad combine for all acts that are actually carried out by the Taliban. The worst of the lot are those who do not equivocate at all. They simply declare that Malala was working with the US, using a picture of her with Richard Holbrooke as proof, and for that she deserves to die. The three categories may differ in their level of hate and delusion but make no mistake: all of them support the Taliban in one form or the other and none of them really cares at all about Malala.
    The problem for the country is that those who hold such retrograde views may be in a minority but their patrons are armed to the teeth and show no restraint in their use of violence. The majority has been silenced simply out of fear. Browbeaten into submission, there is very little the anti-Taliban majority of the population can do to fight back. The political parties that represent them are far too cowardly to take a brave stand and seem far too divided to come together to fight this common threat. The military seems to be passing the buck (of taking on the militants) to the civilians. How to respond to the attack on Malala will now be a litmus test for every political actor in the country. Either they use the attempt on her life to finally join together in opposing the Taliban or we as a country will have to accept that militancy cannot be defeated in our lifetimes.
    Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, *2012.