Surprisingly despite basic contradictions in the shift in American policy in Afghanistan to facilitate absorption in government, a fundamentalist and extremist group the Taliban with that of American values of freedom, liberty and human dignity, there is hardly any debate in the United States over the issue.
Has the desire to pull out of Afghanistan so overwhelmed not just the American government and the military but also America’s free society and its liberal thinker’s remains to be seen? But a look at why the America which the World knows of and respects must oppose any truck with fundamentalists as the Taliban needs serious consideration.
Apparently there is lack of understanding of who exactly are the Taliban. They are the ones who have suppressed the rights of women and minorities when in power from 1996 to 2001, regularly burn schools in the country side and plant bombs on streets and also brought down the Bamiyan Buddhas, a sign of Afghanistan’s multi cultural legacy. Whether it is the so called, “good” or the, “bad” Taliban their ideology of fundamentalism epitomized in the Deobandi philosophy remains the same.
Moreover the only difference between the Taliban and the Al Qaeda is the different strains in extremism that they espouse, the Deobandi and the Salafi respectively. Thus shedding the Al Qaeda will not lead the Taliban to drop their philosophy of Caliphate through force of arms they will only gain their objective without firing a shot, for the fate of President Karzai after absorbing some of the Taliban in government should be a cause of worry for his supporters.
Even the military formulation of a so called “victory” by July 2011 and then commence a gradual pull out having stabilized the country is challenged by this premise. Will the so called moderate Taliban who will owe their allegiance to the Afghan Constitution continue to do so without having discarded their ideology of extremism is a million dollar question?
More over victory in a counter militancy campaign is not defined by the capture of territory as the campaign in Marjah or the Pakistani Army’s military, “victories” in Swat or South Waziristan seemed to denote. For after being under pressure on the militancy front in Marjah, the Taliban has shifted to terror attacks in the country which are possibly also being coordinated with the Pakistani Taliban.
These attacks have multiple purposes, firstly to indicate to the International Security Assistance Force that their claims of gaining ground in Marjah and other areas do not hold water while on the other side it indicates to the people that till the foreign troops are in the country such attacks will continue. The Right wing elements in fact blame these attacks on the presence of foreign troops rather than spread of fundamentalism and extremism in the country, thereby diverting the attention of the people from reality. Thus the challenge of terrorism will continue to grow even though more and more space will come under NATO control.
Witness what is happening in Pakistan and the things will be clearer. The attacks in Lahore which consumed 57 lives and recommencement of suicide attacks in the tribal areas are certainly causing a concern to the Pakistan government as well as the international agencies. There is a reason for worry particularly with the extension of the Taliban framework in Punjab which is far removed form the tribal areas and considered safe from the dregs of fundamentalism, though Southern Punjab is seen to be vulnerable given the linkages of the terrorists with the sectarian groups as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Thus the linkages between the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan and the Punjab based Islamic hard line and sectarian groups are now coming into focus.
In Punjab those religious groups who are having close relations with the sects such as Deobandi, Wahabbi and Ahle-Hadees elements have a sympathy for the Taliban and other militants and therefore are willing to carry out strikes on their behalf. The opposite are the Barelvis and Shias who have also spawned groups though they are opposed to the Deobandi and do not openly subscribe to violence.
The third strand to the growth of militancy in Pakistani Punjab is that of religious groups who are supporting the extremists who have been blaming the Americans rather than their own internal problems for the terrorist attacks.
Finally are the right wing elements in the polity and government who are supporting the groups in a tacit way and attempting to blame India and the United States for their own troubles, this hydra headed structure is not likely to go aground very soon and more terror attacks could be anticipated in Punjab as well as other areas of Pakistan in the days ahead.
The pattern is as complex in Afghanistan, for this is a battle for ideas and not territory. Thus America cannot afford to give up the campaigns against the forces of extremism and fundamentalism for these challenge the core of its ideology. Hopefully American liberals will stand up to this reality even as the brave American troops continue to defend its values in the streets of Kandahar and Kabul.