Wednesday, June 24, 2009


From the "News" of Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zafar Hilaly

The army is fast acquiring a credibility problem with its claims of dead, injured and captured Taliban. At first there were mere mutterings, sotto voce suspicions, that not all is as claimed. These doubts are increasing; the chorus of suspicion is more voluble and before they acquire the dimensions of a scream the Army had better attend to it.

The pleasant and able and composed DG, ISPR in fact alluded to these suspicions on June 22 when he said that the army had not wanted to show pictures of the dead lest the public become upset but, presumably, in response to public demand, he showed 54 pictures of dead Taliban. All of whom appeared very much as one would expect those killed in battle. I doubt if anyone was upset by those images. Actually, for Pakistanis fed on a rich diet of Taliban videos showing gory executions of soldiers, with the sound on, they were rather tame. In fact most watching probably relished seeing their tormentors dead.

Noticeably, there were no photos of injured Taliban and only a desultory few of those claimed to have been captured have ever been shown on TV. In contrast the Taliban paraded their victims, allowed interviews and generally made a great show about their capture and their own prowess. Of course, it was done with the aim of terrorising the populace just as for the army to show their captives in all poses would hopefully also terrorise the enemy.

Some Taliban practices may be worth adopting because photos of a mere 54 dead while claiming that the actual number is 2000 do not wash. Especially as not a single one of the first tier leaders has been killed, wounded or captured and rumours are circulating that the Taliban leadership have been evacuated away from the danger zone, along with Al Qaeda leaders to Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan and would return in due course.

Pakistanis are a suspicious lot when it comes to evaluating official claims, perhaps because they tend to deceive even when it is easier to tell the truth; or because they have learnt from experience that "official speak" is invariably wrong or comes with a spin; or because the claims are so fatuous as to defy credulity. For example, after every air strike the number of dead militants ranges from six to 14 militants, seldom more.
All of them are supposed to be insurgents, rarely civilians, presumably because, unlike the Americans, we have very discriminating "Taliban seeking" missiles. Considering the difficult terrain and the risk to be incurred by the usually "reliable" sources reaching the site of the bombing it is remarkable how quickly the numbers of dead and injured are counted, processed and reported in the press the next day. Whoever does such an efficient job should be asked to lead our flaying attempts to cope with the IDPs problem.

It was also revealing that the BBC correspondent who was taken on a tour of the battle zone, he termed it "bandit country," said that while he was shown a half dozen or so of "captured Taliban" he saw none of the 2000 dead nor any graves or other signs of death. Instead BBC viewers last night got to see what the Taliban had allowed him to film which was the hanging corpse of a beheaded soldier and another who had been killed, with boastful Taliban standing nearby. Clearly there is something wrong with the optics of this war as far as Pakistan is concerned.

Of much greater concern was a news report carried in Dawn of 23 June entitled "Efforts on for patch- up between Darra Taliban, Adezai lashkar," which states that "Some "invisible" forces( normally a euphemism for we know who) are out to narrow the differences and broker an understanding between the Darra Adam Khel-based Taliban and leaders of the Qaumi Lashkar of Adezai on the outskirts of the provincial capital – the Taliban conditions included that their men would freely move in parts of Peshawar and would take action against those found involved in 'un-Islamic' activities and the Lashkar would not object to their actions. Secondly, the Taliban want the lashkar not to create hurdles while they recruit new members. Another condition of the Taliban is that the lashkar will not support security forces in case of any clash between the Taliban and law enforcing agencies."

Apparently two rounds of negotiations have already been held and members of the "Tableeghii Jamaat were active to broker an understanding between the two sides". When the local police chief was asked about these negotiations he denied all knowledge of them. Both are probably telling the truth. The left hand in Pakistan often does not know what the right hand is doing. Or the left side of the mouth, in the case of the Interior Minister, who claimed that Fazlullah had been "trapped," does not have a clue what the right side, which denied he had made any such statement, is saying.

Such reports, if true, damage the sincerity of the army's efforts and rob its actions and claims of credibility. It is difficult to believe that even while the army is engaged in fighting and dying in Swat another arm of government is negotiating deals with the same blood thirsty foe of murderers, kidnappers and drug peddlars. The report further negates the claim of the Tableeghi Jamaat that it is a purely religious organisation rather than one with a political agenda, as many have long suspected. (I recall being summoned to the Yemeni Foreign Office in 1988 and being asked why the Tableeqi Jamaat chose Yemen to spread the word of Islam. In the words of the Yemeni official: "Excellency, this is our religion, we gave it to you, please don't try and teach us the proper Islam. Ask them to go somewhere else. Or do they have some other agenda.")

Mr Zardari has written a column in the Washington Post emphasising that democracy and democracy alone is the panacea for Pakistan's problems. Unfortunately many of his countrymen are not so certain. Pakistanis are as sceptical about democracy as they are about dictatorship. Both have failed to deliver. Both speak with forked tongues. Similarly, Mr Zardari has claimed that he will fight terrorism to the bitter end. "Fight" should be the operative word and not "negotiate" deals of the sort being hustled in Peshawar.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:

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