Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Can the Taliban Defeat and Destroy Pakistan?

While some Pakistanis, including major political leaders, are afraid of speaking out against the Taliban, other Pakistanis are taking the challenge posed by the insurgents lightly. They are underestimating the power and the capacity of a rag-tag band of barbarians to bring down the Pakistani state and take control in the nation's capital in Islamabad. It's important for Pakistanis to learn from history to end such complacency.

Ibn Khaldun
History Lessons:

Famous medieval Islamic historian Abd ur Rehman Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) argued in his masterpiece "Muqaddima" that tribesmen and barbarians have often had more courage and social cohesion than settled and civilized folk.  He cited many instances in history when rag-tag bands of ill-educated and uncivilized insurgents have swept in and conquered lands whose rulers became corrupt and complacent.

Fall of Empires:

History is witness to the fact that great empires were brought down by relatively unsophisticated but highly committed armed groups of fighters. Roman empire was destroyed by blue-eyed barbarian tribes from Northern Europe. Persian and Byzantine empires were brought to their knees by desert-dwelling Muslim tribesmen from the Arabian Peninsula. Thriving Islamic Caliphate of Baghdad in what is known as the Golden Era of Islam was sacked by Mongols and completely destroyed. China, too, was conquered and ruled by Mongols. India was repeatedly attacked and conquered by invaders from Europe and Central Asia and ruled  by their dynasties for centuries.

The Taliban:

The Taliban attacking the Pakistani state are not fundamentally different from earlier generations of barbarians and tribesmen in history. They have shown that they, too, are highly committed and willing to die for whatever they believe in . They are clear in their aims and ready to use whatever means it takes to achieve their goals. They have been relentless in their attacks on the Pakistani state and civilian population.
Taliban vs Pakistan

Pakistan's Response:

The response of the Pakistani leadership has so far been highly confused in the face of concerted Taliban efforts to destroy the Pakistani state. There is a lot of talk about "peace talks" but it's not clear what they are going to talk about? The Taliban have made it clear that they do not accept Pakistan's constitution. They have rejected democracy as a system of governance. They have stepped up their attacks on state institutions and Pakistan's security apparatus. They have unleashed a reign of terror and killed tens of thousands of civilians in the last few years. And they are adamant about implementing their version of "Shariah" which top Islamic scholars do not accept as authentic.

Are Pakistani political leaders willing to compromise on the constitution of  Pakistan? Or the democratic process? Or Pakistan itself? Are they willing concede defeat to a band of barbarians without a fight?


Pakistani leaders need to develop necessary consensus to fight the existential challenge posed to the nation by the Taliban and their allies in Pakistan. They need to declare war and show determination, not weakness, in the face of relentless Taliban attacks on innocent civilians. They must remember that it took Sri Lanka a long sustained effort spanning decades to win against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). It will take a long and sustained effort for Pakistan to win the war on Taliban to preserve Pakistan. It's time for Pakistanis to learn the lessons of history to chart and stay the course.  Once there is a clear strategy and plan, I am confident that the Pakistani state and its military will eventually defeat and destroy the Taliban.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Nawaz Sharif's Silence on Taliban Terror in Inaugural Speech

Pakistan Can Learn From Sri Lanka's Defeat of LTTE

Taliban vs. Pakistan

Yet Another Peace Deal and Shia Blockade

Taliban Insurgency in Swat

Musharraf's Treason Trial

General Kayani's Speech on Terror War Ownership

Impact of Youth Vote and Taliban Violence on Elections 2013

Imran Khan's Social Media Campaign

Pakistan Elections 2013 Predictions 

Why is Democracy Failing in Pakistan?

Viewpoint From Overseas-Vimeo 

Viewpoint From Overseas-Youtube 


Asadi said...

waisay Taliban sey ziyada armed aur organized aur sophisticated to wo barbarian groups hein jo Amreekan heartland mey white supremacist militias key surat mey rehtay hein, wo Amreeka constitution ko nahi mantey aur amreekey government ko Zionist occupation government karar detay hein.

Riaz Haq said...


Americans have learned from history that when a nation or empire becomes too “civilized” and too “settled”, it becomes prone to being over-run by hordes of barbarians. That’s why America responds to challenges posed by its enemies with overwhelming force.

George Friedman in his book “Next 100 Years” says that “America, like Europe in sixteenth century, is still barbaric (a description, not a moral judgment). Its culture is unformed. Its will is powerful. Its emotions drive it in different and contradictory directions”.
Friedman further says that “Perhaps more than for any other country, the US grand strategy is about war, and the interaction between war and economic life. The United States is historically a warlike country. The nation has been directly or indirectly at war for most of of its existence…the war of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm. And the US has been constantly at war in Afghanistan and Iraq since the beginning of this century.”

Ismat said...

Great piece, Riaz Saheb. I think part of the solution would be for the government to put the police force of each province under the charge of a serving or recently retired army general, who would weed out corruption in its ranks, say f.o. to political interference, and turn it into an effective fighting force. The enemy is well-entrenched within the country, and the army alone can't fight that.

Twister said...

To effectively overcome the problems posed by TTP (and compounded by political violence in Karachi particularly), part of the solution has to be an empowered, depoliticised police force with sufficient numbers to get around the issue of lack of coverage.

Then there's the issue of judicial system choking...due to the outdated laws in place, conviction rates remain woefully low for apprehended criminals.

Without these 2 issues being addressed, law and order will remain problematic.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a WSJ story on Pakistan PM Sharif offering to talk with the Taliban:

...Mr. Sharif has been trying to bring the Pakistani Taliban, known formally as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, into negotiations since September. The group has said it is interested in dialogue but no substantial talks have taken place while the violence has increased.

Mr. Sharif said Wednesday he formed a four-member committee to steer the renewed effort at talks. For the first time, he also set a condition: that the violence must cease.

"A peaceful solution will be given one last chance," Mr. Sharif told parliament. "Terrorist attacks and peace talks cannot go on together at the same time."

Pakistan's Taliban, which works closely with al Qaeda and is responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians and soldiers, said it welcomed the offer, but would give a detailed response after its leadership meets.

Since Mr. Sharif offered dialogue in September, the group and its allies have blown up a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing more than 80 worshipers, and assassinated an army general. This month it killed at least 34 soldiers in bombings in Bannu in the northwest and in Rawalpindi in the north. Three journalists and three polio vaccination workers were also shot dead in attacks in the southern city of Karachi. On Wednesday, three bombs in Karachi killed at least three paramilitary soldiers.

The Taliban has said that it doesn't accept the Pakistani constitution and wants to turn the country into a strict Islamic emirate.

Senior members of Mr. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party acknowledge talks may be futile, but that because of political opposition to a major military offensive, they are giving talks with the Taliban every opportunity.

A military operation would have to target the Taliban's base in North Waziristan, part of the tribal areas, where last week there were limited airstrikes, in retaliation for the latest bombings of soldiers. Washington and Kabul have pressed for an offensive in North Waziristan, which is also a sanctuary for al Qaeda and Afghan militants.

Mr. Sharif made clear he wasn't ruling out an offensive. "We have to win this fight, whether by dialogue or by war," he told parliament.

Imran Khan, a lawmaker who has campaigned for peace talks, and whose party rules the militant-plagued northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that Mr. Sharif should have secured a halt to U.S. drone strikes in the tribal areas before calling for talks.

In November, a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. "Dialogue was sabotaged by drones," said Mr. Khan.

The biggest opposition party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, demanded that a deadline be set for the talks. The party's 25-year-old leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, compared the situation to the eve of World War II.

"Support NS [Nawaz Sharif]. I want him to be our Churchill. Unfortunately he is becoming our Neville Chamberlain pursuing policy of appeasement," Mr. Zardari said on Twitter, his usual way of making his views known.

The committee formed for the talks is made up of private citizens who are thought to have influence with the militants, including veteran journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai, former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul Rustum Shah Mohmand, and retired intelligence operative Mohammad Aamir. The current head of Pakistan's Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, studied at a hard-line religious seminary run by Mr. Aamir's family in northwest Pakistan....

Suhail said...

All I can say is that things are not as bad as they appeared to be, they are much worse.

Riaz should finally convince himself on the following counts so that his blog becomes more meaningful:

1- It is now proven beyond doubt that JI is an integral part of TTP. Not only have TTP expressed confidence in them but JI have openly accepted and welcomed it. So any suggestion of JI being a democratic liberal entity is a fallacy.
2- Imran Khan is either a TTP plant in mainstream politics, or stupid beyond expectations. It will be interesting to see how the PTI supporters justify this act as they've been religiously justifying all that he says. Another pointer to the clueless line of thought of our educated middle classes.
3- Democracy in Pakistan is furthering Talibanization beyond expectations, so our opinion leaders should think of alternatives to the "democratic" system which is destroying the social fabric of the country.

Riaz Haq said...

KHARIAN, Pakistan — Pakistan’s army is finally making significant gains in its campaign against Islamist militants, and some of the success can be traced back to unlikely sources: paintballs and bird calls.

Here, tucked in a forest, Pakistan’s military has built a sprawling base to train soldiers in how to fight small groups of terrorists. The National Counterterrorism Center Pabbi is one of a half-dozen training sites in Pakistan, but military leaders say 65 percent of the troops fighting militants in the northwest have been trained at this facility in Punjab province.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani military took The Washington Post on a rare public tour of the 2,500-acre facility, which opened in 2009 and resembles a hunting ranch on the scrublands of Texas.

The training, which includes some un­or­tho­dox methods, is designed to make Pakistani troops more proficient in face-to-face combat. Although the troops have gained experience fighting in harsh terrain over the past few decades, they are still largely geared toward a tank-on-tank war with arch rival India.

“After 9/11, it’s now a new world, and with this new world we are gearing up for our responsibility,” said Brig. Abrar Ali, commander of the center. “In our experience, this is not a battle with large forces. We have to learn how to fight in very small teams.”

For years, U.S. lawmakers and generals have tried to get Pakistan’s military to shift its security posture to prioritize operations against Islamist militants sheltering in the country. To nudge it along, the Pentagon has given the Pakistani military $13 billion in reimbursements over the past 13 years for its counterterrorism efforts, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. The State Department recently approved a $950 million arms sale to Pakistan, including 15 Viper helicopters, 1,000 Hellfire missiles and new radios.

But Pakistani commanders and troops say the training conducted at the National Counterterrorism Center Pabbi is what is really allowing them to gain the upper hand against Islamist militants. Since the army launched a major operation in June, soldiers have cleared most of North Waziristan. They are now trying to drive the extremists from their final hiding places in the Tirah Valley, in adjoining Khyber Agency, commanders say.

“These Taliban are dug in the caves, so you can’t do it by aerial bombardment,” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired general and former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service. “You have to go in there and physically dislodge them.”


After years of casualties from insurgent ambushes, the military now sees the need for unconventional battle tactics. So soldiers also are learning how to conduct surprise offensive attacks.

In one exercise, a soldier hides in a tree in what looks like a large nest. He has been taught a variety of bird calls, one of which he calls out when he sees a potential target. Then, under the tree, soldiers concealed in a small pit covered with sticks and grass climb out and begin shooting.

“The terrorists don’t suspect us to use these tactics, so when we do, they are really badly trapped,” Ali said.

Lt. Col. Kashif Amin, who leads a cavalry regiment of 44 tanks based in the eastern city of Lahore, brought 400 soldiers for the training because their tanks are of little operational use in rugged North Waziristan.

“Especially for the younger soldiers, this is more challenging because they were trained for armored operations but will now be doing infantry,” Amin said.

Riaz Haq said...

"The very agenda of social sciences, why and how change occurs in society, was mapped by Ibn Khaldun who produced a coherent body of analysis of why societies rise, peak, and wane. Ibn Khaldun spread himself across so many disciplines and spheres of work, one wonders how so many activities fit into a single CV. Ibn Khaldun was born in 1332 in Tunisia to a family with a tradition of diplomatic service in Spain and the Maghrib, and he initially followed in his family’s footsteps into a diplomatic career that took him to act as lead negotiator in several diplomatic missions, but he fell from favour at court and chose to move to Egypt where he served as a senior judge until his death in 1406."

Ibn Khaldun’s definition of entrepreneurship, such as it is, works well, however. It is anchored in his outlook as a devout Muslim who finds guidance in all things in the Koran. A merchant “strives to make a profit, so that he may spend what God gives him to obtain his requirements and necessities through barter.” This sentence flows so smoothly one might skim over the reference that a merchant’s profits have their source in “what God gives him.” However, the connotation of these words resonates deeply, as the Koran has a term for God’s bounty, rizq, a term which may be the origin of the term we use today to describe that aspect of enterprise that is the quintessence of entrepreneurship: risk.

This whistle-stop tour of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah is but a sampler of his work but may have said enough to show Ibn Khaldun pushed the boundaries of historical scholarship out into social science. In Europe, Ibn Khaldun’s works reached a wider audience when they were translated in the nineteenth century, at a time when social sciences in Europe even then were in their infancy. But even today, Ibn Khaldun’s work has aged well and his insights often are as fresh as they were when he penned them.

It may have startled some readers to see Ibn Khaldun articulated many notions centuries before they were expressed in the West. The Laffer curve is one example, but there are others, such as John Marshall’s dictum, “the power to tax is the power to destroy (1819),” and William Graham Sumner’s “forgotten man” who ends up bearing tax burdens (1883).

But Ibn Khaldun matters not only as an ideas man ahead of his time. Ibn Khaldun lived through an age of frequent regime changes that threatened corrosion of the Islamic realm from within, and foreign invasions visited devastation across the Middle East. Ibn Khaldun lived in an age of despair but did not much care for a quiet life. On the contrary, he wanted to look threats in the eye, and one of his travels took him to an encounter with the feared warlord Timurlan, a meeting that Ibn Khaldun recorded at length in his autobiography (another of his vast range of works).

If turmoil had an effect on Ibn Khaldun, it must have been as a spur to learn about different societies, and what is urgent today about the achievement of Ibn Khaldun, who did not flinch from engaging with policy-making at the highest (and most dangerous) level, is that he demonstrated how to combine firm religious orthodoxy with irrepressible curiosity in mechanisms of social change.

Dr. Benedikt Koehler is a historian and former banker, specialising in early Islamic economics. Koehler delivered the inaugural lecture for the Legatum Institute’s “History of Capitalism” course.

Riaz Haq said...

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has committed to reading an important book every two weeks as part of his 2015 New Year’s resolutions, and up next is “The Muqaddimah,” a 14th century tome written by Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun.

The book, whose title translates to “The Introduction,” traces the progress of humanity while attempting to remove the biases captured in historical records and reveal the universal elements that connect us. It is often considered the most important Islamic history of the premodern world.

Kaldun, a lauded Arab scholar, is credited as one of the foundational thinkers of modern sociology, ethnography, and the philosophy of history.

One reviewer of the original English translation called it, “Undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place … the most comprehensive and illuminating analysis of how human affairs work that has been made anywhere.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 New Year’s resolution was to read an important book every two weeks and discuss it with the Facebook community.

Zuckerberg’s book club, A Year of Books, has focused on big ideas that influence society and business. His selections so far have been mostly contemporary, but for his eleventh pick he’s chosen “The Muqaddimah,” written in 1377 by the Islamic historian Ibn Khaldun.

“The Muqaddimah,” which translates to “the introduction,” is an early attempt at stripping away biases of historical records and finding universal elements in the progression of humanity.

Ibn Khaldun’s revolutionary scientific approach to history has established him as one of the foundational thinkers of modern sociology and historiography.

The influential 20th century British historian Arnold J. Toynbee described “The Muqaddimah” as “a philosophy of history, which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Zuckerberg explains his latest book-club pick on his personal Facebook page:

It’s a history of the world written by an intellectual who lived in the 1300s. It focuses on how society and culture flow, including the creation of cities, politics, commerce and science.

While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it’s still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it’s all considered together.

Riaz Haq said...

Why #ISIS has potential to be a world-altering revolution — How can it be stopped? #terrorism #Syria … via @aeonmag

Treating the Islamic State as merely a form of terrorism or violent extremism masks the menace. All novel developments are ‘extremist’ compared with what was the norm before. What matters for history is whether these movements survive and thrive against the competition. For our singularly self-predatory species, success has depended on willingness to shed blood, including the sacrifice of one’s own, not merely for family and tribe, wealth or status, but for some greater cause. This has been especially true since the start of the Axial Age more than two millennia ago. At that time, large-scale civilisations arose under the watchful gaze of powerful divinities, who mercilessly punished moral transgressors – thus ensuring that even strangers in multiethnic empires would work and fight as one.

Call it ‘god’ or whatever secular ideology one prefers, including any of the great modern salvational -isms: colonialism, socialism, anarchism, communism, fascism and liberalism. In Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes deemed sacrifice for a transcendent ideal ‘the privilege of absurdity to which no creature but man is subject’. Humans make their greatest commitments and exertions, for ill or good, for the sake of ideas that give a sense of significance. In an inherently chaotic universe, where humans alone recognise that death is unavoidable, there is an overwhelming psychological impetus to overcome this tragedy of cognition: to realise ‘why I am’ and ‘who we are’.

In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin cast this devotion as the virtue of ‘morality… the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy’ with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s spiralling competition for survival and dominance. It is the sacred values, immune to material tradeoffs, that bind us most. In any culture, an unwillingness to sell out one’s kin or religious and political brotherhoods and motherlands is the line we usually will not cross. Devotion to these values can drive successes which are out of all proportion to expected outcomes.

Asymmetric operations involving spectacular killings to destabilise the social order is a tactic that has been around as long as recorded history

Often these values, tethered to beliefs such as our ‘God is great, bodiless but omnipotent’ or our ‘free markets are always wise’, are attributed to Providence or Nature. They can never be verified by empirical evidence, and their meaning is impossible to pin down. The term ‘sacred values’ intuitively denotes religious belief, as when land is holy, but can also include the ‘secularised sacred’ such as the ‘hallowed ground’ of Gettysburg or the site of the attacks on New York City of 11 September 2001 (9/11). The foundational beliefs of the great ideological -isms and the quasi-religious notion of the Nation itself have been ritualised in song and ceremony and sacrifice.