Ask the Right Questions

Nov 2012

The question posed by the NYT erases the role played by the U.S. and the Pakistani army in creating the Taliban.

The dastardly attempt by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to assassinate the young firebrand schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, has once again resurrected the tired arguments about the U.S.A.’s alleged responsibility to protect women’s rights in “Af-Pak.” In Pakistan, the Pakistani military is similarly being called upon to do something about the Taliban menace. The questions posed by the New York Times in its “Room for Debate” are an expression of this liberal handwringing.

On the MSNBC show “Morning Joe”, Time magazine’s Joe Klein recently offered an impassioned defense of the tactics of the war being waged in Pakistan. In response to the host’s concern about the ethics of the Obama administration’s unprecedented use of drones, Klein responded, “the bottom line in the end is whose 4-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.” This was a rare moment exposing the ruthlessness that underlies a project sold to the American public as compassionate humanitarianism.

After all, despite its neo-con origins, this is a quintessentially liberal war, justified in the name of the victims of 9/11 but also, crucially, as a humanitarian project on behalf of the women of Afghanistan.

It’s enough make one cynical, I tell ya.

Klein’s argument is not just rhetorical. Children have actually died in NATO drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal regions as well as during night raids in Afghanistan. Yet, predictably, the attack on Malala has re-energized the liberal hawks in Pakistan as well as the United States. A placard held by an attendee at a candlelight vigil for Malala in Pakistan proclaimed, “Drones kill so Malala can live.” Some victims are clearly more worthy of our concern than others.

The question posed by the New York Times is disingenuous, and a prime example of what Hamid Dabashi has called “politically expedited collective amnesia.” It erases the role played by the U.S. and the Pakistani army in creating the Taliban, and in sustaining them while they were useful. It conveniently ignores the fact that the TTP was formed as recently as 2007 as a direct consequence of the occupation of Afghanistan, and that its ranks are filled with the veterans of the US’s previous adventure, which left the country in the grip of a civil war and the region awash in drugs and guns.

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4 Responses to Ask the Right Questions

  1. […] questions and understanding the structural causes of our current predicament. Finally, Toor turns the exercise on its head and provides some interesting questions of her […]

  2. Shahid on Nov 2012 at 2:00 PM

    I generally am very allergic to statements like

    “…. TTP was formed as recently as 2007 as a direct consequence of the occupation of Afghanistan, and that its ranks are filled with the veterans of the US’s previous adventure, which left the country in the grip of a civil war and the region awash in drugs and guns.”

    TTP was not formed as a direct consequence of occupation of Afghanistan. If you mean to draw a very long connection, then that’s disingenuous at best.

    I’m guessing here’s how the ‘connection’ goes:
    1. US lands in Afghanistan.
    2. Pakistan is asked to and tries to control it’s section of the border so as to stop escaping AQ and Taliban foot soldiers.
    3. Pakistan starts facing old and new terrorism elements internally.
    4. Various factions combine after the Siege of Lal Masjid in opposition to Pakistani state.
    5. Hence, US occupation is responsible for creation of the TTP.

    It’s such a long draw that I have to shake my head because when academics angrily write against media portrayals as not being nuanced enough or lacking depth or using cliched points and stereotypes, they forget these very standards in their own writing. Nuance on the creation of the TTP perhaps?

    As much as it would loathe most academics to concern themselves with the details of militant groups’ histories, as generally occupied with writing on state imperialism these days, even the founding head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, was barely a teenager during the ‘Afghan Jihad’ days. TTP elements have to have been in their mid to late 30s to have been foot soldiers in that sponsored resistance. Most, very very most, never took part in it. A sizeable number did take part in the aftermath, the civil war, mostly forgotten in thick essays on imperialist hubris.

    Anyhow, Baitullah was used in some ways against the first major militant leader to turn guns directly against the Pakistani state, Abdullah Mehsud. The TTP was formed after the Siege of Lal Masjid as a ‘reaction’ (however disgusting that word makes me feel here). A major contention was that the Pakistani state was mounting pressure on the various militant factions to abide by earlier peace terms to expel Uzbek, Turk, Chinese, Arab and other ‘terror tourists’. Having used Uzbeks against their local opponents, Baitullah and others did not agree, and formed a combined front against the state.

    • Kamal Memon on Oct 2014 at 1:38 PM

      No doubt about it that the creation of TTP is NOT directly related to the US invasion of Afg but dont you think that the underline factor of Jihadi culture and mindset which was cultivated in the region by the chain of madarsahs and petro dollars for the Afghan Jihad was THE major reason which made the existence of such a large organized extermist militant group feasible.

  3. Kailas on Jan 2013 at 6:07 AM

    I have a 4-year-old daughter who has rlelay been hating pre-school this year because she wants to be successful at everything the first time she tries, and when she isn’t, she gets angry. I was getting rlelay tired of the struggle of forcing her to go when she heard a part of Malala Yousufzai’s story on the radio and asked about it. I told her that in certain parts of the world, people don’t want girls to go to school and they do very bad things to keep them from going. That’s why I am grateful to live in a country where girls have the same educational opportunities that boys have. It seemed to be a story she needed to hear. She has stopped telling me that she hates school. She has stopped whining about not wanting to go. She has started praying that other girls around the world will get to go to school, too.

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