The “Talibanization” of Pakistan

Since 2001-2002, Taliban militants have expanded their presence, influence and clout in Pakistan’s tribal areas and beyond including in the frontier areas of Bannu, Tank, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, and Swat. Linkages with other militant groups (such as the LJ) have allowed the TTP to spread to other parts of the country, such as in the Punjab and the port city of Karachi. Failed military operations and badly negotiated peace deals with militants have only aided the process by providing militants the space to advance their ideological agendas. For instance, in South Waziristan the government negotiated a deal in April 2004 allowing local militants to establish parallel Taliban-style policing and court systems. This facilitated the spread of “Talibanization” into other tribal agencies and even KPK (ICG October 2009, p. 7). In Bajuar agency, in 2007 the Taliban successfully enforced Friday as the weekly holiday instead of Sunday. In Khyber agency they banned music and also fined taxi drivers and citizens found guilty of listening to music in their cars. Kurram agency, which has a significant Shia population, has seen an upsurge in sectarian conflict (Abbas, 2007). In October 2006, violence between the two sects erupted after Sunni hardliners tried to prevent Shias from visiting a shrine. In April 2007, a Shia procession was attacked, which killed over 50 people (ICG October 2009, p. 6). Attacks on Shias have not remained restricted to the tribal areas but have also been carried out in Balochistan and other parts of the country.

While primarily Pashtun, the Taliban have also targeted prominent Pashtun tribal leaders, clerics and politicians who have taken a stand against Taliban militancy. In May 2012, Malik Jahangir Mohmand, a tribal leader from the Mohmand tribal region, was killed in Peshawar by the Taliban for his anti-Taliban stance. May 2012 also saw the Taliban carry out a suicide bombing in Bajaur that killed 30 people including Pashtun anti-Taliban paramilitary leaders Muhammad Javed and Fazl-e Rabbi. In August 2012, Amir Sardar of the Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP), along with two other ANP activists, was shot dead by the TTP in Karachi for assisting the police in arresting TTP men.

In 2007, the TNSM (affiliated with the TTP) seized the Swat Valley and subsequently banned female education and destroyed hundreds of schools. Additionally, they ordered women to wear full veils, issued directives that women be accompanied by male family members in public places and forbade women from carrying government identification cards displaying their photographs. They have also meted out vigilante “justice” through public floggings. For instance, in April 2009 a video surfaced showing Taliban commanders repeatedly flogging a 17 year-old girl in Swat as a group of men stood around and watched. In 2009, the government negotiated a deal with the TNSM, known as the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, agreeing to impose Sharia in the area through the establishment of qazi (Sharia) courts. Although the deal fell apart later in the year it was criticized for allowing militants the space to reorganize.

Since 2005, Pakistani militants have also launched more than 70 suicide attacks against Sufi shrines killing hundreds. The attacks have intensified in recent years. In June 2010, Lahore’s prominent Sufi shrine Datta Ganj Bakhsh was attacked. Kidnappings for ransom and targeting of foreign aid workers and nationals has also seen an increase. In January 2012 alone, five international aid workers were abducted in four incidents (ICG 2012, p. 12).

Aggravating the situation is the fact that, despite being banned, these groups operate with impunity, conducting protest rallies and giving speeches and sermons inciting hate and violence. A manifestation of this is the Defense of Pakistan Council (DOC), a grouping of more than 40 jihadi groups (such as the banned SSP, LeT, the LJ) and religious parties (such as the JI and the JUI). Formed in December 2011, the DOC is co-chaired by LeT/JD head Hafiz Saeed (who operates freely despite a $10 million bounty on his head placed by the US) and Maulana Samiul Haq, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) faction. Since its formation, the DOC has frequently conducted marches protesting US and NATO drone strikes and the reopening of NATO supply routes. It is widely believed that the DOC has military backing (ICG 2012, p. 13).

Pakistan’s relatively free media is also seen as promoting anti-American and failing to criticize Islamic radicalism. According to a 2012 survey of journalists conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, around 57 per cent of those interviewed stated that the Pakistani media concealed facts regarding violent radicalization.  Thirty-five per cent were of the opinion that the mainstream media “favored” radical groups and that such coverage had the potential to create “sympathy” for them among ordinary citizens. However, polling conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012 showed that this creeping “Talibanization” remains a source of concern for Pakistanis and that extremist organizations remain largely unpopular with the majority expressing a negative opinion of both al Qaeda (55% unfavorable) and the Taliban (66%).

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