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Outlook: The Taliban Gains Strength in Pakistan

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Mohammed Hanif
Special Correspondent for the BBC's Urdu Service and Novelist
Monday, April 27, 2009; 11:00 AM

Mohammed Hanif, special correspondent for the BBC's Urdu service and author "A Case of Exploding Mangoes," a novel that skewers the Pakistani military and intelligence infrastructure, was online from Karachi on Monday, April 27, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article about how the Taliban insurgency is gaining strength in his country.

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Bucharest, Romania: What could the West do in order to change the current status of things in Pakistan, to boost the Islamabad control inside FATA and to ultimately consolidate the Weberian monopoly on violence of Islamabad?

Mohammed Hanif: Hi, it's nice to see people as far as in Bucharest interested in what is happening in parts of Pakistan.

I think the West can do a number of things: They should stop believing that one hundred and seventy million people who live in this country are card carrying al-Qaeda members. they should also try and resolve Afghan problem, Kashmir problem and compensate people who have become collateral damage in this war

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Bucharest: Is Pakistan really on the brink of failure (as a state) or of an extremist takeover of a nuclear state? Dave Kilcullen said recently in an interview for Washington Post that "We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state. . . The collapse of Pakistan, al Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today".

washingtonpost.com: A Conversation With David Kilcullen (Post, March 22)

Mohammed Hanif: Another one from Bucharest. I don't really know where Mr. Kilcullen got his timeline from. Also it's not possible for a state the size of Pakistan to just collapse. There are lots and lots of people who will resist this, who will fight in every street. I live in Karachi, a city of about twenty million and our elected government has taken a very tough stand against everything that is associated with Taliban. So yes, the dangers are very real but if I believe Kilcullen I should pack up and leave. But I have no such intentions.

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Arlington, Va.: The U.S. is now bombing targets inside Pakistan with unmanned drones. Is this campaign hurting the Taliban's efforts, or just helping their recruiting?

Mohammed Hanif: It's definitely helping them recruit. It's targeting people who are very very impoverished have the misfortunate to be in the same areas where some of the US targets might be). It's displacing lots of people. And it's making it very very difficult for Pakistani government to deal with homegrown militants

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Woburn, Mass.: What is going on with the military in Pakistan? It's large, modern and seemingly incapable of stopping the Taliban? Is the Intelligence Service still funding their Taliban creation? Is this really an internal coup against the civilian and all democratically elected governments? How can an Islamic Group which is far to right of the Domestic Islamic Parties gain so much ground when the Domestic Islamic Political Parties can get 20 percent of the vote?

Mohammed Hanif: that is a question that every one is asking in Pakistan. Imagine this: here's an army which was trained to defend us against the infidel. Now they are expected to fight people who claim to fighting the infidels. So my guess is that Pakistan army has the capacity but it's not sure about it's will. I am not sure the army itself is sure which side they are on.

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London, U.K.: When you say Kashmir problem, what would your solution be? How would you settle the Hindu refugees back into their homeland who have been massacred and driven out of Kashmir by Islamic terrorists?

Mohammed Hanif: I wish I had a solution but Man Mohan Singh is a wise old man, Zardari has occasionally shown some political acumen. they should try and work it out and listen to the Kashmiris ... Muslims and Hindu Kashmiris

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Boston, Mass.: Is fighting the Taliban in Pakistan a question of will or ability with the Pakistani military and intelligence service?

Mohammed Hanif: flesh is willing but the spirit is week

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New Delhi, India: How can Pakistan effectively defeat the threat from Taliban when they are still viewed by the establishment in Pakistan as an effective weapon to bring parity with a militarily superior India and when the army wants to keep Afghanistan in turmoil as a part of 'strategic depth' doctrine, for which Taliban were created by Pakistan in the first place? Does it not leave a big question over the commitment of Pakistan?

Mohammed Hanif: I think if some how we started looking at it as Indo-Pak problem rather than yet another opportunity to settle old scores we might move forward.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: There has been speculation in certain quarters that the Pakistani army is reluctant to confront the Talibans because the higher echelons are not sure of the loyalty and commitment of the rank and file (bulk of which comprises of Pushtoons)who have gradually been Islamized since the Zia regime.

How well-founded are such speculations and do you think that the possibility of desertion among the lower-ranks in case of an operation is indeed genuine?

Mohammed Hanif: This really is speculation at this stage, the reality, like always, is a a lot more complicated. Firt of bulk of Pakistan army is Punjabi and not Pushtun although there are lots of Pushtuns in the army. Yes there was Islamization under Zia bankrolled by the then US administration. Then under Musharraf there was pseudo-Islamization again made possible by the US support for a military dictator. I think most armies in the world will have a problem when confronting their own citizens.

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Woburn, Mass.: Does the military seriously believe that India would invade Pakistan, why on earth would India want to invade Pakistan, except to stop terrorist attacks. The only case where an invasion seems likely is if the Taliban takes over, and then there will be an invasion of Pakistan backed by the Indian and the West, and maybe preceded by a large scale Nuclear attack. No one is going to let the Taliban get nuclear weapons.

Mohammed Hanif: The army not only believes there will be an Indian invasion they believe it's already underway; through insurgency in Balochistan and Indian influence in Afghanistan. of course they might be completely deluded. And let's hope the Army will realize that Taliban take over is a more real threat than their traditional enemies

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Rockville, Md.: Is there something about Islam that is incompatible with democracy? Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Palestine have recently either voted to prefer hard-line Islam to western-style freedoms, or degenerated into warlordism after elections. The most western of Muslim countries, Lebanon and Turkey, have also moved backwards using the ballot.

There is no more important democratic principle than free speech, and we've seen in Danish cartoon incident, hate speech laws in Western Europe, and the UN blasphemy ordinance, that many Muslims do not think that the right to oppose Islamic beliefs is worthy of protection.

Is Islam inherently fundamentalist in that no human knowledge can ever supercede anything in the Quran? And if so, can we do anything but write those countries off as too backward to modernize?

Mohammed Hanif: I am not an Islamic scholar or a historian but didn't Indonesians just voted AGAINST Islamists. Pakistanis have definitely always voted AGAINST the Islamists. But the west somehow feels more secure when we DON'T have elections.

as for free speech, i think every single voice of opposition is worth protecting. and i am a Muslim and there are many more where I come from

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Wokingham, U.K.: Will the much-publicized restoration of the Chief Justice really help to stabilize Pakistan?

Mohammed Hanif: Ah. That was our national fantasy. It was a heroic struggle. The nation spoke with one voice: We want rule of law. And as soon as we scored a victory we are sitting here wondering hmmmm which law? Taliban law or our garden variety secular law?

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Richmond, Va.: The Taliban seem like a bunch of rogue bullies. Why are they so popular in parts of Pakistan?

Mohammed Hanif: Rogues have always had their appeal. But trust me nobody has done a poll to gauge their popularity. They have guns and they make the most dramatic and gruesome video content so it just seems they are popular

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Lahore, Pakistan: I just read your editorial in The Times newspaper in Lahore. What's oddly disconcerting about events here in Pakistan is the surreal mix of radical and western attitude. Lahore is a thriving metropolis with a healthy middle/upper class -- not just the supremely wealthy landlords, but also doctors and lawyers and many businessmen. The attitudes of the Taliban could not be further from most people's lives, yet in our midst women are nervous about what they wear to the market. Most newspapers are undeniably secular and western -- printing daily editorials like yours. It feels inconceivable that the Taliban should have power here, so we go about our daily lives, even though in the back of everyone's head is the equal feeling that something terrible has already arrived. It's a schizophrenic way to live.

Mohammed Hanif: I agree with you. it's a bit schizo. I don't agree with you about the newspapers and TV. yes the English newspapers are a bit rational. Read op-eds in Urdu papers, watch some of our current affairs TV shows and you'll realize how Schizo the society is.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm amazed that Mr. Ten Percent is running Pakistan and more surprised speculation is Musharraf will come back. Is that likely?

Mohammed Hanif: I think Pakistanis will rather have ten Zardaris than Musharraf. Musharraf again? well only in his own fantasies

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Chennai, India: Mr. Hanif, isn't it true that after having created a nation based on religion, one cannot hope to bottle the genie because there will always be a new group after some time that will seize control claiming that they practice a purer brand of the religion? Won't the people also support this newer group because of their purported purity especially when the nation itself is already known as the Land of the Pure?

Mohammed Hanif: i think the big debate in Pakistan still is whether it was country created for Muslima or whether it was supposed to be an Islamic country. You are right in one way, there is always someone with a purer brand of religion. A majority has resisted their influence so far though.

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Burbank, Calif.: Isn't a main fault of the central government that in many villages the central government is mostly irrelevant? It is more critical who controls each village and the battles are determined within each community. The Taliban seems well organized to win regions and communities. Thus, what should the national leadership be doing to win back certain communities, and does the strategy vary from village from village?

Mohammed Hanif: the solution is a bit old fashioned: we need to have an uninterrupted democratic process. and our well wishers in the world should stop supporting any military dictatorships

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Munich, Germany: What is the prevailing opinion about the Pakistani military? Are they capable of taking on and defeating the Taliban in Pakistan?

Mohammed Hanif: The prevailing opinion is that they are definitely capable of defeating Taliban. It's just that they haven't made up their mind as yet

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Washington, D.C.: If Islam is a moderate and secular culture, then how come Pakistan has only about 2 percent minority and it is called an Islamic republic?

Mohammed Hanif: I don't think anyone is saying that Islam is a secular culture. At the time of the partition their was a mass movement of Hindus and Siks towards India and Muslims towards Pakistan( a couple of million people died), that's who we have such overwhelming Muslim majority. If some how people from other religions had stayed on it might have been a better place

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Washington, D.C.: In terms of numbers, how many Taliban members are there? Can you break this down between Afghanistan and Pakistan (that is, how many are located in each country)? By comparison, how large are the Afghan and Pakistani security forces?

Mohammed Hanif: very valid question but I am not sure anyone has the stats. Pakistan's regular army is more than half a million strong. Taliban in Pakistan can't be more than 30/40 thousand but they are a flexible force with lots of non-combatant supporters.

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Woodbridge, Va.: It seems Pakistan forces are now taking action after the prodding from the USA and the threat of withholding billions of dollars.

Does Pakistan still consider India the arch enemy? Has India ever attacked Pakistan? It seems the last attack generated from Pakistan into India when 10 Islamic terrorists went into Mumbai to kill 200 civilians.

Mohammed Hanif: I think they are taking action because Taliban didn't lay down their arms after the peace deal and instead started moving towards Islamabad. Pakistanis don't consider India the ENEMY anymore. they consider the electric comanies thei Enemy No 1 as we have daily power break downs. Some parts of our establishment and Jihadists still want us to worry about India though.

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Chicago, Ill.: Most of Muslim nations have very little or no non-Muslim population and they severely restrict minority rights (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran...) and women have to cover up and some can not even drive.

Why does Islam treat minorities and women this way?

Mohammed Hanif: I have only read a bit of Islam and am no scholar but all the prcatices and the countries you mention are abhorrent to me and millions of other Muslims. I was asked what the West can do to help? Well most of them are good friends with Saudi Royals. Next time they are over for a state visit or a gambling holiday try and convince them to let womn drive...

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Karachi, Pakistan: What solution do you see for Swat?

Mohammed Hanif: Sufi Mohammed should be sent back to the prison where he was til recently. Maulana Fazal should be put on a trial in an independent Qazi court. The civil society which came out on streets for Chief Justice should take their summer holiday in Mingora

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Mohammed Hanif: Thank you all for talking to me. A Case of Exploding Mangoes is out in paperback on May 5.

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Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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