Some have romanticized them, others have idolized them, and yet others have abhorred them. All have feared them, however. Over the years, the Taliban have acquired an image of mysterious allure and danger, until the truth about them now hardly matters.
Here is the situation.
A leading religious politician, who is also a sitting partner with the government in power, has called the recent killing of Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsood as martyrdom (hint: the politician’s name starts with Fazal, ends at Rehman and can hardly breath because of thick folds of fat around his overfed frame). Then some say that the Afghan Taliban, at least, are fighting a war of liberation against the occupiers and are therefore heroes rather than villains. And then there are some strategists and media men who further fog up the lens by saying that there are bad Taliban but there are also some ‘good Taliban’ out there. And that these ‘good Taliban’ can be talked with.
Not withstanding the fact that the aforesaid is a lot of balderdash, the end result is that whereas pigeonholing the Taliban in a particular group would have been a rather simple task, it continues to elude the branding. The situation remains pretty confusing for a lay reader.
After being sired by the United States, mothered by Pakistan, midwifed by a clutch of Middle Eastern entities and wet-nursed by a whole bunch of vested interests, the Taliban had fought another war of liberation in the past. That one was against the then USSR. The senseless savagery of their devastating rule in Afghanistan in the aftermath of that war of liberation still echoes in the region.
The fig leaf on the so called ‘war of liberation’ that these gents are fighting over in Afghanistan will be lifted soon after the departure of the Coalition forces. The melee that will ensue for capturing Kabul will be as bloody as the inside of a Kandahari pomegranate. This time around, after they have defeated the clay footed Johny Bravos of the Coalition forces, the only improvements that one can expect is that perhaps the limbs will be chopped a little closer to the hands and feet and the women will still be flogged but by an officially issued stick of defined measurements, not just any stick.
And of their being Martyrs for any cause, or there being something called ‘good Taliban’ among them as some jokers suggest, the less said, the better. Were it not for ordinary human decency, one would have wished these clowns to have the Taliban’s long blunt knives hover just above their jugulars. And after a drone took out the knife wielder, one would have then asked them whether that was a good Talib or a bad one or a martyr. After such incidences, such jesters are known to have developed an extra spring in their gaits while fleeing from places wherefrom the word Taliban is spoken.
So what is the truth?
The truth, perhaps, is far simpler. And that is that they are in fact nothing more than religiously inspired killers, ones who kill for the cause, fearless in business of death and ready to sacrifice themselves for that elusive, yet oft promised eternal glory. Religion is the golden shoe with which they have been beating everyone senseless thus far.
The Taliban are a group of people that reveres gods of death, murder and vengeance. Some do not trouble themselves with worshiping any thing beyond their own ability to cause mayhem and butchery. Their strength comes from surprise and from their complete disregard for the rules of honorable combat. They, by their nature, betray those whose trust they have gained, kill women and children on whims, and strike terror into the hearts of an average decent human being.
Raised from childhood in the arcane schools of murder, where they learn to use their stealthy knives to mortifying effect, they serve the will of their lords in whose pay they remain until death. In their pursuit of an indefinable Caliphate, they long to usurp governments and sovereigns. They cling to their strongholds in far corners, dispensing rough and ready justice in remote villages and distant valleys. Their targets are the government’s local agents, the armies sent out to wage wars against them, clergy that does not toe their line and supporters of all the aforementioned entities. For them killing is not just a business tool but also a construct with which to spread terror, perpetuate chaos and preach their dark gospel.
What must be borne in mind however is that while murder is a part of their existence and legend, it is not the reason of their being. They are the fanatical followers of a cult that believes that theirs is the only straight path to enlightenment and all other thoughts, faiths and sects are wrong and wicked. They fervently believe that their god will prevail over all others and those who do not welcome the ‘true’ faith will be punished, either by them now or by their deity in the hereafter. But as that time is yet to come, the Taliban will remain ready in the meanwhile to kill and die at the command of their Emir.
The Taliban combine deadly skills with an absolute belief in the holy nature of the carnage they inflict. As devout followers of a central Emir, they know their cause is correct and their actions are approved by their Emir. For this reason, recruitment is mostly done from illiterate, poverty ridden classes assuring them the ultimate pleasures of a promised heaven. Opportunities are also open to common rogues and thugs who wish to wash off their lifelong misdeeds with glorious martyrdom. Just like the assassins of the past, the recruits are encouraged to use hashish freely so they can occasionally enter paroxysms of joy by hallucinating glimpses of afterlife in paradise. The more hardened ones are urged to take opium to help them achieve warm feelings of contentment and wellbeing.
The real adventure for the Taliban is not the defense of their ideology, whatever that may be. On the contrary, they instantly transport into a heightened state of excitement when a real threat comes against those they serve. While they rarely pursue adventure for the sake of adventure, some Taliban are exceptions to the rule. They use the constant danger of adventuring life as a way to hone their killer instincts and associated skills.
The Taliban are masters of the art of terror. In this pursuit, their tools remain surprise and stealth, barbarity and cruelty, cunning and underhanded tactics. Along with other weapons, they carry these tools wrapped in a blood soaked pennant of faith. As a group, therefore, their absolute faithlessness and amorality makes them as dangerous as a pack of mad dogs. So fearsome is this combination of skills and tactics that they are now one of the most dreaded groups of criminals ever.
From foot soldiers to the higher ranks within the Taliban organization, the career path weaves through a pattern of a kind unimaginable by ordinary human beings. The higher the attributes of wiliness, hatred, abject brutality and ever-readiness for massacre, the greater are the chances of promotion. Specially gifted ones relish the particular cruelty of adding treachery and shock to routine slaughter they are sent out to commit. The more paranoid a killer, the higher he stands chances of rising in the Taliban’s rank hierarchy. Those who succeed in all these traits are ultimately chosen as the leaders. This can clear up why it took so much of time to find a successor to Baitullah. The potential candidate had to prove his credentials beyond doubt.
The pitiable foot soldiers of this organized guild, having been brainwashed into this madness through constant religious sermons since childhood, soon turn into zealots who kill at the pleasure of their leaders. Consequently, bound by divine spells, they turn into freaks who see no significance or method in their madness beyond the inherent pleasure of killing. The earlier this happens, the quicker they get into the race for leadership of their cadres.
The chief aim during training is to instill in the trainee the idea that though murdering in any way is useful and dreaded by the victim, it must also be done in a way that terrorizes the general populace. Through constant sermons, the recruit is convinced that the Talib is an executioner who kills out of a holy principle, that he kills not out of lust but for divine ideals. By the time the lines blur in his mind, his Emir has a slayer that is both professional and fanatic and is willing to kill for the cause of his Emir at a moment’s notice.
From the aforesaid, a few conclusions can safely be drawn;
Perhaps no one has ever explained better than Voltaire the dangers inherent in extremist ideologies of any kind. He once said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”.
We all need to check our premises.
Copyright 2009 by Anwaar Hussain. The writer, a former officer of the Pakistan Air Force, is now based in the United Arab Emirates. This story was originally published in Truth Spring, Mr. Hussain's blog, and is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with the author's permission. Mr. Hussain may be reached by email at email@example.com.
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This story was published on September 15, 2009.