Friday, August 15, 2014

Hassan Abbas's "The Taliban Revival"

Hassan Abbas is Professor and Chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs in Washington, D.C. He is also a Senior Advisor at the Asia Society.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier, and reported the following:
The selected passage from my book (page 99 to be specific) indeed reflects some of the most important themes of the work. The idea of Taliban, both among Afghans and Pakistanis, derived nourishment from a variety of sources ranging from extremist religious thinking and criminal networks to authoritarianism and dubious role played by state agencies. The text below provides an insight into how Pervez Musharraf, a Pakistani military dictator, created space for Taliban through his mistaken policies. He was no doubt progressive and pro-Western in his worldview but his authoritarian way of governance and sidelining of democratic institutions (as defective as they were) helped Taliban revival. Secondly, the rise of religious political parties in Pakistan in the post 9/11 setting – which Musharraf had coopted to create political space for his personal ambitions – also empowered religious radicals. The idea of Taliban in itself is weak and flawed and is partly nurtured by the distortion of Islamic teachings, but support from within the government circles supplement Taliban power.

From page 99:
(Musharraf) made all the right noises when he met Western leaders, but his decisions on the ground shattered the country. But to give credit where credit is due – Musharraf did take some bold policy initiatives. The trouble is, those decisions were seldom implemented.

By 2002, Musharraf had assumed the title ‘president’ after a flawed referendum. National elections were also held in response to public demands for a return to democracy. Musharraf realized that Pakistan was not short of politicians who, given their feudal background and vested interests, would be ready to join hands with a military ruler in the ‘national interest’. And his assessment was spot on, though the political wing of Pakistan’s (intelligence agency) ISI also played its traditional role in inspiring the creation of a new political force – basically old wine in new bottles – to form a pro-Musharraf government in Islamabad and the four provinces. But what happened in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (then known as NWFP) was both mysterious and unprecedented.

The political rise of Muttihada Majlis-e-Amal (MMA – United Forum for Action) was meteoric. Formed in 2002, this coalition of five religious political parties won the provincial elections in NWFP (and even emerged as the leading opposition party in the National Assembly of Pakistan). This created a propitious environment for radicalization to flourish in the province.
 It was an amazing achievement for this assortment of religious parties, associated with various Muslim sects and with divergent political agendas, to come together in government. The alliance comprised the Deobandi-dominated Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), the Barelvi- oriented Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, the traditionally Islamist Jamaat-e- Islami (JI), the Shia Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, and the Wahhabi-inspired Jamiat Ahle Hadith.
 The alliance made full use of prevailing political opinion, which was highly exercised by the foreign presence in Afghanistan and by Pakistan’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’, both of which were seen in the country as very controversial campaigns.
Learn more about The Taliban Revival at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue