Looking for Taliban equivalents.

Bestowing artificial legitimacy on aliens?

In a recent opinion piece, Mr Nadir Hassan has drawn parallels between the present-day Taliban and the resistance movements in the federally administrated tribal areas (FATA) in the remote past. The writer asserts that he does not condone the Taliban atrocities but, unfortunately, he appears to rationalise that madness by his attempt to impart legitimacy of sorts by trying to tie them to the past struggles in that region.

Mr Hasan has focused on the anti-colonial, conservative religious figure, the Faqir of Ipi and has compared the Faqir of Ipi’s rebellion against the British Raj with the Taliban. The similarities between the two movements – if the Taliban can be called one – are far and few in between and the comparison is valid only in a very limited scope, if at all.

The writer has, for example, exaggerated the reach and influence of the Faqir’s uprising by calling it one of the ‘most successful rebellions’ which was actually not the case. The fact is the movement by the Faqir of Ipi was quite limited and neither had the capacity to nor did extend outside Waziristan. Like the Taliban’s Pakistani backers, the Faqir’s uprising had its foreign supporters in Germans and Italians. However, unlike the Taliban’s handlers, the Germans and Italians were aware that even with unlimited supplies he could not gather more than a thousand adherents or carry out a serious and sustained assault on British forces. The Faqir’s did conduct the classic hit-and-run guerrilla attacks against the British but really had no strategy to expand the scope of their rebellion, including tying it to the larger independence struggle in British India.

Unlike the highly Arabised and Pakistan-trained Taliban, the Faqir of Ipi’s movement was indigenous in nature, characteristics, norms, scope and influence. It was not driven by an anti-imperial ideology or any mooted anti-colonial phenomena. It erupted on the issue of handing over a Hindu minor girl to her parents by the British administration, following a complaint against a tribal man for abducting, converting to Islam and marrying the girl. The action taken by the British administration, of course, was highly commendable, especially when compared today with the complicity of present-day political and civil administration and the inaction of judiciary in similar cases.

The steps taken by the British administration were nonetheless conceived as an attack on the tribal code as well as against religious norms. The outrage against the perceived British excesses morphed into a decade-long insurgency. The indigenous nature of the revolt by default had to tap the traditional bastions of native culture and power i.e. the jirga (political assembly), hujra (social assembly) and the mosque (religious assembly). The former two power centres overshadowed or at least remained at par with the mosque – an exact opposite of the way Taliban movement evolved and prosecuted war. The Faqir’s men worked with the existing socio-political structures, which is in stark contrast with the Taliban zealots blowing up jirgas and decimating the tribal elders and their hujras. Not a shred of historical evidence suggests that the Faqir’s men went on a killing spree against the tribal leaders, common people, music or poetry recitals, village fairs and play areas, bazaars, shrines or mosques.

The very distinct composition of Taliban-ian Islam (as the writer asserted) is the attempt to bring down the existing socio-political structure and to extend their control by inflicting a puritanical version of Islam and waging a jihad against fellow Muslims considered guilty of idolatry, grave worshipping and adultery. Imposing rigorous prohibitions on music, dance and all forms of arts, and enforce punishments for not observing Islamic rituals, challenging tribal hierarchy and insisting on socio-religious equality of the people to win over support.

In his pursuance of finding out an equivalent from the region to dispel the impression of considering the Taliban as an unprecedented phenomena, he missed that the Faqir of Ipi was not a mullah; he was associated with a Sufi clan, a disciple of Pir Naqib of Charbagh, which makes him a Barelvi. Thus, his version of religion was more in line with the local interpretation of Islam (for instance, it is apparent from the use of music in his war parties).

Also, if he had researched about the descendants of the Faqir of Ipi, he may have found that the successor of the Faqir, his nephew, Niaz Ali Khan, was known for his conciliatory approach in tribal disputes, and his sons Abdul Jaleel, Abdul Wali and others were often inveighed by the local mullahs for inertness toward the religiously glorified war of Afghanistan and the current uproar in FATA.

The Faqir of Ipi’s opposition to the idea of Pakistan came from the political leanings favoured towards Congress and its allies in frontier region, the Khudai Khidmatgars. His support of the Pashtunistan was first influenced by this and later by his contacts in the Afghan Government, which lost grounds after Badshah Khan took an oath of allegiance to Pakistan and his military commander later surrendered to Pakistan.

Taliban roots in political and religious movements on Pashtun lands can be traced to the Wahhabi-influenced movement of Syed Ahmed of Bareli, who sought political control by declaring himself the vanguard of Islam, imposed centralised Sharia Laws, changing Pashtun traditions and norms with their version of Islam and challenging the traditional authority of Pashtun elders as well as the religious clergy by assigning themselves the authorities to arbitrate disputes and collect religious tax, as Zakat and Ushr. These steps by Syed Ahmed and his disciples from across India and among Pashtuns were rejected by the traditional Pashtun leadership as well as clergy. The alien movement ensued in an utter failure

Local tribal elders and people of FATA have the same feelings of agony towards the aliens and monsters aka Taliban; it is state support for perceived strategic interests which have enabled them to continue their beleaguering of FATA.

The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at twitter.com/aliarqam