I Opyne

Deceptive Desperation

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Hawks are an integral part of any political jungle, and Pakistan is no exception. But in relative terms the Pakistani variety does appear a “bit” more hawkish than the rest, “hawks on steroids” if you may. This lot usually hates compromises, for instance; grass seems to be their green of choice when denouncing aid from the infidels, and as a defense against an enemy onslaught they have even contemplated the possibility of detonating Pakistani nukes on Pakistani soil i.e. a national level suicide bombing of sorts.

But then amazingly, this same lot of missile-wielding and radiation burping warriors turns instantly dovish, at anything remotely Taliban-ish. Despite the Taliban’s ownership of hundreds of bombings, be-headings and abductions within Pakistan, all they get from our overly sensitive hawks are mere murmurs of protests and those too are hugely qualified.

So what gives exactly? Why is it that the people who justify the killing of Governor Taseer by quoting his blasphemous insensitivity are somewhat indifferent to those who bomb mosques and shrines? Why is it that those who go livid over the killing of a Muslim anywhere in the world, are shrugging shoulders in the face of this continuing massacre of thousands of Pakistani Muslims?

The main reason for this uncharacteristic silence seems to be an understanding; an understanding that the Taliban are desperate and thus irrational. Fighting these irrational beings will make them even more irrational, the solution thus is not to fight them but to understand the root cause of their desperation; which is the US occupation of Afghanistan and US attacks within Pakistan. The Americans apparently have challenged a people who have defeated the British Empire as well as Communist Russia, these brave and noble souls live by their code of revenge and will do anything to get back at their enemy. In their desperation then the Taliban are fighting with every mean possible, and the suicide bomber is the ultimate embodiment of the desperation felt by the Taliban. Until the root causes to this desperation are addressed, all of this killing and mayhem will “understandably” continue.

So exactly how desperate are the Taliban?

In 2007 a pair of economists from Harvard University published an interesting paper titled Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers. Defining productivity as the ability to cause damage, the authors (Benmelech & Berrebi) considered traits among bombers that distinguished the more successful ones. Among other things, their analysis revealed “age” of the bomber to be a crucial factor in determining success; statistically speaking, a suicide jacket, if worn by an adult bomber is likely to do more damage than if it is worn by a child.

During the recent suicide attack on the Sakhi Sarwar Shrine, one of the bombers encountered a “wardrobe malfunction”, resultantly Umar Fidai, an embodiment of Taliban’s defiance and desperation was caught alive, and interviewed. One thing that comes across as obvious from the interview is that Umar is neither defiant nor desperate, in fact he is apologetic. When asked about his motivation to carry out this act, he literally specified “mazay” (fun times) in heaven to be the main reason. If this sounds childish, then it should, because Umar is only 14 years old; an age at which it is too early for one to have a true grasp of the Islamic compulsion of Jihad, or for that matter the revenge compulsions of Pakhtunwali.  Furthermore, Umar Fidai is not an exception, the eulogizing post-bombing videos, as well as testimonies of eye witnesses, invariably report suicide bombers to be mere teenagers.

In the Taliban’s arsenal, the suicide bomber is undoubtedly the deadliest.  But, the creation of a bomber is not just about a volunteer, the rigging of belts and vehicles and their safe transportation towards their targets is a logistical exercise that is full of all sorts of risks. So, when a volunteer straps on a belt in a city such as Islamabad, then that belt is not just nuts and bolts, it includes the cost of clearing all sorts of security hurdles. For this considerable investment, why would the Taliban not want maximum damage and select grownups? I mean forget about that analysis from Harvard, it only confirms what we all know from experience, i.e. you do not send a boy to do a man’s job. So the question is where are all those angry and frustrated men for whom our hawks are so very eager to compromise on Pakistan’s security interests and stage dharnas (sit ins)? Why aren’t those men strapping on these belts, instead of these boys?

The answer to that lies in the testimonies of captured suicide bombers such as Umar Fidai. The recruitment of these children is full of ploys that befit child molesters; they are coaxed with heavenly candies and beaten black and blue if they dare to question. While gun totting Taliban men are very eager to swoop in on unarmed villagers and behead prisoners, they seem reluctant to carry out suicide bombings.

The reluctance of bearded Taliban to carry out these attacks goes contrary to the “desperation” argument presented by Pakistan’s religious right. By quoting any action against the Taliban as a source of raising this so called desperation, these “pacifists” are arguing against the only real response to the Taliban’s onslaught. Furthermore, the apparent “futility” of a military response should be seen in the context of Osama’s presence at the outskirts of Kakul, it is very possible that the military option wasn’t exercised properly in the first place; be it incompetence or collusion.


Appeared in The Huffington Post on the 20th of May, 2011.

Also appeared in The News on the 21st of August, 2011, under the title: When terrorists are merely ‘irrational

Written by Imran Khan

May 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm

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