An overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s citizens do not want harsh strictures imposed on their personal liberties. They do not want enslavement of their women, their forced confinement in the burqa, or for them to be denied the right to education. Instead, they want a decent life for themselves and their children. They disapprove of Islam being used as a cover for tribal primitivism. But there is little protest.
We must understand this. Why is there no mass movement to confront the extremist Taliban of Miramhah and Waziristan, or the violence-preaching extremist mullah in Mingora, Lahore or Islamabad? This is because ordinary people lack the means and institutions to understand, organise, and express their values and aspirations. We do not yet have the democratic institutions that can give politics meaning for ordinary people. Depoliticising the country over the decades has led to paying this heavy price.
To fight and win the war against the Taliban, Pakistan will need to mobilise both its people and the state. The notion of a power-sharing agreement is a non-starter; the spectacular failures of earlier agreements should be a lesson. Instead, the government should help create public consensus through open forum discussions, proceed faster on infrastructure development in the tribal areas, and make judicious use of military force. This is every Pakistani’s war, not just the army’s, and it will have to be fought even if America packs up and goes away.
It may yet be possible to roll back the Islamist laws and institutions that have corroded our society for over 30 years and to defeat our self-proclaimed holy warriors.