FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Unveiling motivations and mindset of Pakistani Taliban (Book Review)
Posted:Oct 6, 2016
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Vikas Datta
Title: Guardians of God - Inside the Religious Mind of the Pakistani Taliban; Author: Mona Kanwal Sheikh; Publisher: Oxford University Press; Pages: 224; Price: Rs 695 
 
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and others of their ilk not only destabilise Pakistan and make it one of the world's most dangerous places but also threaten neighbouring Afghanistan and India -- and even far beyond. But what motivates these Islamist terror outfits, what are their strategies and objectives? Are they same across the board, and what role does religion play in them?
 
This is what Pakistani-Danish researcher Mona Kanwal Sheikh is trying to find out through direct interviews with both key players and common members from these groups in Pakistan as well as from their public communications.
 
She notes that despite "the threat to local and international stability it has now become", there have been "no comprehensive accounts" about the "rise of the Pakistan Taliban, their grievances and the justifications they offer for violence" and her book, "based on several years of first-hand research, attempts to fill this gap".
 
Though there are no sensational revelations, some of her findings are not entirely expected, and may even be surprising to those who tend to view all these outfits as one breed of unregenerate and unmitigated terrorists. 
 
Some of the groups, we find, seem to display a level of pragmatism that seems at odds with their portrayal, differed on the attack on Malala Yousafzai, while a key Lashkar operative, interviewed in the wake of 26/11, didn't even once mention India and advocated a unique way to reach their goal of Islamisation. 
 
Most of her field work and interviews date from 2008-09. Though she takes up subsequent events (the attack on Peshawar's APS is a major omission), a significant finding is that the Pakistani Taliban's narratives are simultaneously religious and secular, "contradicting a clear-cut divide between religious and secular motivations for violence".
 
Sheikh, a Senior Researcher in International Security at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen, also introduces a concept that people, especially in South Asia, will find most familiar even if they never knew it had a name -- "security as a speech act" to which she was introduced by her PhD supervisor Ole Waever.
 
It is this approach that has influenced her study of the Pakistani Taliban, but that doesn't, by any means or to any extent, make her a supporter or an apologist; she is a clear-headed researcher keen to "hear these people's stories and understand their mindset".  
 
How she managed her task, where being a woman surprisingly didn't prove to be a problem (though in one case, she was made to wear two headscarves), but had to be slightly evasive about background (Scandinavia, instead of Denmark with memories of the infamous cartoons still raw, and California instead of  the US) is a rivetting story in itself, with some glimpses provided in the prologue. 
 
Beginning with the background "relevant to understanding the Pakistani Taliban as a movement and as an ideology", how it came up and its distinctive features, Sheikh goes on to focus on the movement's "fragmented nature", the few common ideological and religious characteristics, and its place in the "broader context of Pakistani politics and the battles over the role of religion since Pakistan's creation in 1947".
 
The next three chapters introduce "select Taliban activists, leaders and sympathisers", including principals of the girls' seminary attached to Islamabad's Lal Masjid (stormed in 2007), and of a prominent seminary in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where most of the original Afghan Taliban leaders had studied, as well as from the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Lashkar.
 
The fifth deals with Taliban's recruitment videos, recorded speeches, pamphlets, jihadi anthems and press releases and the sixth a "conceptual discussion of the implications" of her findings, before she concludes with her prescriptions for policy responses to the Taliban threat.
 
The prescriptions won't come as a surprise, but it must be appreciated that in the last seven decades, no country, including colonial powers, have been able to quell an insurgency by pure military force -- the US learnt from its "Global War on Terrorism" that you cannot militarily defeat an idea.
 
And Sheikh also advocates that unless and until you understand the adversary as a person, and his motivations, rather than as a embodiment of evil, you can never hope to prevail. This is what makes this book, academic as it may be at places, a key read.  
 
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
A Pakistani minister set the proverbial cat amongst India’s foreign policy establishment by announcing that Pakistan was thinking of constitutional changes to make Gilgit-Baltistan its fifth province.
 
read-more
India is well on course to embracing the change brought in by the agent of change -- PM Modi, writes Sanjay Kumar Kar for South Asia Monitor.  
 
read-more
To build a better future for all, the government in Dhaka will have to think about how to ensure inclusive education for all in the country, writes Minhazur Rahman Rezvi for South Asia Monitor.
 
read-more
spotlight image 'Covert military actions or surgical strikes against terror launch pads in Pakistan have limited utility that won't change the mind of the Pakistan Army or the ISI  which sponsor cross-border terrorism
 
read-more
In Dutch politics, alliances are imperative to construct an administration. The post-election government formation is, therefore, a slightly time-consuming process. In due course, a coalition led by the incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, will surface.  
 
read-more
Japan is a special country in several ways. For centuries, it remained isolated and disconnected with the outside world. But once it opened itself up to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854 by the use of force by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States Navy, Japan has never looked back. Japan is a spe
 
read-more
Recently, under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and earlier under the late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdallah bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia has rolled out a series of women-friendly initiatives.  Recently, under the leadership of Custodian of the
 
read-more
spotlight image Arun Jaitley, with his legal and political acumen, is the best bet for Narendra Modi after Manohar Parrikar, who could also understand technological as well as financial demands of the defence ministry.           
 
read-more
Column-image

India remians the inflexible bête-noir for Pakistan, yet there are few books by Indian authors that have sought to interpret the prodigal neighbour in a holistic, informed and empathetic manner.

 
Column-image

The line that Mortimer Durand drew across a small map in 1893 has bled the Pashtun heart ever since. More than a century later both sides of that line remain restless. But the mystery behind what actually happened on 12 November 1893 has never ...

 
Column-image

What went wrong for the West in Afghanistan? Why couldn't a global coalition led by the world's preeminent military and economic power defeat "a bunch of farmers in plastic sandals on dirt bikes" in a conflict that outlasted b...

 
Column-image

What will be Pakistan's fate? Acts of commission or omission by itself, in/by neighbours, and superpowers far and near have led the nuclear-armed country at a strategic Asian crossroads to emerge as a serious regional and global concern whi...

 
Column-image

Some South African generals, allied with the British forces, sought segregation from the enlisted men, all blacks, after being taken prisoners of war. The surprised German commander told them firmly that they would have to share the same quarte...

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive