Friday, 20 December 2013

A lesson of nuances

It took me a while to rewrite an exam item for my students on the case study of Malala - A Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head by Taliban for advocating girls' right to education. The recent weeks spent in Pakistan twisted my view about this country, forced my brain to shrug and unlearn basically much of my knowledge and the neat and clean black-and-white understanding of who is the victor and who is the villain. 

My friend and colleague in Islamabad is a University Professor who lives with his family of five in a middle class neighborhood. One evening, I rushed to the sitting room to see a his tearful daughter trying to recall the story of how she and her brother were robbed at gun point on the way back from university. The whole family affirmed me that police knew exactly who that was but choose not to intervene. My friend sat down next to his 17 year old son whose silence could not hide his shaking anger and powerlessness: "You see Mai, between a corrupted government and Taliban, I prefer the latter! At least with the Taliban, we stand a chance to see justice"

In the war against the Soviet in Afghanistan, many armed organizations in Afghan and Pakistan were supported by America and Saudi, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam of Pakistan. When the Russian left, what was left in Afghanistan was a chaos formed by parties that supported as well as those who did not recognize the interim government. Adding oil to the fire, Saudi and Iran backed two different Sunni and Shia forces in the proxy war for power. Southern part of Afghanistan was ran by local warlords. In the midst of this mess, the Taliban movement was formed in Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan with a mission to restore stability by strict Islamic rules. It started with around 50 armed madrassah students and one of its first acts was to save two teenage girls abducted and raped by the local officer. They also freed a young boy who was about to raped by the locals. The sinners were hung and killed. Justice was served.

Allas, when spread out and rose to authority, Taliban was recognized as an extremely radical Islamist organization. Its brutal rules shocked the whole world with human trafficking, women oppression and massacres against civilians. Taliban applied a very narrow interpretation of Islam that forbids women to work except in medical service, leading to hundreds of schools being closed. A woman who was caught to walk with a non-relative male was punished with 100 lashes. Music as well as hand clapping in sport events were banned. 

However, since being overthrown, Taliban has reconstructed and slowly and surely become an undefeatable force and an unavoidable counterpart in negotiation process, despite all effort from the government and support from the West. Why? Read again what happened to my friend's family. When corruption reigns, for ordinary people, Taliban seems to be the last chance to claim justice, although the choice for Taliban also means the choice for a likely prison. Powerless and charged with anger, in a critical moment, a burning thirst for revenge is stronger than the loss of freedom. 

This is the bitter lesson for me: There seems to be no good and bad person, no hero and villain, only those with more or less kindness, also more or less badness. Between the two, my Pakistani family seem to have no choice but the lesser of the two evils. This world is no black and white, especially when a University Professor has to dream of justice from a criminal organization such as Taliban. 

Photo: An Afghani girl in a refugee camp in Islamabad (Pakistan). Probably in a similar camp in Pakistani border, Taliban was born in an environment hardened after Soviet invasion and the aftermath of the war.  


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