Were the Taliban ever innocent?

Individuals can be forgiven but cannot be absolved of their crimes

Writing on the return of over three hundred Pakistani Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons, the Dawn totally absolves individual jihadis of any crimes.

There are a few lessons to be learnt from the sorry episode, as Pakistani officials debrief the released prisoners before allowing them to go home. Most of the returning young men were recruited to wage jihad in Afghanistan by madressahs run by Taliban sympathizers here, while government agencies either encouraged their activities or turned a blind eye to the indoctrinating process.

At the end of the day, these innocent citizens have had to endure immense pain and suffering for no worthy cause or fault of theirs. All this, while the masterminds behind the saga – the military trainers and the religious seminary recruiters – have managed to keep themselves out of harm’s way. [Dawn]

This view holds those people who commit crimes under the influence of religious fundamentalists or covert government agencies as ‘innocent citizens’. Whatever happened to that thing called free will? Even in Pakistan, not all poor, illiterate, jobless young men pack up and leave to fight a foreign jihad.

Indoctrination or militarization can at best be considered as a mitigating factor, but by no means be an excuse give killers a clean moral or legal slate. While the jihadi kingpins and their ISI masters are much more culpable for the violent crimes of the Taliban, indiscriminately establishing that all the Taliban foot-soldiers fails to hold them to account for their own poor judgement, greed or fanaticism.

In a way, the Dawn’s attitude is similar to Musharraf’s who holds that Pakistan is not ready for democracy because people are incapable of thinking and acting for themselves. If ever the proponents of this logic allow a truly ‘free-and-fair’ election the people themselves will demonstrate just what they are capable of.