Shouldn’t 86 million Taliban supporters make you lose some sleep?

Talibanisation doesn’t necessarily need a Pashtun Taliban commander to take over

In March, after Juan Cole argued that “a few thousand tribesmen can’t take over a country of 165 million with a large urban middle class that has a highly organized and professional army”, this blog pointed out that “‘Taliban takeover’ does not necessarily mean a regime that places Baitullah Mehsud…in power. It could well place the army chief or even a politician at the helm, leave the civil bureaucracy largely intact, but replace the tattered 1973 constitution with the sharia.”

The International Republican Institute’s public opinion survey, of a “national representative sample of adult residents in Pakistan”, conducted between March 7-30, 2009 support’s this blog’s case. (via The Washington Independent)

The survey suggests that (before the Pakistani army began its offensive against the Taliban in the Malakand region in late April) almost two-thirds of the respondents (72%) supported striking peace deals with the Taliban knowing that such deals with strengthen the Taliban movement. 80% of the respondents supported the government’s deal with the Taliban. That’s not all, 56% the respondents replied in the affirmative when asked if they would support a Taliban support for sharia in other parts of the country, like Karachi, Multan, Quetta or Lahore. Support for the Lashkar-e-Taiba is strong, with 43% viewing it favourably, (46% unfavourably, and 12% didn’t know/didn’t respond). And after the media, it is the army that Pakistanis look up to—with approval ratings back to around 80%.

Sure, surveys are inexact and things might have changed in the last two months, but they suggest that the risk of Talibanisation is not insignificant. Support for the Taliban is by no means unanimous, and the minority which opposes the Taliban might well triumph in the end (see this month’s Pragati) but to assert, like Prof Cole does with certitude, that this risk is overstated is negated by the IRI survey.

What is worse, the Pakistani acquiescence of Talibanisation is supported by its state of denial. If it were not so scary, it would be amusing to note that while a majority of Pakistanis believe that it would indeed be serious if the Taliban/Lashkar-e-Taiba were to mount attacks on India from Pakistani soil, they do not believe that this is already the case. A majority of the respondents believed that the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai were carried out by Indian intelligence, the United States or by unknown third parties—not the Lashkar-e-Taiba (78% did not agree that LET was responsible).

We don’t know what Prof Cole would say to these data. He is yet to comment on it on his blog, although he does cover a December 2008 Gallup poll that suggests nearly half of those surveyed view the Taliban’s influence as negative. The good professor’s comment perhaps, is selective informed.

So if the thought of a few thousand insurgents taking on the behemoth that is the Pakistan army doesn’t keep you awake at night, perhaps the thought that one in two of Pakistan’s 170 million people might support the Taliban’s call for sharia to be made the law of the land certainly should. Not least when they believe that it is India and the United States that do terrorism, not the Taliban and LET.

10 thoughts on “Shouldn’t 86 million Taliban supporters make you lose some sleep?”

  1. Pakistan has deployed all of 15,000 troops to the Swat region. If that was all that was required what took them so long to take on the Taliban? Pakistan has always been a beggar nation. “Give us ALMS or we’ll take up ARMS” has always been a threat that Pakistan has used to threaten the world.

    The intensity of the fighting is reported only by the media, as instrucuted by the Pak army and Interior Ministry. Surprisingly, they report very few deaths on the part of the army. This is dubious indeed. If the reports are right, the Taliban are seasoned fighters, well versed in mountain guerilla warfare. Thats what they have been doing since 1980. Yet, they appear powerless when confronted by the “might” Pak army.

    Today’s newspaper reports indicated that Pak airforce jets bombed a house, killing 60 jihadis, who had gathered there. Right! The Talib are stupid enough to do that and the air force, brilliant, for its accuracy. Whom are the Pakis fooling.

    Zardari has been begging for Drones. As though that is the answer. Wonder what percentage he wll ask for once they are delivered.

  2. Hi Nitin,

    I have two points to make…
    1. The IRI Survey methodology shows that FATA was not surveyed. This probably suggests that these estimates are conservative. This is of course my own subjective opinion.
    2. It really would be interesting to know the reason behind the belief in conspiracy theories in the Islamic World (generally speaking)
    a. Six Day War
    b. Protocol of the Elders of Zion
    c. 9/11
    d. 26/11
    e. 1971 War

    The list of course is not exhaustive. What I don’t understand is whether this is a suspension of rationality or the fact that WE automatically believe Islamic Terrorism is the cause due to our own subjectivity. Sure we can claim to have proof for these acts, but let us face it… when we hear about a bomb blast, the first reaction is that it may have come from Pakistan.

  3. “Suspension of rationality” is when we are brainwashed into believing that religion, especially my religion, is not evil, but is about “peace and compassion”. The end result of years of child abuse, as Richard Dawkins has put it. Islam, of course, takes the cake in this respect!

  4. @Pradeep,

    The tendency to attribute terrorist attacks to Pakistan is rational and suggested by Bayes’ theorem. Would I automatically suspect a Kalahari tribal gang or would I automatically Pakistani jihadi outfit, with or without local involvement? Rev. Bayes tells us that it is more likely to be the latter.

  5. Pradeep,

    Why won’t people believe in conspiracies if everyone in Islamic world – their media (and, let’s face it, western media too when 26/11 started), politicians, dictators, mullahs, and talking heads – are saying the same thing. There is no alternative source that would say anything different.

  6. I recoil from watching the recurring horror movie that is Pakistan- surely Jinnah must be proud of his creation.

  7. The support for the more religious parties (Sharif) is surprising considering the (relative) dislike for Taliban. Or this is, Jinnah + Zia + Bhutto + inbreeding = Pakistani populace today

    How is it that Pakistani majority (again, relatively speaking) supports Sharia and the Taliban but wants a democratic government, even under Sharif? How is it that this same relative majority has a relatively okay view of India, but thinks that it perpetuates (or the US, or Mossad!) acts of terror upon its own populace, despite a multitude of evidence from various sources (some India, some “ally” in the GWOT/past contingency operations) to the contrary? Given Dawn and local Pakistani paper polls post-Mumbai, where the surveyed population, although likely skewed with more Punjabi and Sindhi representation and less FATA/Baluchi representation, swung strongly in favor of Pakistani/ISI/Army innocence and Indian/US duplicity, I find these results extremely hard to believe. As someone above noted, I think for many reasons, the support for radical Islam is quite understated.

    The question is, as far as India is concerned, what does this mean in terms of complicity? While a pro-Sharia, pro-Taliban democratic Sharif government might exist in some fantasy in the Pakistani populace’s mind, events on the ground are showing that this is impossible. So although Pakistanis may think that they can become fully Islamic like S Arabia, no free nation will stand by and let Taliban acquire nukes and create the first Islamic terrorist state (in Western eyes, as this line was crossed long ago in Indian POV).

    So now more than ever, Prof Dershowitz’s civilian spectrum concept comes to mind – if the people of a lawless nation can mandate a writ of governance only when the government supports the very face, if not definition, of global terror; when the population supposedly supports some sort of accountability towards India – or rather itself, as it doesn’t want to be seen as global terror breeding-ground – but ultimately, refuses to believe any evidence on the account that “Islam doesnt allow terror” and then a nationalistic “Indians are making things up again as they took over Kashmir”; when this populace supports limited amount of terror (LeT) as seen fit to support the interests – however evolving is anyone’s guess: Kashmir now, Delhi sultanate later! as per conservative Islam – of a strictly Islamic nation state; when atrocious violations of human rights are condoned to limit a self-declared foe (support of Tamil genocide in SL); when there is no declared limits to either government or popular opinion, except the continual reinterpretation of Islam – if all these things happen, then is the populace considered civilian or complicit in the perpetuation of terror?

    * This also shows a potential end result of US ‘stopper’ policy with Islamist nations like Egypt, S Arabia, and Pakistan. As of past days news, Egypt seems to be trying to pre-empt more terror. S Arabia has stoppered terror domestically while spreading it to India, Pakistan, Europe, and Africa; Pakistan is now meeting its fate with this (continued) policy.

    India would also seem to be justified in taking a WWI/II approach to this – the existence of ‘moderate’ Muslims in India defines Pakistan as the very embodiment of a separatist Islamic terror-state! (No matter what the British say/do. . . again, as with Palestine-Israel issue, on the wrong side . . .. )

  8. Juan Cole is married to a Pakistani woman. His thoughts are most likely stale regurgitations from the wife – papered over to make them acceptable to a wide audience.

  9. Juan Cole’s recent articles about Pakistan, playing down the Taliban threat, have been utterly disgusting.

  10. Hi,

    First, Juan Cole is a contrarian. He makes his living by appealing to people who don’t believe in the dominant opinion in the US. It is no secret that opinion here in the US is controlled by fear that the Taliban will end up with the atomic bomb, and give it to AQ. In fact just from reading the media and watching news channels, I’d be inclined to say that the US media is hysterical about the prospect of a “Taliban takeover of nuclear armed Pakistan”. So Juan Cole is appealing to his audience by down playing the threat.

    Neither the attitude of the US media nor Juan Cole’s attitude is directly related to the threat itself. The US media lives, by and large, by hyping threats to the US people that originate from sources other than the US establishment, while ignoring threats to the US people that come from within the establishment. Juan Cole appeals to contrarians who think foreign threats are overblown to create support for the military-industrial complex.

    In the meantime there is a probably medium sized threat out there. Pakistan will probably remain a nuclear armed Chinese client state, no matter what happens in the internal civil war. It probably won’t nuke India, because India also has The Bomb. It probably won’t launch a conventional military attack on India, because the last time Pakistan tried this {Kargil} it lost. If the Taliban win, the terrorists are likely to step up their attacks on India and may start attacking the US.

    Even if Pakistan goes the Iranian route, and becomes an openly theocratic Islamic state, it is pretty unlikely to be the end of the world, or even the source of nuclear attack on the US, India or Israel. After all, most theocracies are run by people who would like to meet god, but not just yet, thank you very much.

    Of course, there’s always some chance that something unexpected will happen. Also, increased terrorist attacks on India {plus possibly resumption of AQ terrorist attacks on the US} would be bad. So it is worth taking reasonable measures to resist a Taliban takeover in part or all of Pakistan.

    But this is running on. More than enough is more than enough. I thank those who think this is more than enough for reading this far. Others may wish to consult my blog at the site given above.

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