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.