Virgil’s Aeneid tells the tale of an ingenious plan the Greeks came up with. After 10 years of unsuccessful siege of Troy, they built a massive wooden horse hollowed out from within, burned their camps to indicate they had left and hid inside the horse. A volunteer, Sinon, was left outside to convince the victims that the Greeks had gone and left the horse as a tribute to goddess Athena. He managed to convince them. The King’s daughter and official soothsayer Cassandra predicted doom due to this. But she was ignored with prejudice. Hence the origin of the rhetorical device — Cassandras. In the end, ecstatic Trojans pulled the horse into their city and after much merriment, they slept. In the dark of night, an elite group of fighters hiding inside fell on the unsuspecting Trojans and dispatched them. Ergo the metaphor — the Trojan Horse.
In February 2001, Lt Gen (retd) Moinuddin Haider, the then interior minister of Pakistan, made an unusual visit to Kabul. There he presented a list of sixty Lashkar-e-Jhangvi absconders, including Riaz Basra, the notorious founder of the group. Intelligence reports had indicated, and Islamabad was convinced, that these absconders had taken refuge in the country. Their presence was denied by the Taliban but as there was an ideological convergence between the two, the Taliban would not have handed them over in any case. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, this became abundantly clear as the Taliban refused to surrender Osama citing faith and customs.
Everyone who maintains that the ragtag group of self-appointed holy warriors is a friend of Pakistan needs to answer a simple question. What interests did the Taliban purportedly serve Pakistan, apart from being a massive drain on resources, an international liability and radicalising influence at home? It refused to resolve the Durand line issue. It regularly disregarded Islamabad’s pleas to show respect for human rights or to moderate its ways, resulting in the constant international marginalisation of Pakistan. But at home, its benefactors like Colonel Imam were adamant that it was the best friend the country ever had. The situation would change shortly, the Taliban government would fall and due to its cooperation with the US, Pakistan would come under attack from a newly formed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). A leader of the TTP would one day execute Col Imam in front of cameras.
In the past twenty years, Pakistan has been to hell and back. Before 2014, the state had to face the fact that its war on domestic TTP terrorists was not owned by its citizens. The new narrative was failing in face of the old narrative of the 90s. In 2014, the inhumanity and brazenness of the APS Peshawar attack would change that. But as a tiny cog in the vast machine that worked tirelessly to build consensus against terrorism, I can attest to the fact that even after APS it was not a cakewalk. Even when the consensus emerged it was fleeting and ephemeral. The TTP apologists never went away. If you are trying to find them among the political class you are forgetting that politics in Pakistan is driven by self-interest and not by ideology. Look for them among public influencers. Dime a dozen and ready trigger.
Recently, as the Taliban expanded their sway, reports have emerged of the TTP terrorists living in territories controlled by their ideological Afghan twins. This has given birth to a host of questions. Why have the Taliban not taken any action against them? Why have Pakistan’s ‘brethren’ not expelled or handed them over? Could they do that if their control over Afghanistan is complete? The relationship between the TTP and the TTA (Afghan Taliban) has been a source of the good-Taliban-bad-Taliban binary for long. But the truth is that the TTA has never publicly disavowed the TTP. They say nothing and leave it to the obscurity and confusion artists to sow doubts in the minds of the public about the evidence before them. Today the TTA is not in power and even then, it is not ready to help in bringing Pakistan’s public enemy number one to justice. What is the chance that it would once it came to power? None at all, if the Riaz Basra and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi episode cited above is any proof. They are ideological twins and this time the TTA promises to return to power emboldened by the ‘defeated a superpower’ lore. This time it will be far more stubborn in its conduct.
In their recent push to capture Spin Boldak’s main market area, the Taliban fighters killed an embedded Reuters photojournalist, Danish Siddiqui. Initially, it was thought that Siddiqui was caught and killed in crossfire in the fog of war. But gradually gory details started emerging. The fighters had desecrated his dead body. It became clear that he was killed not despite who he was but because of it. Siddiqui, an Indian Muslim, gained prominence during the recent Indian Covid-oxygen crisis when his photographs of burning pyres denied by the government won him plaudits. When he was killed by the Taliban, some Hindutva fanatics in New Delhi distributed sweets.
This took me to the 2014 Sastra University speech by Ajit Doval, now India’s NSA. He said, “Don’t buy their argument that if Taliban are not stopped at Pakistan border then India will be threatened. Firstly India will not be threatened; secondly, Pakistan is not our well-wisher. We will tackle the Taliban in a way we want… Today India is the most popular country in Afghanistan. Funding is denied to terrorists by countering it with more than one and a half times the funds available to them. Then they are on our side. They are mercenaries.”
If the Taliban take over Afghanistan, apart from the usual wages of war next door, Pakistan will be subjected to a double whammy. It will be blamed for their human rights violations and other bad practices. Despite what you are told the Taliban have not changed their spots. And their victory narrative will export this destabilising ideology to Pakistan through the TTP and other aligned groups. Even if they don’t let their land being used against any other country, this ideological osmosis will embolden their twins in Pakistan. What a curious coincidence that this is happening in a month when India has assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” The wooden horse is at the door. Be careful what you wish for.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2021.