Pakistan’s Taliban, Part II: Ideology

Ahsan Chawla on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan

A demolished school in Swat, Pakistan, after conflict between the Army and the Taliban in 2009. Photo by Kash_if via Flickr.

A demolished school in Swat, Pakistan, after conflict between the Army and the Taliban in 2009. Photo by Kash_if via Flickr.

The strict ideology upon which the TTP are based has been conspicuous through their actions over the years. It is through these actions, their composition and aims that they have proven time and time again their intention to try and impose their own version of Wahabbi-inspired strict Islamist law in Pakistan.

Evident through their stated aims, since inception, the TTP leadership have included the imposition of Sharia law in their manifesto. The very first indication of this side of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is the fact that they are modeled upon the Afghan Taliban across the border and also consider Mullah Omer, the Afghan Taliban head, as their own “Amir” or leader.

The Afghan Taliban, during their rule from 1996 and 2001 imposed a harsh version of Islamic law on the country. Beards were compulsory for men and those with beards insufficiently long were jailed, while head-to-toe veils were compulsory for women. Television was banned and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice took strict action against anyone who did not adhere to the stringent rules. Perhaps the most shocking example of the Taliban’s intolerance was the destruction of Buddhist statues and other shrines in the country’s Bamiyan province.

The TTP’s acceptance of such a group as their model, and the leader of the Afghan Taliban as their own leader, hints at their aspirations of creating a Pakistani state that resembles the Afghan state under Taliban rule. Another example of the TTP’s aspirations to enforce their brand of Sharia law in the country are their targeted attacks against barber shops, movie shops and art centers. Repeated death threats were also issued to barbers who shaved beards in their shops in suburbs of Peshawar, again indicating the TTP’s violent propaganda against anything they perceived to be against Islamic law.

In December 2008, the Taliban in the Swat district of Pakistan imposed a ban on female education and threatened to bomb any school with female students after their set deadline. It is reported that more than 210 schools were bombed in the Swat district, 97 in Bajaur Agency, 57 in the Mohmand Agency, 22 in Peshawar and 35 in the Khyber Agency. This was a stark reminder of the ideological aspect of the TTP that was surfacing more violently than ever. By attacking schools, shops and simple civilians they aimed to impose their will on the masses and coerce the military apparatus as well as the Pakistani government, hoping to gain some leverage over the authorities and the law. Their methods paid dividends as soon as the government gave in to their pressure and tried to appease them with various peace deals.

On February 16 2009, the North West Frontier Province’s government struck a deal with a faction of the TTP, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) widely known as the Swat peace deal and the Nizam-e-adl regulation. The TNSM itself is a group whose name literally means “Movement for Imposition of Muhammad’s Shariat”. It was founded in 1992 by firebrand leader Sufi Muhammad and joined the TTP coalition as a major partner in 2007. Under the deal, Qazi courts were to be established in the Swat region to decide all cases. These courts were meant to be strictly Sharia-based and Sufi Muhammad was to have the last say in appointing all judges. It was again a vivid reminder of the TTP’s and their partner groups’ aim to impose Sharia law in the country through force and violence.

In March 2009, an addition was made to the Nizam-e-adl regulation: the Taliban now being allowed to take action against “obscenity and corruption” as well as shutting down music shops. This clause in the agreement virtually left governance at the Taliban’s discretion, allowing them to interpret and implement Islamic law as they saw fit. This development left no doubts about the TTP’s intentions and objectives, raising fears in the rest of Pakistan’s populace.

The popular demand for swift justice in the Swat region was exploited by the TNSM and the TTP in tandem. The courts were established in the entire area and meted out harsh “justice” in the area according to their will. Floggings in public for offenders became a common sight while girls were again forbidden to attend schools. The Lal Masjid incident was another example of organizations influenced by the Taliban trying to implement Sharia law. On March 26, 2007 students of the Lal Masjid seminary raided a nearby house and kidnapped its female residents for allegedly running a brothel. The clerics of the mosque and seminary even established a court within the premises, doling out punishments according to their version of Islamic law. In addition to this, DVD shops were told to shut down by the students as well as music shops in what was another incident of Taliban style groups imposing Sharia law in the country by force.

All their actions were in line with a strict version of Sharia law decreed by their own version of Islam. It was these acts of “justice” that showed the Taliban are not just a group of individuals, but had spread and fermented a strict ideology across many areas of northern Pakistan.

Ahsan Chawla is an undergraduate student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. This article originally appeared on our partner website, Graphite Publications, here: