Malala versus Extremism: Not Taliban, but Talibanization

By Fazl-E-Haider, Syed | Harvard International Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Malala versus Extremism: Not Taliban, but Talibanization


Fazl-E-Haider, Syed, Harvard International Review


In October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan's northwestern town of Swat when she was returning home from school in a van. Why did the Taliban perceive a schoolgirl as a grave threat to its agenda of radicalizing youth? Armed with pen, enlightened with knowledge, and charged with the passion of fighting for the right to girls' education, 14-year-old Malala has had no less of an impact than a drone in combating Talibanization.

There is talk of launching a decisive battle against the Islamist extremists in Pakistan. But any military campaign against Taliban will be fruitless without a campaign against Talibanization.

It is not the Taliban but Talibanization that should be the real target in the war on extremism.

What needs to be applied here is the Malalaian theory, that education is the best drone to combat the radicalization of people in underdeveloped tribal areas. Today, as Malala recovers in a hospital in Britain, thousands of schoolgirls across Pakistan are heard shouting, "I am Malala Yousafzai ... I am Malala." Today, the country has thousands of young, bold, and energetic Malalas to carry out her mission. This is the miraculous outcome of the "Malalaian war" on extremism.

In the drone-hit tribal areas, everyone is a potential Taliban member. The drones are killing Taliban, but civilian casualties catalyze Talibanization. Here the Malthusian theory applies: as drone attacks increase arithmetically, the number of Taliban increases geometrically. The number of Taliban, which has multiplied during 11 years of the US-led war on extremists, confirms the accuracy of its application. Though the drone war has been effective in targeting the key leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it has been counterproductive in containing Talibanization. If a drone attack kills one Taliban, it creates 10 more. The number of Taliban has increased over the past seven years and its influence has spread from Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to the settled areas of the country.

A frustrated individual, who has lost either his father, mother, brother, sister or entire family in a US drone attack is more susceptible to recruitment by the Taliban. As Pakistan is a US ally in the war on extremists, this individual cannot go to the Pakistani authorities to seek justice. Ultimately, he will feel that he has no choice but to join Taliban forces to avenge the killing of his family members. The US drone war is generating sympathy for the militants and public anger against both Islamabad and Washington due to civilian casualties. At least 250 children, according to one estimate, have been killed in the tribal areas so far.

In 2010, the United States killed at least 700 people in the 100 drone strikes it launched in the country's northwestern tribal areas. The 700 casualties fanned anti-US sentiments, giving birth to potential recruits to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Certainly, the airstrikes are not serving the interests of Washington, Islamabad or anti-terror allies; the Islamist militants are gaining political mileage as the number of civilian casualties rises. Hatred against the colonial agenda of the US and its allies in the Muslim world is acting as a catalyst for Talibanization. The Bush Administration policies spawned more and more suicide bomb squads and radicalized more groups in the tribal areas. Islamic militancy, in terms of cause and effect theory, is the result of the doctrine of force.

There will be no halt to violence when violence is used as chemotherapy to cure violence. Only education can bring about a change in the peoples' radical mindset. It is clear that the Malthusian model of drone attacks helped the Taliban to increase its strength, but the Malalaian model of education helped to contain its growing influence.

Therefore, what the tribal region needs are highprofile educational academies, technical training institutes, and universities, not military checkpoints and army garrisons. …

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