by Naila Inayat

The world’s a stage, which, for now, seems like the unending grand finale of the television show, The Bachelor. Everyone is at their best behaviour — including the bachelor — trying to be the winner. But let there be no doubt that it is Pakistan that takes home the “country boys with a code of honour”. Wooing the Taliban was never a hard task, really, but who the Taliban will present a rose to is the real mystery for now.

The official love-fest regained momentum months ago, with Pakistan telling the entire world about the “transformed, decent, mature, chastened and restrained new Taliban” — a 21st-century Taliban. From the foreign minister of Pakistan to the national security advisor to the interior minister, they were all ambassadors of the ‘T-band’. They all, time and again, reassured us that ‘these’ Taliban are not ‘that’ Taliban. And as they kept repeating more of the same, it felt like the last 20 years never happened, and we were a part of some strange parallel universe. Our mental training of the ‘good Taliban’ — the ones fighting in Afghanistan — and the ‘bad Taliban’ — those who fought against Pakistan — dismantled as we found that the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were two sides of the same coin. I wonder where this coin was hidden all these years when tens and thousands on both sides of the border were killed. It suited us then, and this suits us now, is the dictate.

While we were still in the midst of wrapping our heads around the ‘improved’ Taliban, a triumphant celebration of sorts erupted, and now there is almost a dream ‘wish-list’ waiting to be completed. Don’t ask how, but there are some who consider the ‘victory’ of Taliban over the United States after 20 years as a victory for Pakistan, and that too without even fighting the US. Then there are those who have found Aladdin’s Chirag in the Taliban.

Pakistan Leaders Who Cheered On The Taliban

Among those who appeared to be on cloud nine was Neelam Irshad Sheikh, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader who is determined that the Taliban will liberate Kashmir for Pakistan. That dream of ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ is soon going to be realised even if the world hasn’t recognised the new rulers of Afghanistan. In her rather boastful outburst, the PTI leader told us during a TV show how under the able leadership of prime minister Imran Khan, things were finally looking up for Pakistan — people weren’t being checked at the airports, Pakistan’s green passport regained respect and the Taliban were now in-charge and all set to free Kashmir. Despite efforts by the news show host to stop her from outing what seemed like a big State secret, she was irrepressible.

Up next then, perhaps, is the Taliban fulfilling the Pakistani dream project of hoisting a flag on Lal Qila. And once done with Kashmir and the flag, Pakistanis can pull out their laundry list of wishes and ask the Taliban to also fetch us pudina (like McDonald’s has offered this month) and dhaniya along with other grocery items. Why not? After all, they’ve got 99 problems and we ain’t one.

The idea that the Taliban are boasted of as a weapon or tool of Pakistan is rather daft, especially when Pakistan keeps telling the world that it doesn’t enjoy as much influence on the group as others think it does. The official tone aims to be sombre, mature and practical, much like the second wave Taliban. First, they say, “Pakistan has no favourites” and then there are hints of how “Afghanistan has broken the chains of slavery”, the success of Pakistan has been “India keeping mum” and that “defeat was written on India’s face”. All of this is, of course, part of being a sombre and mature country.

While the Pakistan government waits for the world’s verdict on the new Kabul regime, there are those who are eager and want Pakistan to recognise the Taliban ASAP. Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, who considers the Taliban’s win a victory for the Islamic world, insists that the Pakistan government be the first to accept the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. He also says that the defeat of the United States has further strengthened the dream of the liberation of Kashmir and Palestine. The sudden appearance of a congratulatory billboard in Peshawar with photos of the Jamaat chief, Afghan Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was anything but surprising.

Not far from this is a group of clerics in Difa-e-Pakistan who plan to commemorate Friday as ‘Youm-e-Tashkkur’ — a day to thank Allah for the victory of Afghanistan. They are also sure, like the non-official Taliban spokesman, that the Taliban have learned a lot in the last 20 years. Now that’s a reason to thank in itself. Meanwhile, the romance of the Taliban continues to thrive and there are many who continue to defend their regressive governance and treatment of women.

Songs of Celebration

Along with celebration-marked Fridays, there are songs without which no season is ever complete. This time it is Salam Taliban — a tribute song by the madrasa students of Jamia Hafsa, the affiliate of Lal Masjid in Islamabad. Two young girls sang praises of the Afghan Taliban while their teachers and peers held posters and Taliban flags in the background. Meanwhile, Afghan men were arrested in Peshawar for waving their national flag on their Independence day. The cleric of Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who recently set his couch on fire claiming it was “un-Islamic” to sit on it, also put his weight behind the Islamic Emirate. He went so far as to suggest that the Emirate should expand to all Islamic countries like Iran, Bangladesh, Iraq, etc.

The ultimate irony is that the Taliban stan crowd cheers on the notion that it can make or break governments, while conveniently forgetting that it can’t elect its own leaders at home. But faith remains as strong as it once was in the Hamid Karzai government being good before it turned bad and then the Ashraf Ghani government turning bad after it was good. Things may be murky, but one thing is clear: all the ‘virtues’ of the new Taliban might make their stan crowd want their rule in the neighbourhood, they certainly won’t want their rule at home. Aik chance milna chahiye offer doesn’t apply to themselves, at least for now.