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Pakistan's Extremists Are Carrying Out Their Own Decapitation Strategy

Residents carry the draped body of a suicide bomb victim to his grave in Pabbi, east of Peshawar, in July.
Residents carry the draped body of a suicide bomb victim to his grave in Pabbi, east of Peshawar, in July.
Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province witnessed another high-profile murder on October 2, even as most of the country was reeling from violence on a scale not witnessed in recent history.

Muhammad Farouq Khan, a renowned scholar and an ardent supporter of nonviolent Islam, was the latest victim of the terror wave unleashed by armed men purporting to be Taliban or students of religious seminaries.

Many observers believe the cold-blooded murder of the soft-spoken Farouq Khan inside his clinic was part of a plot to create the impression that this part of Pakistan is on the verge of being taken over by the Taliban, with the ultimate aim of squeezing more dollars from the United States and the international community.

A psychiatrist by profession, Farouq Khan espoused an enlightened Islam, stressing nonviolence and urging harmony among Islamic sects and with the followers of other religions. In his televised talk shows, columns, books, and interviews, he condemned the medieval practices of the Taliban and rejected terrorism and murder.

A Tragic Procession

But Farouq Khan was not the first advocate of nonviolence to have met a tragic fate. In September 2007, revered religious scholar Maulana Hassan Jan was murdered after he declared suicide attacks to be "haram," or un-Islamic.

In June 2009, religious scholar Sarfarz Ahmad Naimi was assassinated in a suicide attack in Lahore. His mosque was hit less than a month after Naimi addressed a mammoth gathering of religious scholars in Islamabad, urging them to forge an anti-Taliban alliance and declaring suicide attacks and beheadings as haram.

In July of this year, militants had shot dead the son of outspoken Khyber-Pakhtunhwa Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain in front of his house. Three days later, a suicide bomber struck outside the house as people were gathering to pay their condolences. Less than two weeks later, in August, terrorists took the life of Safwat Ghayyur, commandant of the Frontier Constabulary and a stalwart in the war against terrorism.

Before extending their terror to the cities and towns of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (what the locals call "the settled areas"), Al-Qaeda and the Taliban wreaked havoc in the tribal areas. More than 700 key tribal elders, or malaks, have been killed in the seven tribal districts, destroying the centuries-old sociopolitical fabric of Pashtun society. This has created a leadership vacuum that has been exploited by militant commanders of different religious groups and criminal gangs.

These killings of key intellectuals, social figures, and officials represent the same tactics extremist militants have used successfully in the tribal belt since 2001 and in Afghanistan before that.

Danger Signals

It is clear now that the terrorists can strike anywhere in the province with impunity, even in heavily guarded cities and towns. These ruthless Taliban attacks have instilled fear in the hearts of local civilians and eroded their trust in the government and the security forces. What does it mean when the state daily proclaims the deaths of dozens of Taliban if people like Farouq Khan are not even safe in their own homes and offices?

What's worse, more and more people within the Pakhtun intelligentsia are inclined to think the militants are being propped up behind the scenes by "powerful forces" opposed to the country's secular and nationalist leaders, aided by their supporters in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and parts of Baluchistan. Such analysts note that more than 320 leaders, officer-holders, and activists of the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) are among those who've died for opposing Taliban ideas and tactics.

The mounting danger facing the secular, nationalist leadership is driving it from the province, paving the way for the religious parties that were soundly rejected by the people in the 2008 general elections.

Even as the international coalition rushes to withdraw from Afghanistan, the tribal areas of Pakistan have virtually become no-go areas for anyone opposing Taliban extremism. Secular forces are definitely in retreat in the face of growing Taliban violence. The recent demonstrations against the sentencing by a U.S. court of Afia Siddiqui show that religious parties are again fomenting anti-Americanism in Pakistan. The growing strength of the religious parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province could be just the beginning of the establishment of a Taliban emirate on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line.

Daud Khattak is a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL