The Scorpion’s Tail:
The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in
Pakistan – And How It Threatens the World
By Zahid Hussain
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Price: Rs 1195
A day after Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in Islamabad by his police guard for voicing criticism of the blasphemy laws, senior journalist Zahid Hussain made a grim announcement at the launch of his second book, ‘The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan – And How It Threatens the World’ — “Pakistan is drifting towards chaos and anarchy”.
The event, held at a branch of the bookstore Liberty Books in Karachi, featured a discussion panel comprising journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, former Pakistani ambassador to the US Maleeha Lodhi, writer Asif Noorani and Hussain. Following an introduction by Noorani and Salahuddin, Lodhi expressed her views on ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ and raised questions that have been swirling through the minds of many since the War on Terror began: “Why do people turn to violence? How do we deal with the facts that minds have been infected?” In Lodhi’s opinion, it is time to treat the underlying causes that breed violence, and not just the symptoms.
As the evening progressed, Hussain and Lodhi discussed topics such as the use of CIA-operated drones in Pakistan, the recent Af-Pak Review published by the US government and the futility of the current military strategy in Afghanistan. The war, according to the panellists, is unwinnable in Afghanistan, unless a political solution is reached in the war-torn country. Hussain recalled an incident that underlined the significance of the Pakistan Army in the political scenario. “I was told that the Foreign Ministry went to the Inter-Services Intelligence and asked them, what should be our (foreign) policy? The Foreign Minister is asking a military general what the country’s policy should be.” Hussain decried the lack of policymaking by the current PPP-led government, “Have they come out publicly about national security? Do they have a vision of economic policy? People gave a vote for change.”
Hussain’s book, published three years after his acclaimed debut Frontline Pakistan, is a chronology of the events that have shaped Pakistan in the last five years. It details how consecutive mistakes by the Pakistan government, the US administration and the military and the ruthlessness of the militants have led to Pakistan drifting into chaos and anarchy. As Hussain writes in ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’, “Pakistan has been a state in search of its identity and the struggle between Islamists and moderates has remained at the centre of that quest.” In a Pakistan that has been left shaken by Taseer’s assassination, with moderates shocked at the public display of support for Malik Mumtaz Qadri, Hussain’s words ring true.
In his book, Hussain describes events such as the failed peace deals in Fata, and the brutal tactics employed by militants against the Pakistan Army that was taken by surprise at the ferocity of the atrocities, decapitated soldiers, a colonel begging for his life — events that led to an eventual operation in South Waziristan, where the Pakistan Army is still waging a battle against a force that shows no sign of giving up. Hussain recalls the words of Nek Mohammad, a top militant commander, who was killed in a drone strike in June 2004. Prior to his death, Mohammad asked, “Why is this bird following me?” Hussain also describes the rise of Baitullah Mehsud, a man, who had only 4000 men in 2004 and later became the most wanted man in Pakistan.
‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ offers the readers a glimpse into the rise of the militants in the Swat Valley, and the state’s failure to nip the movement in the bud. It highlights how militants garnered favour with Swat’s residents after the state failed to provide them with basic facilities and implement reforms. Hussain recalls how Fazlullah, the leader of the militants in Swat, had 32 radio stations broadcasting his sermons. The unwritten question here is, why did the state let the status quo continue for as long as it did?
While Hussain’s book reads more like a chronology with less description of the cited events, the few details are remarkable: Faqir Mohammad, a wanted militant attends a meeting at a bureaucrat’s house in Swat, how the siege of the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi unfolded and the names and descriptions of armymen who left the forces after Musharraf allied with the US following 9/11 to join the militants in their war against US forces in Afghanistan and then against the Pakistani state.
Towards the end, Hussain hastens to wrap up the book. Describing the latest efforts by President Karzai to placate Islamabad, and the Pakistan Army’s interference in talks with the Taliban, Hussain advocates that the military solution in Afghanistan is bound to fail. While highlighting the efficiency of the CIA-operated Predator drone strikes in Fata, Hussain points towards the death of civilians in numerous incidents of drone strikes, a controversial issue that has been discussed heatedly since drone strikes began in Pakistani territory. The author also highlights cases such as Faisal Shahzad’s, the failed Times Square bomber, and how the radicalisation of youth in the West may lead to future terrorist attacks with more devastating consequences.
While Hussain offers little new to those who have been following his work for years, ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ is a valuable addition to literature available on the modern history of Pakistan. One hopes that those in the corridors of power learn their lessons from the lessons of the past, but as things stand in Pakistan; this might remain an unfulfilled wish.
The Scorpion’s Tail is available at Liberty Books.
Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org