The notion of Pakistani Nationalism is tied to a unified country with a single, distinct voice, one language and a single religion. This idea creates divisions across ethnicities, languages and religions. Most of Pakistani society’s fault lines, across religions, across sects, across languages, arise out of this outdated idea. Our military is usually considered the guardian of this country’s ‘ideological boundaries’, protecting us against invasion of ‘foreign ideas’. In the last few years, however, a new challenger has emerged, doing the same things that military had been doing, but in a more forceful, violent way. The key word in the name ‘Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’ is the word ‘Pakistan’. It doesn’t only signify their origin but also the fact that they have a unique Pakistani identity and their aim is change Pakistan. Contrary to what many left-wing observers, I don’t think the TTP are merely Pashtun nationalists with guns. They are much more than that, a crystallisation of the ‘Islamist’ project that was started in the subcontinent before partition.

Consider the following words from a speech by Chaudary Khaliquzzaman, a prominent leader of All India Muslim League: “Pakistan is not the final goal of the Muslims. We want more. Pakistan is only the jumping off ground. The time is not far distant when the Muslim countries will have to stand in line with Pakistan and then only the jumping ground will have reached its fruition.” In the words of another prominent ‘founding father’, Raja Sahib of Mahmoodabad: “When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian — there is no denying about it. It is the Quran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Quranic laws that we want — and that we will have — but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth.” It is indeed harsh to judge people based on one statement but due to lack of space it would be difficult to reproduce the whole record of what these gentlemen said and believed. However, the positions taken by these gentlemen didn’t change even after Pakistan was formed. One expects to hear similar statements today from the Laal Masjid Mullah or the spokesperson of TTP.

The TTP didn’t arise in a vacuum. The ‘project’ spearheaded by people like Khaliquzzaman and Mahmudabad was carried further by luminaries such as Liaqat Ali Khan and Chaudhry Muhammad Ali. The torch was passed on to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whose ‘Pan-Islamism’ was no less utopian than Zia-ul Haq’s. The war in Afghanistan merely increased the intensity of efforts by the Pakistani state to ‘Islamise’ the country and afterwards, the insurgency in Kashmir was started to divert the ‘Jihadis’. When the Taliban pushed for power in Afghanistan during the 1990s, Pakistani nationals formed a significant part of their troops. It is hard to conceive the course of history had 9/11 not taken place but the trajectory of ‘Islamist’ agenda of Pakistani state never went off the rails. It is worth mentioning that TTP was ‘officially’ formed after Laal Masjid clerics demanded imposition of ‘Shariah’ in the country and were attacked.

In the last few years, the TTP has attacked Pashtuns (nationalist or otherwise), Shias, Ahmadis, Christians and Hazaras. Barring the Pashtuns, all of these groups have been excluded from Pakistan’s official narrative over the years. If one takes a look at hyper-nationalist websites and twitter accounts (allegedly operated by people associated with the military), the exclusion of these groups from the ‘narrative’ is apparent. There have been fewer attacks in Punjab during the last five years but the ones that took place, targeted one of the aforementioned minorities. TTP Ideologues realise that attacking Punjabi Christians or Shias would not affect the majority Sunni Muslim population of this country much and they have continued to push the envelope. The reason why parties like Jamaat-e-Islami or its softer version—Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf—have supported the TTP is because their ideas about Pakistani nationalism coincide frequently.

On the issue of Women Protection Bill, Blasphemy Law and honour killings, most religious parties and TTP are on the same page. TTP wants to dismantle the current democratic setup and replace it with an ‘Islamic’ style government, whatever that is. This goal is shared by many political and ‘apolitical’ groups in the country as well. One reason the army finds it difficult to confront the Taliban—apart from its former association with them—is the fact that they share very similar ideology. An army raised on slogans about the Supremacy of Islam and ‘Jihad’ finds it hard to fight people who believe in pretty much the same thing. As a result, the mantra about ‘Indian’ and ‘Foreign’ support is drilled into minds of our soldiers, to deflect the real issue.