With all the blood-curdling noises being made by 'liberals' and 'modernists' in Pakistan (and around the world) against the militants in Pakistan's north, one might be led to believe that the bearded ones deserve to be punished or eliminated because they had desecrated an idyll habitus, the world in general and Pakistan in particular: where all the politicians are/were (morally/financially) squeaky clean and self-less and adhered to the constitution in both letter and spirit; where the army had never surrendered to enemies and fought to the last man; where no one took or gave bribes; where shoddy goods were never sold in shops- where you didn't have to haggle over a hundred percent of the price; where the murderous events of May 12, 2007 in Karachi had never taken place; where workmen gave their best and took pride in their work; where labourers were accorded respect and dignity for performing manual labour; where the state had not failed to propel Pakistan's educational institutions among the world's 500 best (Turkey with a population of about 70 million managed two among the 500 - shame on India - an 'English speaking country via the Raj' and a population of over a billion - could only manage two institutions at the very bottom of the 500); where all traffic rules and regulations were followed and motorists stopped on zebra-crossings to let pedestrians by; where diners in restaurants said 'please and thank you' to waiters, and so on. And where intellectuals and analysts (exemplified by one mealy-mouthed Professor of Physics) who do not question their own assumptions, derived as they are from western-liberal history and ideas. They call the militant movements 'reactionary', making the assumption that western modernity is not only the standard by which the religious-political movements ought to be judged, but also the only authentic trajectory for socio-economic-moral change in Pakistan. And they never go into the context or genealogy of the rise and operation of these movements. It is as if these had arrived from nowhere. If the militants are asking for laws in a region which are different from the rest of Pakistan, this is nothing unusual. Britain has a multiplicity of legal systems and laws operating, notably the Scottish and English legal systems. In the US some laws apply to one state and not to another. Many countries in the Middle East have a combination of state, tribal and customary legal systems operating sometimes in parallel and sometimes overlapping. One needs to examine the specific conditions which require these differing systems and the functions they serve, and not condemn these in an a priori manner. If the militants are condemned for their violence, it is instructive that all forms of death dealing is to be condemned, whether by the USA or the Pakistani government; but if only the militants are condemned for their violence, it needs to be understood that they themselves are the product of awesome violence perpetrated against them/their kin during Musharraf's capitulation and collusion with the US, which continues under the present government. If the militants are condemned for challenging the writ of the state, it should be understood that each and every military ruler (and not just military rulers) has made a grotesque caricature of the constitution and de facto made the writ of the state irrelevant. Contemporaneously, the entity that has challenged the writ of the Pakistani state most of all has been the USA by continuously violating its sovereignty including through drone attacks. These not only delegitimise the Pakistani state but also demean it in eyes of its citizens. With all the shortcomings and apprehensions, the militants' project is to propagate alternative ways of living and organising state, society and economy, as well as producing virtuous and disciplined Muslim citizens. There are a number of questions we should be asking the militants: "What do these militants aim at doing? And why?" It is not very illuminating to ask the question: "Why are the militants not moving in the direction history requires them to?" But this is precisely what is being asked when liberal public intellectuals say: "What leads the militants to behave so irrationally, in such a reactionary manner?" In their own way the militants are questioning whether western values, lifestyles and institutions are 'universal' and not the product of a temporary successful hegemony. The militants are implicitly questioning the idea held deeply in the West and among westernised Pakistani liberals, that with the defeat of communism, capitalist democracy is now the only imaginable future for humanity; and that nothing else can emerge. However, since nothing is permanent, it is quite possible, the militants believe, that this hegemonic political and social culture will mutate into other, hegemonic Islamic one. The militants need to be understood in their own terms, as being at once modern and traditional, both authentic and creative at the same time. The militants' movement in Pakistan ought to induce people to rethink the uniquely western model of secular modernity and its lifestyles. One may want to challenge aspects of the militants' discourses and practices, but condemning them outright as 'barbaric' and a throw back to 'medieval' times, precludes a potentially fruitful synthesis of a new form of polity. It also ignores the devastating violence (which is seen as normal) of the most powerful democracy in the world against Iraq and Afghanistan, and by its proxy in Lebanon and Gaza. It also ignores the violence perpetrated with regularity in Karachi, who are harbingers of Musharraf's 'enlightened moderation'. They consider the militants to be uneducated and themselves as 'highly educated'. Perhaps they mean highly 'miss-educated'. So for positive reasons and by default the militants need to be engaged with. The writer is a freelance columnist