Even before I watched this recent documentary, aired on CBC Newsworld’s The Passionate Eye on March 30th, by Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy I knew it was going to be hard to watch. And I was right.
The film, entitled Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, follows Obaid-Chinoy as she tries to find how strong and influential the Taliban really are in Pakistan. In recent days Pakistan has experienced a great deal of terrorist violence, including in the relatively peaceful and safe city of Lahore. In her quest Obaid-Chinoy spends most of the time in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where Pakistan’s Taliban are located. She talks to Pashtun teenage boys and young girls, as well as Pashtun families to find out how they are dealing with the increasing power of the Taliban in their region.
Before watching the film I did not know what to expect except that I knew it would renew my own worries about the country which gives me a part of my own identity. I am of Pakistani origin and, although I identify as Punjabi, I also have some roots in the NWFP. It is a culture with which I am familiar, for better or for worse. And perhaps it is this familiarity with not only the culture of the NWFP, but also with the relatively progressive one of Punjab, the heart of South Asian Sufism, that makes me so furious at the Taliban. And the film did indeed increase that fury.
Let me make this clear. I despise the Taliban. Their interpretation of Islam offends me, their violent intimidation of other Muslims disgusts me, and their oppression of women horrifies me. However, I am also not naive enough to assume that the Taliban, as they are, occurred in a vacuum. I know they did not come about on their own, but rather had help from many outside forces, including Western ones. Obaid-Chinoy did not address this in her film. I realize that time is limited in a documentary, however I feel that it is time now to move beyond the simple vilification of the Taliban. They’re bad, we get it. But why are they so bad? It is time now that we discuss the causes and motivations of the Taliban along with their current actions. If we are truly wanting to curb their power and authority then we need to know why they are the way they are and take away their reason for being this way.
A few of these reasons, however, were highlighted in the documentary, though not explored in any detail. When speaking with some young Pashtun men Obaid-Chinoy discovered a level of resentment among many. Most were resentful of the US and NATO’s “war on terror” tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In recent months American military action has entered onto Pakistani soil, resulting in the deaths of Pakistani nationals. This increasing American military presence in Pakistan which is resulting in the deaths of Pakistani people, many of them innocent, is increasing resentment and anger toward the US and other complicit Western nations. One way in which these young men have found to deal with their anger is to join the Taliban and fight the foreign invaders, as they seem them. Additionally, the Pakistani government’s own actions in the region have led to the displacement of many from places like Bajaur in the NWFP and this has added fuel to the fire of resentment. I’d be resentful too if I was forced to leave my home by my own government and then live in a refugee camp.The consequence of all this is an increase in Taliban recruits and thus in their power and influence. Hence, Pakistan’s Taliban generation.
Obaid-Chinoy does reveal the religious angle of the Taliban as well. She speaks with a young man whose views on women in Islam are conservative to say the least. The Taliban are infamous for their mistreatment of women. This is no secret. However, where have they learned this interpretation of Islam? Why do they believe the things they do when so many Muslims all around the world do not? What is it about the Taliban that makes them treat women the way they do? Why is it that, in one country, one can see the Taliban oppress women the way they do, and at the same time, see women in positions of power in government, medicine, law, and such? I wish the documentary had delved into this issue further.
Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary did not further investigate these causes. The focus appeared to be on the detrimental and devastating consequences of Taliban rule and power in the region. Instead of focusing on what has caused the Taliban to grow and why they exist, there was more of a focus on what this growth has meant for innocent Pakistanis caught in this political turmoil. Although, I do feel that the actions of the Taliban need to be challenged and the Taliban’s criminal actions do need to be exposed, again, if the focus in this documentary was to examine the rise of the Taliban, I felt this documentary just missed the mark. It left me wanting more information. We already know the Taliban are bad. We know they mistreat women. However, too many are unaware of their creation story and the origins of their ideology. Such information would have brought something new to the table in this documentary. Along with highlighting the Taliban’s actions in Pakistan (which are important as well), an in-depth look into the roots of the issue would have given the documentary an insightful edge.