Newsflash: Pakistani Taliban Kill Lots of Innocent Children (Sardonic Edition)

Here are my three favorite commentaries on the Pakistani Taliban’s recent attack on a school in Peshawar:

KABUL: The Afghan Taliban have condemned a raid on a school in Peshawar that left 141 dead in the country’s bloodiest ever terror attack, saying killing innocent children was against Islam.

Survivors said militants gunned down children as young as 12 during the eight-hour onslaught in Peshawar, which the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said was revenge for the ongoing North Waziristan operation.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has always condemned the killing of children and innocent people at every juncture,” the Afghan Taliban, which often target civilians, said in a statement released late Tuesday.

“The intentional killing of innocent people, women and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government and movement must adhere to this fundamental essence.”

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the official name of the Taliban) expresses its condolences over the incident and mourns with the families of killed children.”

The Afghan Taliban are a jihadist group loosely affiliated to the Pakistan Taliban, with both pledging allegiance to Mullah Omar.

That’s from “Afghan Taliban Condemn Peshawar School Attack,” in Karachi’s Dawn.

Here’s another great one, for those who know a bit about Pakistani politics. It’s from Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf political party.

“I have never seen an atrocity like this in my entire life…I cannot even comprehend how someone could kill children like this,” he said.

“If someone killed my children like this, I would seek to avenge it as well,” Imran said.

Yes, terrorist attacks are really unprecedented for the Pakistani Taliban. I mean, who ever heard of the Pakistani Taliban killing innocent people? In Pakistan, no less? Has Imran sahib informed the Royal Society?

Then there’s this gem:

Obama terrorizes and murders innocent Pakistani citizens.

That’s supposed to be a commentary on drone warfare against the Pakistani Taliban. I’ve italicized the word of interest. Here is what I find interesting about it.

Suppose that the U.S. packed up its drones tomorrow and left South Asia for good. What does the author think should happen next? Broadly speaking, there are only two options. Either the Pakistani military fights the Taliban or not.

(1) Suppose they fight the Taliban. Suppose they choose to do so by means of the least destructive method available to them– drones. (Actually, drones are not quite ‘available’ to Pakistan right now, but imagine that they were.) Suppose that these drones kill “innocent Pakistani civilians” as a side-effect of the attempt to fight the Taliban. Would Nawaz Sharif then be as guilty of “murder” as Obama has been alleged to be? Or do you have to be an American drone operator to satisfy that description?

(2) Suppose that the Pakistani military chooses not to fight the Taliban, on the grounds that doing so would lead to the deaths of “innocent Pakistani civilians” (as it surely would). Suppose that the Taliban then murder Pakistanis civilians with impunity for the next seven or eight years, as they’ve done for the last eight. In fact, imagine that the Taliban ratchet up their killings on the grounds that it’s easier to kill people when the army that’s supposed to be protecting them refuses to do so. Would the author be willing to accept those consequences as an implication of his fastidious strictures on drone warfare?

While I’m on this subject, let me ask one last set of questions. The Taliban are non-state actors–a kind of terrorist NGO. They are, in other words, de facto anarchists. According to anarchist theory, “the state” lacks legitimacy. So imagine we decide to  get rid of it.

Now imagine, further, that “we” are Pakistanis. (Yes, I realize that my thought-experiment is starting to strain credulity at this point.) Let’s imagine, then, that “we” Pakistanis abolish the Pakistani state tomorrow. I assume that the Taliban would not be deterred from further depredations by this act.

So here is my question, intended for anarcho-capitalists: In what sense would Pakistanis be better off without a state than with one in facing the Taliban? And how should they do it? Whatever the method, it must meet two specifications: (1) it must not involve the assistance of a state, and (2) it must not lead to the deaths of any innocent third-parties. In this season of miracles, that surely can’t be too much to ask.

Postscript, December 18, 2014: More coverage of Peshawar. A poignant passage from a story from this morning’s New York Times, “Horror Paralyzes Pakistan After Methodical Slaughter“:

Some mourners expressed frustration at the apparent impotence of their own security forces. “What is this army for?” shouted one man at the city’s main Lady Reading hospital, where he had come to collect the body of his grandson.

“Where are their atom bombs and airplanes now?” he said. “They were of no use if they cannot protect us from death in our daily lives.”

Better questions could scarcely be asked, and truer words could scarcely be uttered. But we’re talking about armed forces that have begun every war they’ve fought, and lost every war they’ve begun: they’re guilty of genocide (East Pakistan, 1971) and willing to start nuclear war with India over uninhabitable chunks of ice (Siachen Glacier), but incapable of grasping the fact that their deals with the devil have surrendered the entire northwest of the country to totalitarian psychopaths bent on mass murder in the name of God. Pakistanis should never forget that the partition of the subcontinent was intended to give the Muslims of the subcontinent a safe haven from religious persecution by Hindus. Somehow, it never occurred to them that “they” might persecute “themselves.” Call it another grim chapter in the annals of that supposedly impossible phenomenon–“reverse discrimination.”

Meanwhile, from the same article:

Back at the deserted Army Public School, snipers perched on the rooftops, watching for a potential follow-up attack. In the nearby tribal belt, the Pakistani Army mounted fresh airstrikes.

Were they merely “fresh airstrikes” or were they mass murder? Would they have been mass murder if carried out by drones more precise than the airstrikes? I renew the question.

I find it interesting that in the English language press, at any rate, a lot of Pakistani commentary has taken the form of anguished questions. This column by Sameer Khosa in Lahore’s Nation consists of almost nothing but questions until this passage at the end:

Let us finally put an end to the criminally dishonest nature of our conversation on the Taliban, and on the national security challenge as a whole. Because now, we have seen its cost and it is unbearable.

Carry these children in your heart always. Let their innocence be the antidote to the lies that are peddled to us. Let their curiosity about the world remind us to ask anyone who has a one-sentence-long solution to this problem how they propose it will end. Let us fight in their name. Let their gravestones say: tell us now that this is not our war. Tell us now that this is not personal.

The problem is, this is what Pakistanis always say after a Taliban atrocity, only to forget it until next year’s atrocity. I’m not criticizing Khosa; I’m criticizing his audience. What he’s saying is undeniably true. So is what these people are saying. And these two.  The problem is that it’s been true for years. Remember what happened in Peshawar last year? It was Malala before that, and the massacre of the Shias of Derra Adam Khel before that, and the Geo TV station before that, and the Bajaur market before that, and the attack on the shrine of Data Ganj Baksh before that, and the one on the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore before that, and the assassination of Benazir before that. How many “before thats” does a rational person need before he figures out “we have a problem, and we have to solve it”? (Here’s a list of TTP attacks.) Unfortunately, what Khurram Hussain is saying is true, too.

Anyway, I can’t help continuing the semi-sardonic theme of the original post. So, a few quotations in that vein:

Khursheed Shah says terrorism is national issue

Speaking to media representatives after attending the MPC, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said there is a complete consensus among political parties of the country on the terrorism issue.

He expressed his resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with the armed forces in their ongoing fight against terror. Shah also urged the media to play a proactive role in eradicating terrorists from the country.

The PPP leader said that even Israeli state does not carry out such atrocities on Palestinians like the terrorist did to young kids yesterday at the school in Peshawar.

That’s from Dawn, “No distinction now between good and bad Taliban: Nawaz.” I mean, if they’re worse than Israelis, then we really have to fight them. Incidentally, the U.S. just normalized relations with Cuba. Any chance of Pakistan doing the same with Israel sometime soon?

I certainly wouldn’t go quite as far as Sherry Rahman does here, but I see her point, and it’s a nice counter-narrative to those handwaving claims one hears about the virginal innocence of the Taliban’s clean-handed apologists and sympathizers:

PESHAWAR: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman said Wednesday that if anyone engaged in the apologist narrative when it comes to terrorism and terrorist attacks, they would be considered as terrorists and allies of the terrorists.

Time has come for a decision and anyone who presents justification for acts of terrorism will be regarded as a traitor.

“Whoever is a friend of the terrorists is a traitor,” Rehman said addressing media representatives in Peshawar.

Rehman urged that the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not remain the victims and instead become those who will lead the war against terrorists.

Of course, taken literally, Rahman’s policy would require locking up large chunks of Pakistan’s judiciary. But I don’t think Rahman quite means what she’s saying–at least not as stated. It’s still the heat of the moment.

I leave you, finally, with a Word Press Editor’s Pick for 2014, written in October by Mehreen Kasana, a Pakistani graduate student at a school in Brooklyn.

On my way to class, I take the Q train to Manhattan and sit down next to an old white man who recoils a noticeable bit. I assume it’s because I smell odd to him, which doesn’t make sense because I took a shower in the morning. Maybe I’m sitting too liberally the way men do on public transit with their legs a mile apart, I think to myself. That also doesn’t apply since I have my legs crossed. After a few seconds of inspecting any potential offence caused, I realize that it has nothing to do with an imaginary odor or physical space but with the keffiyeh around my neck that my friend gifted me (the Palestinian scarf – an apparently controversial piece of cloth). It is an increasingly cold October in NYC. Sam Harris may not have told you but we Muslims need our homeostasis at a healthy level. While our bodies regulate our internal fanatic temperatures to remain stable, sometimes it gets a little too chilly so we pull out those diabolical scarves and wrap them around our diabolical necks and diabolically say, “Holy shit. It is cold today, Abdullah.” To which Abdullah replies, “Wallah. My ass is freezing.”

Reading her, you’d think that the act of wearing a keffiyeh in Brooklyn or Manhattan was a wildly rare and transgressive occurrence. It isn’t. But let me add one more “maybe” to the list: maybe this is the kind of thing that happens occasionally, that the author could very well be imagining, that doesn’t matter much even if it happened, and that is best ignored rather than inflated into the occasion of a self-pitying drama of grievance stretching back to Hiroshima, the Raj, and the Atlantic slave trade.

See if you have the discipline to make it through the whole thing. Kasana doesn’t want to apologize for Muslim atrocities. That’s fine. I don’t think she should, and have said as much in the past. But try as hard as you can to make coherent sense of her claim that there is no distinction to be made between good and bad Muslims. And feel free to enlist the help of the Mahmood Mamdani article she links to in her post to do so. Yes, I realize that she’s rejecting the “binary opposition” of Good and Bad Muslim within a specific narrative. But at the end of the day, what does she think is left of the ordinary distinction between good and bad Muslims? Should we throw it out? I don’t know a single Muslim who thinks so. Try to make sense of what just happened in Peshawar while ignoring the distinction, and reflect on the results. Hard to do. So why should any non-Muslim apologize for making use of it? No apology, so to speak.

10 thoughts on “Newsflash: Pakistani Taliban Kill Lots of Innocent Children (Sardonic Edition)

  1. I’m not an anarchist, but potential responses might be:

    1. Defense contractors in a free market would be more efficient and less corrupt than the Pakistani military due to competition and market feed back.

    2. Continued state intervention, especially from the United States, will only drive recruits to the enemy. We may understand the nature of collateral damage, but uneducated Pakistani peasants do not, and they will be swayed by the Taliban’s propaganda machine.

    3. There are alternative means to fighting the Taliban than military drone strikes, which thus far have been ineffective. Widespread boycotting of activities which fund the Taliban (ie. religious organization, drug cartels) and counter-educational policies will sap the Taliban of their support.


    • On (1): I’ve certainly heard people say that, but I see no reason to believe it. It describes one possible scenario, but here’s another: no free market ever emerges; what emerges is a cauldron of warring factions who had previously been deterred into relative inaction by the presence of the state. The result is even worse violence than existed when the state existed, and with it, even more corruption and inefficiency. I’d be interested in being pointed to a literature that provides the evidence that conclusively favors one hypothesis over the other, but I’ve never seen one.

      On (2): I had deliberately factored the U.S. out of my thought-experiment. It starts with the U.S. leaving South Asia. But suppose that “continued state intervention” refers to Pakistani intervention–or put another way, the thought-experiment begins with the Pakistani government’s defending the rights of Pakistanis against the Taliban with military force. Maybe that will drive some people to the Taliban, but I don’t think it takes much education to grasp that if the Pakistani govt attacks the Taliban by military force, and the Taliban insist on hiding among civilians, some innocent civilians will die, but the culpability is the Taliban’s. After all, the bulk of the casualties will take place in urban, not rural areas, and the urban population may be uneducated, but it can grasp that.

      Anyway, the alternative is to let the Taliban take over the country with impunity. At a certain point, you’d have to stop worrying about unintended consequences and fight people who wanted to kill you, since one unintended consequence of inaction might be that they succeed in killing you. (Parallel example: gangs in our own cities. Would we not fight them because doing so would engender sympathy for the gangs by non-gang-members? I realize that there’s an extreme anti-police and pro-rioter backlash nowadays as a result of events in Ferguson and Staten Island, but I find such attitudes insane.) This article is worth reading on the subject, by the way.

      Your (3) describes a very long-term strategy. I don’t dispute it, but in the short-term one has to deal with the fact that tens of thousands of highly motivated, heavily armed terrorists/insurgents want to destabilize the country by engaging in spectacular acts of violence. Both strategies together are more effective than any one alone. I wouldn’t agree that drone strikes have been ineffective, by the way. Studies like this one have to be entered into the balance.


  2. I posted a paraphrased version of your question on my Facebook status, and this one of the responses I received:

    “Matt’s question betrays a common mindset of central planners: That somehow we are in a position to advise others what they can or should do. Or that politicians 5,000 miles away should have answers. What the Pakistani government could or should do when dealing with the Taliban, we are not in a position to answer anymore than we are in a position to answer the question; “What should a homeless woman in Bulgaria do to obtain housing? Or should she even obtain housing?”. Hayek’s theory of knowledge applies here.”


    • That’s both a comical and a revealing answer. So: thousands of heavily armed militants announce the intention to take over a country, institute a theocratic dictatorship, and exterminate all resistance. Then they follow through, for years (something like 200 attacks in the last five years). Meanwhile, Hayek’s “theory of knowledge” then tells us that it “betrays a common mindset of central planners” to want to exercise a right of self-defense against them. In that case, my question would be: so what exactly is wrong with being a central planner? Is the claim that a government shouldn’t plan for the contingency of being attacked?

      I hate to make jokes about this, but the Taliban have targeted markets–there was the Moon Market attack in 2009 and the Bajaur market attack in 2012. Oddly enough, “the market” didn’t “take care” of these attacks by coordinating supply and demand without central planning. The market is what got attacked.

      The truth is that Hayek’s famous paper, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” is really desperately confused. Hayek fails to make elementary distinctions between economic planning based on initiatory force, economic planning not based on initiatory force, and centralized planning, whether economic or otherwise. He literally cannot distinguish between the planning required to protect rights and the planning required to violate them. It’s no surprise that Popular Hayekianism amounts to the claim: “We’re libertarians, but we have no idea who has what rights, or whether anyone’s rights should ever be protected or defended. That’s because we endorse Hayek’s theory of knowledge, which tells us that we don’t know anything.” Well, I knew that.


  3. “Meanwhile, Hayek’s “theory of knowledge” then tells us that it “betrays a common mindset of central planners” to want to exercise a right of self-defense against them. In that case, my question would be: so what exactly is wrong with being a central planner?”

    To clarify, this particular poster does believe in the right to self defense. He has two primary objections:

    1. Policy experts, especially those who don’t have intimate knowledge of all the players and systems involved in the Taliban war, do not have the local knowledge necessary to make good policy recommendations. This doesn’t mean that no one has any idea what to do, but at the very least, people responding to my Facebook page and writing random blogs probably don’t.

    2. Public choice theory. The incentives for political actors to stay in and expand their power do not align with the incentives to do best for their citizens. If your counter point to this is, “what should the Pakistani people do about this fact,” then see point 1.


    • On (1): OK, fair enough, if the posters at your Facebook page aren’t familiar with Pakistani politics, then they aren’t going to know what to say. But there’s nothing distinctively Hayekian about that insight, and they certainly couldn’t preclude the option of using drones while pleading ignorance about Pakistani politics.

      Anyway, in the post, I was taking issue with Jason Brennan’s off-hand remark that the use of drones was murder, a comment I’ve heard repeated both by leftists and a certain brand of libertarian. Can something really be murder if it’s the least destructive of the effective methods of self-defense against aggression? Of course, Brennan conveniently leaves the question of self-defense unaddressed. But then, isn’t it irresponsible to make charges of murder?

      Here is Brennan getting on his high horse about the use of drones. In the combox, I ask him: what’s the problem? He has no answer. I guess it’s just self-evident to any rational person that if the US government claims to be killing suspected militants, the claims must be false. But what if they’re often true? What if they were true in the very case Brennan was adducing? Is Brennan’s point that any collateral damages are still murder? If you adopted that principle, no one could ever exercise a right of self-defense unless they could somehow guarantee that there would never be any collateral deaths or injuries. But practically speaking, that’s to abandon the right of self-defense altogether. But then I’d like to hear him come and say that, as Larry May effectively has.

      On (2): I am much less enthusiastic about Public Choice theory than most libertarians are. But even if it were as empirically robust as its enthusiasts think it is, the question arises: how to generalize or apply its results? Its findings are drawn from (very) specific contexts and very specific data sets. How do they apply beyond them? You couldn’t apply the findings of Public Choice to Pakistani politics if very little public choice economics has been done on Pakistan. And very little has. If you put “Pakistan” into the search engine for Public Choice, and added up everything you found there (assuming all of it true), I doubt you’d get any robust empirical claim of the form “Private defense agencies will outperform the Pakistani Army in fighting the Taliban.”

      I actually don’t think you’d get that sort finding for any nation on the planet. Reliance on Public Choice strikes me as the epitome of this sort of fallacy–overreliance on one school of analysis.


    • I’ve been sitting here grading all day, and didn’t really have a sense of the context of the Facebook discussion you were referring to. Having just looked at it, I can put my point more succinctly.

      With respect to Brennan-types, I’d like to know why drone strikes against the Taliban count as “murder.”

      But with respect to Hayekians, I think you know what I’d say because you’ve figured it out yourself. It makes no sense to invoke the Hayekian knowledge problem in order to plead ignorance about what the Pakistani gov’t should do about the Taliban, and then suddenly claim that Public Choice theory gives us the knowledge that private defense agencies would outperform the Pakistani government at fighting terrorism. It’s incoherent to plead ignorance about a subject and then insist dogmatically that you can make predictions about radical changes to the status quo regarding that subject, including macro-level policy prescriptions which have so far never been put into practice anywhere on planet Earth. “I have no idea how Pakistani politics works, but I know that private defense agencies would outperform every existing Pakistani security agency.” The Pakistani military is one of the dumbest most brutal,, most corrupt entities on the planet. But I’d hate to be the one to discover that private Pakistani defense agencies were worse than the army. Wait a minute. I guess I have discovered that, because that’s a picture perfect description of the Pakistani Taliban.

      Incidentally, here’s a critique I wrote of Aaron Rainwater on drones back in May 2013. Rainwater’s argument is closer to the Brennan-type than the Hayekian. The conclusion is, at any rate.


  4. Pingback: “Crush Taliban to Save Pakistan”: Coverage of the Peshawar Massacre | Policy of Truth

  5. A quick comment on the Facebook discussion on this post at Matt’s FB page: I’m basically agreeing with Matt, totally disagreeing with Leon, and think Kate has somewhat misunderstood the overall point I’m making. But here’s a clarification.

    The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after 9/11. I regard that invasion as justified on grounds of self-defense, and don’t think any Public Choice analysis shows that it wasn’t justified. But at the time of the invasion, drone technology was not yet sufficiently developed for combat use. Had it been developed, I would have regarded the use of drones as preferable to a ground invasion.

    In my view, the problem with virtually all of America’s wars in the 20th-21st century has been confusion about the rationale for the war. Some of our wars were initially fought for self-defense, but ended up being fought for other reasons (clearest example: World War I); meanwhile some of our wars were not properly conceived as being fought for self-defense but we fought them anyway (clearest example: Korea). This criticism has very little to do with Public Choice.

    This criticism applies to the Afghan war as well. A war that was originally fought for self-defense became a war fought to support Hamid Karzai’s regime and engage in nation-building. Unfortunately, the drone technology became combat-ready at around the point when it no longer made sense to stay on in Afghanistan for self-defensive reasons.

    Still, “around the point” is not a precise temporal marker. It’s perfectly consistent to say that we ought to gotten out of South Asia years ago (especially the occupation), that we ought to end our use of drones as well, but still to regard the use of drones as justified in this sense: an occupation cannot be “rolled up” like a tent; it takes a lot of time. It’s perfectly justifiable to use drones in the gap between deciding to leave Afghanistan and the last guy’s actually leaving. That’s a rather large gap, in fact. So when I say “We ought to get out of South Asia,” that’s what I mean. I don’t mean, “Let’s drop everything all at once and leave on December 24, 2014.” That’s impossible. I mean: let’s get out as soon as feasible. But nothing about that precludes the (judicious) use of drones by the U.S. against either the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban.

    It’s worth noting that my argument has little to nothing in common with Public Choice critiques of government. Far from saying that “We don’t know what we’re doing,” my point is: that may be true of the occupation (which is why we should end it), but as far as drones are concerned, we really do know what we’re doing. We can’t continue to do it indefinitely, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it temporarily. I have no sympathy whatsoever with Leon’s complaint about his money being spent “over there.” Either you accept government or you don’t. If you do, you have to accept that some of your money will be spent on things you don’t like. (That’s true of private insurance policies as well. Who “likes” subsidizing bad drivers or people careless about their health?) If you don’t, you have to accept the fact that no one in the history of political thought–including today’s loudest anti-government anarcho-capitalists–has devised even a semi-plausible anarchist account of military self-defense. What they have given us instead is pseudo-empirical hand-waving and excuse-making, but nothing anyone can take seriously as a theory.

    Now we get to the Pakistanis. Suppose we leave South Asia. Should the Pakistanis continue to fight the Taliban? It’s one thing to claim ignorance about what they should do. But in that case, you can’t appeal to Public Choice theory to say anything important about what to do. Public Choice theory has nothing significant to say about what to do in cases like this. Frankly, though, I don’t think it takes any specialized knowledge to figure out what they should do. They should fight the Taliban and defeat them. You’d have to be completely mesmerized by the so-called Hayekian knowledge problem to fail to see how obvious this answer is. And my problem is that most libertarians are mesmerized by it. They shouldn’t be.

    Liked by 1 person

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