Flexible Cognitive Psychology of the Taliban

Flexible Cognitive Psychology of the Taliban

Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan
Members of TTP video address

In the aftermath of the Peshawar school massacre, a fragmented Pakistan has amalgamated and galvanized against the TTP (Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan). A series of statements by the Taliban followed to stem the tide of their waning support. Most of these statements- barring the last one- were defensive.  The final and the most recent statement came out when the TTP leader noticed that the water has passed under the bridge. Let’s examine each one of them.

Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan
Members of TTP in a video address
  • “We wanted to teach the army and people of Pakistan our pain” (insinuating that Pakistan Army in their offensive have killed the Taliban’s children)
  • “We never ordered the execution of children” (a claim that was invalidated when recordings of clear instructions surfaced in which the perpetrators were in live contact with one of the master minds, Umar Mansoor)
  • “We wanted to send children to heaven”
  • “These children were studying only to grow up become a part of the Pakistan Army who captures and kills us and so we cannot allow that to happen.”
  • And then came the final statement by Mohammad Khorasani , leader of the TTP “This act is permissible and is in fact as per Shariah, the adolescents of the enemy can be killed”, He further added “The children of the ruling elite aren’t safe from now on. Unless our prisoners are released and the military offensive stopped, we will carry on doing similar acts”

How do they justify these barbaric acts? From their statements, it can be noticed that they have clearly rationalized their deeds to keep the feeling of being puritanical.  With their small number, it is absolutely imperative for them to retain the moral high ground to motivate their followers into most extreme crimes.

Nonetheless, several other fragments of Taliban such as Afghan Taliban and even the AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent) have distanced themselves from the TTP as even they see the Peshawar massacre is a step too far.

Recently, I saw an interesting lecture by RSA animate, “The truth about dishonesty” by Dan Ariely. He suggests that honesty and rationalisation are inversely proportional to each other. Meaning, when someone is honest, he rationalizes less. On the other hand, when someone is dishonest he rationalizes more.  The greater the level of crime is, the higher the number of layers of rationalization is required to justify it.

The interesting thing is that the statements made by the Taliban are very simplistic justifications of an unprecedented abhorrent crime. So this means ironically that the TTP are honest in staying true to their own view, be it a warped view. So how was this extremely twisted view of reality achieved?  Part of this has already been covered in the articles Factualist vs Conspiracy Theorist and Demystifying Boko Haram Ideology.

 It is mainly because of two reasons:

  • In TTP’s interpretation, the tradition, the history, the scholarship and collective values of muslims are discarded.
  • Islamic literature is studied atomistically, not holistically.


If you uproot Islamic tradition, be selective and with your study of Islamic literature and unmoor yourself from absolute morality than anything can be rationalized. In a fluid state of concepts, the law of necessity overrides every other value and this is what exactly gives the Taliban their flexible cognitive psychology. When mechanisms for containing rage and grievance are removed than only rivers of whims flow, throwing caution in the air and taking no prisoners.

It is also true that the heinous nature of the TTP’s crimes also attracts a certain psychotic mindset that has a taste for blood.  These elements only join such organizations to get a license to kill only to satisfy their perverse lust.

It is no wonder that the Taliban who carried out the school massacre are also involved in other crimes such as extortion, kidnap for ransom and drug trafficking all under the banner of religion. If they can justify killing school children and link that to Islam nothing else should surprise us.


  1. Why Peshawar massacre happen?
    I don’t know because as a normal person and as a Muslim I can’t get my head around. But they will get away again because a large segment of society (religious & non religious) will never believe Taliban can do it. It is due to our romance with military heroes. Like anybody who has gun in his hand and shout Allah Ho Akbar can never commit such a crime. They get away with crime because of our weird denial that ‘hamarae musalmaan to aesa kar he nahi saktae. Have to be a conspiracy’

  2. Now our civil leadership of naya and purana are in hiding when leadership is needed. God give wisdom to ISI and our generals because they were too busy chasing Geo TV vans or fighting their own govt. Now we have a divided country at war with ???????

    • I think both are needed. The ulema and political leadership both. Only a hand ful of ulema stood against them. This included Sarfraz Naeemi and Prof Ibrahim. Both were assinated by TTP.Similarly we must not forget assination attempts on Qazi Hussain of Jamaat e Islami.He also opposed them. Unfortunately Munawwar Hassan created a lot of confusion after it. I have met these prominent leaders and always have found that have studied ttp literature and even Hizb ut tahrir literature have a soft corner for ttp