No ‘good’ Taliban – by Zafar Hilaly

The regularity with which the military claims to be killing as many as 30-40 militants in a day may be gratifying, but the frequency with which the Taliban are bombing schools and police stations and killing friendly tribals, police, political workers and innocent civilians is alarming.

As the military is spreading out the Taliban are re-infiltrating. Those who surrendered are being released by the military along with “surrender letters” allowing them to return home unmolested, which they do gladly, and then rejoin the fray. Others are released for “want of evidence,” or freed on bail. The kind of evidence required by the law suggests that unless the enemy is found with the head of his victim in his hands, he is let off. As for those on bail, the next time anyone them is on the battlefield, on the opposing side.

This war is going nowhere; much is amiss that had better be rectified quickly because affection for the state is diminishing by the day. Just winning battles will not suffice. We can win every battle and lose the war. It is strategy, both military and political, as much as pre- and post-battle, which will eventually determine the outcome. What, then, are the flaws of our present strategy?

To begin with, we have no clear notion of who is the “enemy.” We have divided the Taliban into “good” Taliban and “bad” Taliban. And say that it is the “bad” Taliban whom we oppose because they kill our soldiers. Frankly, that’s Greek to the populace. Besides, no one can keep abreast when the “good” one day become the “bad” the next. Of that Swat was living proof. To persevere with a failed approach would be a foolish way of dealing with fanatics like the Taliban.

The second is to believe that all we need to do is assert control over the areas where the Taliban are strong, and eventually they will see reason, lay down their arms and cease to fight. Not so. That has never happened. War is their favourite pastime. For the Taliban it is either victory or death. We cannot, therefore, afford to sheathe the sword until the Taliban are destroyed.

Third, it is absurd to brand as “good” those Taliban who attack the US, but not Pakistan. It is intellectually dishonest and self-defeating. Because, we know that the moment they are victorious in Afghanistan they will turn on Pakistan. The TTP is living proof of their intention to do so. Any peace concluded with the Afghan Taliban by the Americans must extend to the activities of their surrogates, the TTP.

Four, the preoccupation with FATA leaves the Punjabi Taliban free to spread their poison. They are the more dangerous and determined foe. Already, their actions in bringing India and Pakistan to the verge of war have hobbled the peace process. And their hold on the minds of the populace is growing.

Five, our resettlement strategy is all akimbo. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Thousands have received nothing; thousands more too little. Government officials entrusted with implementing the programme are too scared to visit. Eventually we may have to consider voluntary relocation of the population, if that is what is required to drain the swamp of the enemy who seek refuge within them.

For any strategy to succeed, the public must be convinced that both the TTP and the Afghan Taliban have common origins, a common cause and work in tandem. At the moment, while the former have been recognised by the populace for the criminals and monsters that they have proved to be in Swat and elsewhere, the Afghan Taliban remain well regarded.

The five-year record of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, like that of America under Bush, was an abject failure. It had to be because both sought to change the world without bothering to understand it. About the only thing the Taliban brought to Afghanistan was peace, the peace of the grave. The Americans did not even bring that.

For those who believe that the Afghan Taliban are a distinct entity, it is worth recalling, thanks to fresh research on the subject, what Faqir Mohammad and Maulvi Omar, Naib Amir and official spokesman of the TTP, respectively, said when asked if the TTP maintained relations with their counterpart across the border. Faqir Mohammed replied:

“No questions about it. They are the true Muslims and everybody has acknowledged them as such. We still support the Afghan Taliban, as they are the only ones who implemented the Shariah in Afghanistan. We are their staunch supporters and there is no difference in our beliefs.”

As for Al Qaeda being the international face of the Taliban ideology, this is what Maulvi Omar (of the TTP) had to say:

“There is no difference between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The formation of Taliban and al Qaeda was based on ideology. Whoever works for these organisations fights against kafirs. However, those fighting in foreign countries are called al Qaeda and those fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan are called Taliban. In fact both are the name of one ideology. The aims and objectives of both organisations are the same.”

The extent of cooperation between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban is intense, on going and growing. For example, Ziaur Rahman of the TTP launched his bid for the leadership of the TTP in Bajaur in late 2007 on his proximity to Arab Al Qaeda commanders linked to the Afghan Taliban. He even married his daughter to an Al Qaeda commander and bandied it about as a badge of honour.

Baitullah Mahsud’s links with the leadership of the Afghan Taliban were profound. His “Mahsud boys,” aged 16-20, the future suicide bombers, were trained by a team of Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Dadullah, who had sent them to Iraq to learn the trade from his friend Al Zarqawi. The first recruits were trained in Waziristan because the Afghan Taliban needed a safe training ground which Mahsud was happy to offer.

Mullah Omar often communicated with Baitullah. In fact, the Afghan Taliban direct the TTP as if they were another of their wilayats, or governorates. Policy is dictated by Mullah Omar’s circle but the central leadership does not, as a rule, interfere in local matters.

Of course it suited Mullah Omar to deny any association with Baitullah when the latter was inflicting causalities on Pakistan. That was typical of the Taliban. Double-dealing is their forte. As someone remarked, “It merely means that it will be spun in Pakistan as being out of control. After all, the TTP is Mullah Omar’s knife held at Islamabad’s throat and much too precious an asset to be eliminated.”

The military is currently attempting to divide the TTP by pitting the Waziris against the Mahouts. It hopes to weaken the TTP and cut off Omar’s fount of recruits and suicide bombers. Needless to say, Omar will react and try to unite the Waziris and Mahsuds. He wants control of all, not only some, of the Pukhtun tribes of Pakistan. Ultimately, it is the Pakistani Pukhtuns who are the great prize of the ongoing conflict. Whoever wins their favour will eventually prevail.

Peace, therefore, is nowhere near at hand. While the Americans can slink away, we cannot. The US departure will only intensify the struggle and a new phase will begin. We had better steel ourselves to confront with iron, blood, wile and wits the current and forthcoming challenge. The question we must ask ourselves is, are we ready with a good-enough strategy?

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:

Source: The News, 1 May 2010

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