On 9/11 anniversary, Pakistan has a new breed of Taliban

Thursday, September 11, 2008

By Amir Mir

LAHORE: Seven years after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States that shook the entire world, Pakistan, despite being a key American ally in the war on terror, continues to be plagued by the menace of Talibanisation with home grown militants persisting with their calls for Jihad.

As the Bush era is coming to a fag end amidst an unending war on terror, the threat of Islamic militancy keeps spreading its tentacles across the globe; the rigid ideology of Taliban claiming new grounds and the al-Qaeda network seemingly thriving.

Despite the deployment of over 80,000 Pakistani troops along the rugged Pak-Afghan border to counter al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked Islamic militancy, the situation is far from stable in the trouble-hit tribal region which is crucial to three world capitals — Washington, Kabul and Islamabad.

The growing forces of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the border region not only pose a grave threat to NATO troops in Afghanistan, but also to the people of Pakistan where Taliban militias, like their Afghan counterparts, are trying to impose their harsh medieval version of Islamic law.

Although the Musharraf regime had decided to align with the US soon after 9/11, the harsh reality is that the infrastructure built during the last two decades by the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment was not dismantled. This happened mainly due to the fact that Pakistan, since 9/11, was being ruled by a military dictator who deemed it fit to employ a misguided policy both in Afghanistan and Jammu & Kashmir.

Subsequently, with the Islamic militancy gaining new grounds, the Jihadis literally marching ahead, the Taliban nowhere near defeated either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan and the al-Qaeda still unbroken on both sides of the border, senior US government officials as well as the commanders of the Afghanistan-based NATO and ISAF troops are openly accusing the Pakistani establishment of pursuing a policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

Resultantly, a Pakistan-based Taliban movement, inspired by the past Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, is growing in Waziristan Agency along the Pak-Afghan border, challenging the efforts of the coalition forces to stamp out insurgents in Afghanistan and hunt down Osama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammad Omar and other fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

The Waziristan Agency, making headlines in the international media since 2002 due to frequent clashes between the Pakistani security forces and the al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants, is virtually under the control of the local Taliban who have established their grip in the North and South Waziristan areas, besides gaining a significant base from which they wage their resistance against the Allied Forces in Afghanistan.

New militant leaders, new militant cadres and new militant groups are coming up in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt quite often while the old Jihadi leadership of the1980 Afghan war vintage no longer enjoys the kind of hold and sway which they used to command in the past, especially before September 11, 2001.

This new generation of militants is all Pakistani which emerged after the US invasion of Afghanistan and represents a rebellion against the Pakistani establishment joining hands with the United States in the ongoing war against terror. While these extremist elements might be representing a minority view, their threat seems real.

The new breed of the Pakistani Taliban is led by young militants who, unlike the original Taliban, are technology and media-savvy and are influenced by various indigenous tribal nationalisms, honouring the tribal codes that govern social life in Pakistani rural areas.

Though they are called Taliban because they share the same ideology with the Taliban in Afghanistan, they are totally Pakistani. Their holy war is aimed not just at infidels occupying Afghanistan, but also the infidels who they believe are ruling and running their homeland and maintaining the secular values of the Pakistani society. They aim at nothing less than cleansing Pakistan.

Since the 9/11 terror, the Bush administration had been describing Pakistan’s former military ruler President General (retd) Musharraf as the most trusted American ally in the war on terror. However it was under Musharraf that FATA in 2008 is not much different to the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before 9/11.

Most of the top militant commanders are now in FATA and NWFP largely because their military might mushroomed in the Musharraf years. Baitullah Mehsud, a former trainer at a small time fitness centre in Waziristan and now the fugitive Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Maulana Fazlullah, a former ski lift operator in Swat and now the renegade Amir of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and Mangal Bagh, a former truck conductor and now the rebel Amir of the Lashkar-e-Islami (LI) are regarded by their followers as the uncrowned kings of Waziristan Agency, Swat Valley and Khyber Agency respectively.

Aged between 30 and 33, all the three Taliban-linked Jihadi commanders are young and have created ripples not only in the Pak-Afghan border areas owing to their militancy but have also caused alarm bells across the border in Afghanistan which is gradually coming under their growing influence.

Despite being declared most wanted criminals by Pakistan for their involvement in several deadly incidents of terrorism, including suicide bombings directed against the security forces, neither the Musharraf regime nor the new government in Islamabad have been able to challenge their power. Both these governments had first launched military operations against the forces of Baitullah, Fazlullah and Mangal Bagh, but eventually decided to hold talks with them as a last resort to strike peace deals in Waziristan, Swat and Khyber.

Hardly four years ago, no one had even heard of these commanders. It is largely believed that they were groomed by none other than the establishment to secure the border with Afghanistan which it thought had become vulnerable after the fall of the Taliban regime and the subsequent assumption of power in Kabul by the pro-India and anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance.

Since it had become harder for the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to make use of the already established and equally known Jihadi groups in Afghanistan to protect its so-called geo-strategic agenda in the region, the khaki decision makers deemed it fit to create and nurture a new breed of Jihadis along the Pak-Afghan tribal belt, which now challenges the writ of the state by presenting themselves as the Pakistani Taliban.

Therefore, seven years down the road since the 9/11 attacks, the United States, that granted the status of a non-NATO ally to Pakistan due to its role as a frontline state, has intensified pressure on Islamabad to do more for dismantling the al-Qaeda network in the Pakistani tribal areas, saying if there is one country that matters most to the future of the Osama-led terror network, it is none other than Pakistan.

(Daily The News)