Pakistan: Taliban vs Osama -by Inam R Sehri

Who are the Taliban and why they are there?

Pakistan has suffered a lot during the last ten years on this account. Pondering upon the history of Taliban’s making, it may be note worthy that Mullah Omer had started his Taliban movement with less than 50 madressah (religious school) students after the fall of Kandahar in November 1994. Then thousands from Pakistani madressahs had rushed to join the new force and by December 1994, just within one month of seizing control, he had a force of 12000 youth with him. A new phenomenon developed in Pashtun society; that of madressah students and mullahs with guns in their hands, ruling the Pashtun tribes and all others around in minority.

These Afghani and Pakistani mixed Taliban ruled over Afghanistan till 9/11 till the Americans ousted them from government and Gen Musharraf helped America in doing so. The Taliban were forced to leave Kabul first, then many major cities and finally pushed towards mountains of Southern Afghanistan. Soon the Pakistani madressah students started coming back to Pakistan and joined back their schools. In Pakistan these students developed their own religious groups and factions and started their armed activities which were more criminal and less religious. Killings, bombings and coercions became order of the day and attacks on each other’s mosques and gatherings created another wave of terror in Pakistan. Tall and known religious leaders came on their back and then the dollars pipeline from various countries kept them active till today so that the nuclear country should go weaker. The process is still on. These different Pakistani groups of diverse religious affiliations are all known as Pakistani Taliban.

The geography played a pivotal role in the scenario. The Durand line between Pakistan and Afghanistan had divided many tribes and the situation is as after sixty years; out of the seven tribal agencies, six have tribes on either side of the Durand line. In the words of Asad Munir (ref: The News dated 17th February 2009):

‘ ……. the religious leaders (in tribal belt) wanted a greater role for themselves in decision-making and that is why the area often saw uprisings led by religious personalities. The latter had hold of the leadership as long as the war / jihad was on but once the conflict was over, it reverted to the Maliks and Khans. The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of Sharia; the mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision making in the social system of Pashtun society.’

The Americans raised alarms since a decade that Osama Bin Laden was hiding in border areas inside Pakistan. Sometimes, their secret service announced that he had moved in the Quetta’s settled areas where he also held regular meetings of his ‘Shoora’. No concrete proof. No solid evidence in this context. America’s whole philosophy was relying upon working of a research team led by geographer Thomas Gillespie of the University of California, Los Angeles who used to develop geographic analytical tools that have been successful in locating urban criminals and endangered species. Relying on their night-time satellite images and other techniques, their scientists had once suggested that Osama was in Parachinar, a town 12 miles from the Pakistan border and hiding there since his escape from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in 2001.

But at the same time Gillespie did not believe in ‘sitting in a cave theory’. All US military techniques had failed to locate Osama. They forgot the fact that these Taliban, were once part and focus of US policies, on US dictates, who were driven into quagmire after the Russians had left Afghanistan and then they were at the point where they had to fight back and negotiate their terms. As a result the Afghan and Pakistani agencies went helpless. Some people seriously thought that there was no way out except to go for ‘negotiations’. Quoting instance from contemporary history, the British had negotiated with the IRA in Ireland in the 1990s taking shelter of a ceasefire. They had to give in to some of their demands on give-and-take principle to earn peace and development which is there.

On similar lines in Pakistan, there have been negotiations between Government and the spiritual leader of Swat Soofi Mohammad’s team and it brought some success though army had to control that area afterwards. There has been only one major demand from that sect of local Taliban who had virtually occupied about 80% of the swat valley during the last two years. That demand was the reinstatement of their old Nizam e Adl in Swat which has been successfully running with them since 1849 till 1969. When Swat was made a part of Pakistan in 1969, the general laws of courts and justice were implemented there like in other parts of Pakistan.

Swat is neither a tribal area nor does it borders with Afghanistan then why has it become a stronghold of extremists. Since 1926, Swat had developed his own central administrative system with two types of courts functioning in the State. Courts headed by the religious scholars, known as Qazi courts, and judicial courts headed by the ‘Area Tehsildars’. The Qazi courts dealt with cases of divorce, inheritance and some other minor cases involving Shariah while all other disputes were referred to the Tehsildar’s court. The appellate forum was that of a ‘Hakim’, and a final appeal could be made to the Wali. The whole process of complaint till decision used to take only one month at the maximum so the people accepted the system.

In 1975, Z A Bhutto declared Dir, Chitral and Swat as normal administrative units like other districts of NWFP. In the initial years of implementation of Pakistani Laws in Swat, the people did not retaliate because it was a new set of laws for them considering that the western system would be better. With the passage of time their illusions got clear and they started murmuring to bring back their old system of justice based on Islamic Sharia. During the two regimes of Benazir Bhutto their joint voices went on a high pitch and emerged as a ‘Tehreek’ in 1988 demanding Sharia system of Justice again. Soofi Mohammad was the leader of that Tehreek then.

In 1992, on collective suggestions of lawyers, the PATA (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas) Regulations were abolished by the courts. However, surprisingly no alternative system was advised and this created a judicial vacuum creating unrest amongst the general populace. It was this vacuum that provided fertility to the seeds for November 1994 uprising by the Tanzeem e Nifaz e Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM). This led to violence and the TNSM took control of six districts and there was a law and order situation all around. An MPA of the PPP, the then ruling party, was also killed. The situation was controlled by the Police after a month’s hectic efforts.

When Nawaz Sharif came into power in 1997 he had felt the heat of the local demand. The then Chief Minister Mehtab Abbasi opened negotiations with Soofi Mohammad and Islami Shariah was implemented in Swat again after a suspension of 29 years. When Gen Musharraf came into power in 1999 he once more ordered to remove that Islami Shariah system of justice from record and forced the people to pass through grinding of Pakistan Penal Code and Pakistan Criminal Procedure Code, both acts coming from since 1868 with no major change. The Tehreek again went alive and TNSM members declared themselves as Swat Talibans.

The Talibanization process in Swat continued throughout Gen Musharraf’s rule in the garb of demands for Islami Shariah system. The incumbent PPP government remained ignorant of the people’s unrest in Swat and our so-called intelligence agencies could not brief the new government on this aspect. So much so that the political governments in the province and Federation both ordered their security forces and then army to confront and open fire on the general populace just in the name of ‘writ of the state’.

Contrarily, instead of consulting their departments and trying to look into the route causes of Taliban’s increasing influence coupled with expanding occupancy, all the federal and provincial ministers remained busy in displaying photo sessions on TVs and media pronouncing almost daily that ‘writ of the government’ would be maintained at all cost. What happened then. About four hundred thousand inhabitants lost their homes and businesses and migrated in their own country. The fact remains that the ministers raising writ slogans were actually the residents of Karachi or London who had never visited Swat. In rising for Islami Shariah Justice System the lawyer’s community, who were the most affected class in the absence of Pakistani routine rotten system of justice, also stood for Shariah.

Ultimately when negotiations started, except Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), all other political and religious parties and public representatives from Malakand Division participated in the consultative meeting (jirga) held at Chief Minister’s House to re-implement Nizam-e-Adl Regulations and appreciated the move as a step towards peace in the volatile Swat valley. Local leaders and representatives of JUI(F), PML(N), JUI(S), PPP(Sherpao), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and PML(Q) attended the hours-long consultative meeting, in which the ANP-led provincial coalition government announced implementation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulations with certain amendments for the erstwhile Malakand Division after receiving a go-ahead signal from the supreme leader of defunct Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM). A 29-member TNSM delegation, led by Maulana Muhammad Alam, had attended this meeting. This agreed Nizam-e-Adl regulation was the same or similar to TNSM’s earlier code of November 1994.

The JI did not attend the jirga saying that the ANP-led government was responsible for all the bloodshed and destruction in Swat and elsewhere in the province. Elaborating their stand the JI maintained that ‘the ANP wants to save its skin by involving all political parties for the wrongdoing it committed in the province.’ JUI(S)’s Senator Maulana Samiul Haq, who also addressed the meeting, said that ‘the implementation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation was neither a violation of the constitution nor against the country’s judicial system, and warned that if the move was sabotaged, then it would not only be harmful for Swat but also for the entire country.’

PPP (Sherpao)’s Chief Aftab Sherpao was one of the participant of that jirga meeting but it may be noted here with interest that the same Sherpao was the Federal Interior Minister in Gen Musharraf’s cabinet (and remained on seat for more than five years) when the unrest in Swat started raising head in his militarized regime but he never advised his ruler that the Islamic Nizam e Adl be reinstated in Malakand division nor he ever bothered to keep all this unrest on record. It may be cited as an acute ‘professional dishonesty’ and speaks adverse of our leader’s patriotism for Pakistan that the job which he could do at the initial stage without loss of lives and property, he kept it for next government to do causing it too late.

In those days there were demonstrations by the women and girls in various parts of the country with placards carrying picture of a girl with a line saying, “Save me, save Swat, Save Pakistan” because their schools were being burnt. If TNSM were after Islami Shariah system, which they got then who were burning schools particularly of girls in all areas which come under their control including Swat. If they were true Muslims then they should not impose any restriction on women getting education. They should know that Hazrat Ayesha (RA) got education; they should know that the Holy Prophet (PBUH), after conquering Makkah, did not close down schools of the Jews and the Christians but here in Pakistan, these girls schools were being burnt by Talibans or by ‘someone or some group’ in the name of Talibans.

For this reason majority of Pakistanis considered Talibanization as a conspiracy against Muslims and especially Pakistan. That is why over the last decade, the image of Pakistan as a safe, civilized country has tumbled dramatically. It is now ranked as one of the most dangerous places on earth. This has affected investment, tourism, mutual cooperation among neighboring states and our foreign policies to a great extent.

In early months of 2009, the Advisor on Interior, Dr Rehman Malik, announced in the Senate that the schools in Swat would be re-opened within seven days and the Pakistani people would see complete eradication of militants in the area, the Pakistani Taliban insurgents destroyed four schools, two for boys and two for girls, on very next day in the violence-plagued valley. It has been the normal way of working for Talibans; to terrorize the residents they always preferred to attack government buildings showing their power and strength. Thank God, had the schools been not closed, big casualties would have been there. They used to see schools as symbols of government authority and they believed that army camps were based there. Till the end of first quarter of 2009, the militants had destroyed 170 schools in the valley where about 55,000 girls and boys were enrolled therein.

The then Information Minister Sherry Rehman had also announced that schools in Swat would reopen on 1st March after the winter break but most of the population had fled to the nearby cities of Peshawar and Mardan while many police officers had either deserted or simply refused to serve. The teachers had also refused to work because the government was unable to provide them protection. Thus even if the authorities had announced for reopening of schools, nobody was there to mark his presence.

The PPP government, after holding reigns of power in 2008, believed that many of the militants in Swat had infiltrated from Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts in ethnic Pashtun areas on the Afghan border. They had fled from there in late 2007 when the military launched a big offensive to clear them out. Despite stern efforts, the government was not able to trace out that FM radio, or if traced they could not cease its transmissions, on which the names of the persons beheaded on the main squares of Mangora city that day were read over and the Swat Taliban used to announce their policies. The state intelligence infrastructure had totally failed. The ISI, had completely stumbled down.

The Pak army started ‘Operation Rah-e-Haq’ against the extremists in the valley in ending 2007 but was wrapped up in mid-January 2008 halfway. After elections of 18th February 2008, the ANP assumed government in Peshawar, and one of their key electoral planks was to talk peace with Swat’s militants. However, this otherwise sensible approach was not responded in kind by the Swat’s local Taliban who in fact opted targeting the local ANP leadership soon after the party assumed power in NWFP. Since then with each passing day they only consolidated their grip over the valley and by the end of 2008 it was widely believed that much of Swat was under the control of Fazlullah.

Brutal attacks on schools in Swat, destroying the structures of buildings, beating up the teaching staff, the action against those opposing the Taliban and the expanding control of the militants was hardly a secret then. Gen Kayani, the COAS visited Mangora and announced his decision to retaliate the militants with full power. In this respect, the military’s declaration of a new resolve was welcome. Big operation was launched to gain back the control of Swat and it succeeded.

Seeking guidance from ‘The Assassination of bin Laden: Its Use and Abuse’ written by James Petras in Axis of Logic on 5th May 2011, one can understand that Pakistani Taliban has nothing to do with Afghan Taliban, no connection or no information sharing of any kind. In Afghanistan, of course, the major forces resisting America and NATO are the Taliban and various other independent nationalist movements. The Taliban are totally independent of Al Qaeda in its origin, structure, leadership, tactics, strategy and social composition. Moreover, the Taliban is a mass organization with roots and sympathizers throughout Afghanistan. It has thousands of trained Afghan fighters deeply penetrated in the Afghani government and military and has recently, on 1st May 2011, announced a major ‘spring offensive’ against NATO forces.

The Afghani Taliban are overwhelmingly ‘national’ in it composition, leadership and ideology; while Al Qaeda is ‘international’ (mostly Arab) in its membership and leadership. The Taliban might have tactically collaborated with Al Qaeda at some occasion but never had orders from Osama. The devastating majority of US and NATO casualties in Afghanistan were inflicted by the Taliban. Limited operation and support in Pakistan may be linked to Afghani Taliban but not to Al Qaeda. In nutshell the Osama drama will have zero impact on Taliban activities in Afghanistan; it will have zero impact on the capacity of the Taliban to carry-out its prolonged war against the US occupation and the casualties of US lead forces are expected to rise each week.