Many people said that if the ISI was sincere with the Pakhtuns it must target-kill the entire Taliban leadership just like the Taliban did with elders

What Pakhtuns think
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Farhat Taj

There are many Pakhtun who argue that some elite state intelligence agencies and the Taliban, as of Swat for example, are ‘natural allies’ and feed on each other. The Taliban want a besieged and helpless population whom they can rule with impunity. The ISI, they claim, is facilitating this rule and in return the Taliban create chaos and violence. Some may ask the obvious question: why would any one want chaos and violence in the area?

Two arguments are put forward by many Pakhtuns in this regard. Some refer to the well-known but often-discredited theory of strategic depth, which envisions that Afghanistan will become the fifth province of Pakistan and that the central Asian Islamic states will become its client states. Thus Pakistan will become a robust regional power vis-a-vis India in South Asia and acquire a leadership role in the Muslim world. Therefore, by having a region close to Afghanistan which is full of violence and chaos is a way of preventing the US, India and Iran from establishing a firm foothold in the area. Also, US and NATO forces are in Afghanistan, which means that it is important to have a kind of a buffer between Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan. Furthermore, many American think-tanks are of the view that a chaotic FATA is bad for both US and NATO forces because it allows the militants a haven to launch attacks inside Afghanistan, and then retreat back to Pakistan.

There are of course many other Pakhtuns who do not give credence to the theory of strategic depth. Their view is that if the conflict in FATA were to end and the region became peaceful, the flow of dollars from America would stop. There are also Pakhtuns who believe that foreign intelligence agencies such as RAW, Mossad or the CIA are involved in the violence. But they too primarily blame local state actors and their pursuit of the doctrine of strategic depth or of an unhindered flow of aid money from America as primary motives for what is happening in the area. They are just not ready to accept that the Taliban can and are able to occupy large parts of Pakistan without the tacit consent or support of these state actors. Of course, one has to only look at the past and see that it is a part of the public record that people like Nek Mohammad were welcomed with open arms by the then Peshawar corps commander or that some Taliban leaders were given funds in exchange for changing their ways – and which they did not!

One man said: “Look at the ease with which the Taliban have been occupying Waziristan for years and now Swat. How is that possible given that we have one of the largest and well-trained armies in the world?”

What I have written in the two parts of my article are views gained from travelling very recently across NWFP and parts of FATA. I spoke to internally displaced people of FATA in NWFP, daily wage-earners, public transport drivers, shop-keepers, low-ranking government employees, journalists, lawyers, students, teachers and housewives. Almost everywhere people were resentful of the military leadership and the ISI and held them responsible for the brutal excesses of the Taliban. They were not even willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the ISI. Many people said that if the ISI was sincere with the Pakhtuns it must target-kill the entire Taliban leadership just like the Taliban have done in the case of over 200 tribal leaders and must restore the writ of the government in the Taliban-occupied areas.

People are especially angry over the presence of so many foreign Taliban militants and refer to them as no better than ‘mad dogs’.

I would humbly request the army chief and the ISI director-general to pay heed to what the people of NWFP and FATA are saying and to act to remove their grievances. This is crucial both for both Pakhtun society as well as for the survival of the state. It should be remembered that although an ethnic minority, the Pakhtuns are better integrated in the state structure than other minorities such as the Baloch or Sindhis. They have served the nation with their blood in times of war and also in other state-related duties. If the current violence is left unchecked, and given the perception – right or wrong – among many Pakhtun that certain state institutions are behind it or are acquiescing in it, the further integration of the community with the rest of the country will be put at risk.

Last, but by no means least, I would also request fellow citizens to build up pressure on the government and the military to decisively deal with the Taliban and restore the government’s writ in FATA and NWFP. The armed forces are financed by taxpayers hard-earned money and we all have a right to demand that the army provide us security and protect us from extremists who want to butcher us and destroy are way of life. (The News)

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: