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View Point: America, Taliban and us

The violent extremists fighting this state, say many, have nothing to do with America’s war in Afghanistan. Yet last Wednesday’s US drone strike in North Waziristan that killed six people included the second-in-command of the so-called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Waliur Rehman. As a TTP commander he had the blood on his hands of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers. He is also said to have commanded the 2009 attack on the GHQ.

The US has killed him not for his crimes against Pakistani state and its people but for organising attacks on US and Nato forces inside Afghanistan. He had $5 million bounty on his head for involvement in the December 2009 suicide bombing on an American base in Khost that left seven CIA agents dead. Back in August 2009, TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud was also eliminated by a drone-fired missile. He too had a $5 million bounty on his head for providing sanctuary in his South Waziristan home base to Afghan Taliban. Before him, a high profile militant to die in US Predator drones first ever targeted killing in June 2004 was Nek Mohammad. He was also accused of providing safe haven to Afghan Taliban and other foreign fighters. Notably, a couple of months before his murder Nek Mohammad had signed a peace agreement with the Pakistan Army, but wouldn’t give up his jihad against the US forces in Afghanistan. These militants hosted an assortment of foreign fighters from Arab and Central Asian countries, and farther a field from Chechnya – all united with al Qaeda in a common cause of taking on the Americans. These undeniable facts establish a clear linkage with the US war in Afghanistan.

Which brings us to the next question, why do these people insist on participating in another people’s war? Part of the reason, of course, is related to US’ first (proxy) war against its erstwhile rival, the Soviet Union, and invocation at the time of the Islamic concept of jihad to prepare Afghan and foreign fighters to wage war in Afghanistan, thus causing large-scale radicalization in this region. The idea caught the fancy of Pakistani establishment as well which later used jihadist bands to advance its own security objectives abroad.

Geography and ethnicity play an equally important role. Pashtun tribes living on either side of the Durand Line are bound not only by ethnicity but also blood ties. What happens in the adjoining Pashtun populated provinces in Afghanistan affects people on this side too, urging the tribesmen to come to the aid of their Pashtun brothers.

Religious fanaticism and ruthlessness go hand in hand. The TTP has butchered more than 42000 Pakistanis in horrific acts of terrorism, beheading soldiers and slaughtering ordinary civilians in suicide bombings. The first reaction of any normal, fair-minded persons is to want to hand them exemplary punishment for such crimes against humanity. So far, force alone has led to perpetuation of an endless vicious circle of violence and retribution. Considering that the TTP comprises diverse groups motivated by different reasons and agendas, what works in one case may not be suitable in another. What is needed is a multi-faceted strategy that brings about peace without appeasement.

The TTP, it needs to be remembered, is not a monolithic entity. It is said to comprise over 40 disparate groups gathered under its umbrella with different motivations and agendas. Hence one-solution-fits-all approach won’t work. Most irreconcilable are the hardcore al Qaeda type rejectionists who refuse to accept the country’s Constitution and rebuff democracy as a Western concept insisting instead to implement their own narrow, retrogressive vision of the Sharia.

The Afghan-centric dominant group headed by Hakimullah Mehsud had set similar conditions for talks with the government. It is not unusual, nonetheless, for a warring side to present a long list of demands, knowing that most of them could never be accepted. Apparently, differences exist within the TTP leadership. According to press reports, Waliur Rehman, who was said to be more amenable to talks with the Pakistan government, was killed on a tipoff from a member of the Mehsud group.

Many who have lost relatives or have seen them maimed in US drone operations have joined the TTP out of a revenge motive. Also, part of the TTP are several criminal groups engaged in abduction for ransom, bank robberies, and a lucrative smuggling business.

The Swat Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), along with his men has taken refuge across the border in Afghanistan. Since ouster from Swat and Malakand in a military operation, they have joined hands with the TTP, and continue to make forays into Pakistan attacking border posts and killing tribesmen. Notably, TNSM predates 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan. It was founded by Fazlullah’s father-in-law Sufi Mohammad way back in 1992. The latter had been agitating for the implementation of his Sharia agenda long before the TTP came into existence. When the US war started in Afghanistan Sufi went across to fight along with thousands of his followers, who died there in large numbers. He himself returned safely to Pakistan and was arrested, which is when his son-in-law stepped in to take over the TNSM.

Then there are the Punjabi Taliban, a product of foreign-funded seminaries in the poverty ridden south Punjab. They have a sectarian agenda to pursue, and are closely aligned with the Taliban sharing sectarian allegiance and Shia hatred with them.

The Pakistani Taliban clearly have risen from the spillover of US war in Afghanistan but won’t disappear with next year’s withdrawal of US forces from there. The factions focused on the war in Afghanistan are also going to go on challenging the writ of the Pakistani state. Those who learn to rely on the power of the gun to get their way do not give up arms easily. There should be no hesitation to use force if persuasion fails. But it would be a mistake to continue to employ force as a first rather than last resort.

saida_fazal@yahoo.com

, "View Point: America, Taliban and us," Business recorder. 2013-06-06.
Keywords: Political issues , Political process , Political leaders , Political crisis , Extremists , NATO forces , Taliban , Al-Qaeda , War-Afghanistan , Afghanistan , NATO