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From good Taliban to bad Taliban

18 December 2010

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Daily Times, 17 December 2010

by Azizullah Khan

As a result of Pakistan’s support to the second episode of jihad, which is now known as the ‘Taliban era’, we received TTP, the suicide bombing culture and ended up with large swathes of land out of state control

Nation states resort to different tactics to secure their national interests, ranging from diplomacy to proxies (fighters of state A who secure its interest in host state B). In the real world it is almost considered legitimate to secure a state’s interests through any means. ‘Proxies’ is a common phenomenon, but a major question to be considered is whether the benefits of proxies are worth the costs.

The international community is nearly unanimous on the point that Pakistan is backing some factions of the Taliban, for which they have coined the term ‘good Taliban’. Western analysts and political leaders call Pakistan’s approach a ‘pick-and-choose’ policy. They believe that Pakistan facilitates this faction of the Taliban as it is assumed that it will guard its interests in Afghanistan, i.e. to curtail Indian influence and have safe havens for India-centric jihadis. They are up in arms. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s notorious statement that Pakistan is “exporting terrorism” is probably best representative of what they are thinking about Pakistan. And they are asking us to do more. Recently, David Petraeus, US commander in Afghanistan, in an interview with ABC News said that “more clearly needs to be done in the tribal areas of Pakistan to weed out” terrorists.

‘Good Taliban’ are good, yes, because they are good in fighting, good in exploding themselves in bazaars and at shrines, good in demolishing schools, good in targeting the Pakistan Army and good in kidnapping teachers and doctors. They might be good at these things but not in friendship. The Taliban by their nature are like a snake, which, by its very nature, must bite, and nature cannot be changed.

If (a big if) they come to power in Afghanistan, they will establish a strong nexus between the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their regime in Afghanistan. Then there will be double route traffic. Herds and herds of Taliban will be moving to and from Pakistan, some will be driven, others will move willingly and they will kill, destroy and pick up whatever will come in their way. There will be pitched battles among them and perhaps we will find ourselves standing in their rows.

In order to get insights about the future, we should take lessons from history. Ahmad Rashid notes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia that, as a consequence of its support to the first episode of jihad, which is now known as the ‘Mujahideen era’, “Pakistan which had no heroin addicts in 1979, had 650,000 addicts in 1986, three million by 1992 and an estimated five million in 1999.” Adding to this, we also received the Kalashnikov culture. As a result of Pakistan’s support to the second episode of jihad, which is now known as the ‘Taliban era’, we received TTP, the suicide bombing culture and ended up with large swathes of land out of state control.

And the situation is moving from bad to worse. A couple of weeks ago, a Washington-based NGO, Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict (CIVIC) released a report, which notes that there were probably more “civilian casualties — 2,100 deaths — in Pakistan in 2009 than in Afghanistan”. Furthermore, it warns that “losses have a long-lasting and devastating impact on civilians’ lives, provoke anger and undermine legitimacy of the Pakistani government”. “In 2009,” according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), “a total of 2,586 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian related incidents of terrorism were reported across the country that killed 3,021 people and injured 7,334.” In 2010 (until November), according to the same source, a total of 3,137 incidents of the same nature took place, which killed 9,343 people.

Some may argue that, for Pakistan, India’s influence in Afghanistan is tantamount to its encirclement, for which Pakistan has to take a few demanding decisions to secure its legitimate interests over there. An editorial titled ‘Pak-Afghan ties’ (Daily Times, December 7, 2010) brilliantly challenges this point of view: “We have to realise that our ‘assets’, i.e. the Afghan Taliban, are no one’s friends. We may think they are different from the local Taliban who are openly waging a war against Pakistan but the ground reality is that there is no such thing as the ‘good Taliban’. There is no guarantee that once the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, they would cooperate with us. After 9/11, we saw that the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden despite Pakistan’s insistence. Terrorists are no respecters of borders but due to our India-phobia, we continue to support them.”

If we want to decrease Indian influence in Afghanistan we have to bring a major shift in our strategic calculus and we have to extend our best possible support to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan.

If we fail to do so, then it is very likely that there will be Lahori Taliban, Peshawari Taliban, Multani Taliban, Gujrati Taliban, Karachi Taliban and Sialkoti Taliban, so on and so forth.

Do you want this to happen?

The writer is a graduate of Government College University, Lahore, and can be reached at khetran at ymail.com