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Pakistan: Taliban resurgence — the tail wags the dog

6 October 2013

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Daily Times, 6 October 2013

Taliban resurgence — the tail wags the dog

by Nafisa Hoodbhoy

With tens of thousands already killed in Pakistan since 9/11, it is critical for the army to draw a workable strategy for the region

Washington DC, October 4: Three consecutive terrorist attacks in Peshawar — which have killed and injured hundreds of innocent people — reflect a growing impatience of the Taliban for the ‘pre-selected” candidates of 2013 elections to deliver to their demands.

These terrorist attacks — waged by criminal elements in a growing array of Taliban factions — have come after a long period of inactivity. In the lull before the storm, political parties held an All Parties Conference in Islamabad to vote for talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP). Spearheading the APC were prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif and the king maker of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Imran Khan.

Here it is relevant to mention that just prior to this year’s elections, Pakistan blessed this set of politicians in their bid for power, with the end game of Afghanistan in mind. But the army — which has since 9/11 supported the Afghan Taliban, while restraining the Pakistani Taliban — has been unable to stop the militants blowback. Instead, its strategy for a pro-Pashtun government in Afghanistan has had major consequences. As Pashtuns from both sides of the Durand line will testify, the Pak-Afghan border is a meaningless entity. A fierce Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan has emboldened their Taliban partners to attack military and state institutions in Pakistan.

In this complex scenario, the newly elected political parties like Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI)— which were spared from attacks prior to the elections — are now boxed in between terrorist attacks by militants and the demand for military action against them.

The Taliban is not monolithic but divided in a bewildering array of groups. Among those striking ferociously of late has been the faction led by Maulvi Fazlullah, whose group has sheltered in Afghanistan since the military operation in Swat in 2009.

The Taliban have correctly identified the US and Pakistan military as responsible for drone strikes. However, any moral argument they won in favour of ending the strikes or for ending the military operation in FATA has been weakened by their killing of common people.

The KP government’s failure to condemn the perpetrators of civilian attacks has apparently emboldened terrorists. Adding fuel to fire, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief followed the massacre of Christians with the demand that the Taliban be allowed to open offices for negotiations. Those who voted for ‘change’, on the PTI’s call, have discovered that the brutal spilling of innocents’ blood, was not exactly the change they had in mind.

Indeed, if history is to serve as a rearview mirror, politicians need to heed that the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan took place in 2008, after Musharraf and his coalition partners — the Mutehidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) — concluded a series of peace accords with the Taliban. The accords were preceded by MMA-Taliban talks that looked the other way as the militants organised themselves.

In the present scenario, Taliban factions have unleashed terror against civilians even before talks have begun. Their modus operandi appears to be to keep spilling blood until the army withdraws from the tribal areas. The next step, as the Taliban declared in 2009 (prior to the Swat operation), would be to overthrow the constitution of Pakistan and avowedly implement Shariah (Islamic law). In practice, this means tribal law that ushers in pre-Islamic customary laws with a vengeance.

The TTP’s demands ought to give the army and politicians pause as to exactly who they may be negotiating with. The ruthless killing of civilians is hardly adding to the Taliban’s populist base. Perhaps overconfidence by militants that they have politicians in their pocket facilitates these rapid attacks. However, it is the politicians — and ultimately military response — that will determine the security and stability of Pakistan.

In the meantime, the PML-N government has announced that it will first give peace a chance by holding talks with the TTP. At the same time, it is on record for saying that the violation of a ceasefire by the militants could result in a sustained military operation against them.

With tens of thousands already killed in Pakistan since 9/11, it is critical for the army to draw a workable strategy for the region. Given that US withdrawal from Afghanistan is in sight, Pakistan continues to throw weight behind select Pushtun Taliban next door. What is important is that in pursuing the Great Game, it does not lose Pakistan.

The writer is a broadcast journalist and author based in the US


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