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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Neobans and the Neocons

By Amicus

Immediately after 9-11 – the unprecedented, colossal and most inhuman attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor – the United States targeted the Taliban regime of Afghanistan for offering protection to the prime suspect, Osama Bin Laden, and his Al-Qaeda militants.

As the later events proved, the terror attacks on USA only hastened the American aggressive and expansionist agenda in the South and Central Asia and Middle East.

Since the collapse of Soviet Union and subsequent disintegration of the Central Asia and Eastern Europe and its emergence as the sole Superpower of the World, United States of America, has been pre-occupied with the obsessive consolidation of its newfound global position, to maintain its sole superpower status and to prevent the rise of any rivals, be that China or any European power, the United States desires to dominate the Middle East and Central Asia, for they are rich in oil and gas resources.

Apart from ‘war on terror’ and bogey of weapons of mass destruction, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq should be seen in the context of its quest for world hegemony. The United States wants to command important sea-lanes, be that the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz or the Suez Canal.

Be that as it may, for the US Administration and American Nation, 911-a massive tragedy was a matter of extreme grief, anger and also a National shock. Hence they were highly charged and the public outcry was “redeem the US prestige, avenge and punish the culprits. (Politely put, to bring to justice the culprits, may they be people, country or followers of a different faith).

In the preparatory phase the incumbent American Administration was in such a frenzy that they were “carried away” and christened their intended military operation against Afghanistan (the Government of Taliban), as Crusade - the word with historic connotations of wars between Islam and Christianity.

The resulting emotional outburst from the Muslim World and even from the Civil Society in the West, made the Bush Administration re-name the intended operation six more times, that, finally, it came to be known as “Operation Enduring Freedom” .

The attack on Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq clearly demonstrated that US Administration was also converting the challenges posed by the events of 911, into opportunities to massively pursue its geo-economic, geo-strategic and geo-political objectives in the Middle East, South and Central Asia.

For Afghanistan, the American strategy was two-pronged: to form an international coalition for its ‘war on terror’ and remove the Taliban from power and, simultaneously, to work out a plan for political dispensation in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The US-led military campaign code-named ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ against the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda began in October 2001.

The United States resorted to heavy bombing of suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts and Taliban concentrations from air and the Northern Alliance took upon itself the brunt of fighting on land.

Unable to withstand the massive enemy onslaught, particularly the State of the Art air power, the cluster bombs, daisy cutters, napalms bombs, the Taliban gave away their government and dispersed in a bid to mix up with the common Afghans or started crossing over into Pakistani tribal belt.

The capital city, Kabul, fell to the Northern Alliance on November 13 and Kandahar on December 7, 2001 and US led Coalition Forces followed. The Northern Alliance troops hunted down a large number of suspected Taliban and inflicted the worst kind of brutalities on those who were captured.

On American initiative, the United Nations convened a meeting of different Afghan groups in Bonn on November 27, 2001. The participating groups were the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, the Peshawar group that enjoyed the support of Pakistan and claimed to represent Pashtun aspirations, the Iran-backed Cyprus group of Afghan refugees and the Rome group led by the former King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah.

The hectic deliberation under US patronage resulted in the Bonn Accord concluded on December 5, 2001 that provided for formation of an interim administration under Hamid Karzai for an initial period of six months.

The Bonn Accord further lay down that the Loya Jirga (the Grand Assembly) would be convened before the expiry of the six months to decide about the formation of a transitional government for the next two-year period. The transitional government so formed would hold free elections before the end of its term for the establishment of a ‘representative’ government in Afghanistan.

On December 23, 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as the interim President of Afghanistan. The 29-member cabinet or governing body that was sworn in on the occasion was dominated by the avowedly anti-Pakistan and pro-India Northern Alliance.

Pakistan’s only solace, (one that was destined to prove absolutely wrong), was the hope that the United States would not allow the Northern Alliance to act in a manner detrimental to Pakistan’s interests, at least as long as the United States was at war with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda already had their presence on the eastern side of the Durand Line in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the NWFP and Balochistan. The foreign nationals on Pakistani territory included the Afghans, the Arabs, the Chechens, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks who had fought against the Soviet forces during 1980s.

First as a result of the American carpet-bombing of Tora Bora and other areas on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and then due to the occupation of Afghanistan by the American-led coalition forces, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements based there began crossing the porous Durand Line into Pakistan’s tribal agencies of South and North Waziristan to join those of their ilk. It is a matter of record that Ossama Bin Laden and his senior colleagues also made good their escape from Tora Bora and since then are successfully evading the International Dragnet.

It is alleged that some central leaders of Al-Qaeda, may be even, Osama Bin Laden and Aiman Al Zawahiri, also found sanctuary, occasionally, if not permanently, in Pakistani tribal areas after the 9/11.

Since Pakistan had become an ally of the United States in its so-called ‘war on terror’, these militants considered Pakistani territory secure from American aerial bombing and land assault, and a safe haven for future planning and cross border operations inside Afghanistan.They might have thought that the Pakistan government would never dare to resort to any military action in the tribal belt.

In due course Pakistan had to increase the number of its regular troops to 70,000 and Police and Frontier Corps to 65,000 on its western frontier. Pakistan government wanted to check the influx of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements but, in view of its porous border with Afghanistan and total absence of capacity of ISAF or Afghan Army on the Afghanistan side of the border, there was no effective way to achieve this end.

Within Afghanistan, the writ of the Karzai government remained largely confined to Kabul and its adjoining areas and often Karzai was referred to as the ‘Mayor of Kabul’. The local warlords mustered sufficient power to reassert their authority with impunity.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants gradually started to regroup and launched sporadic guerrilla attacks on the American-led international coalition and Afghanistan troops.

Taking advantage of the chaotic conditions, different warlords began diverting their energies to drug trafficking and there was a steady growth in poppy cultivation.

Reconstruction and development work, infested by corruption, nepotism and inefficiency, did not take off as promised by international coalition. Peace remained elusive and good governance an unattainable dream. The hapless Afghans yearned for relief from miseries.

Although the Loya Jirga decided on June 19, 2002 that Karzai would continue to hold the office of the President after the end of the initial six months, the Pashtuns were not at ease with the influence that the Northern Alliance enjoyed in the Afghanistan government.

The Taliban during their tenure in Kabul, had given a semblance, at least illusion, of peace and stability to the country, and had endeared themselves to Islamic-minded Pashtuns who regarded Karzai nothing more than an American stooge.

The reports started pouring in that the Taliban were reorganizing inside Pakistani territory and particularly the Wazirs and Mehsud tribes of Waziristan were cooperating with the Al-Qaeda militants.

While dealing with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, one of the primary concerns of the Karzai government was to ensure that no unwarranted interference took place from outside Afghanistan. However, Karazai government, by its acts of omissions and commissions, provided ideal grounds for reorganizing and breeding the Taliban on Afghan soil that has now come to knock at the Gates of Kabul.

For this purpose, Afghanistan and its six neighboring countries – Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – signed on December 22, 2002 the ‘Kabul Declaration’ on good-neighborly relations that reaffirmed the principles of territorial integrity, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

The declaration failed to achieve its objectives in case of Pakistan and Afghanistan where intelligence agencies, including the Indian RAW, (to whom the Northern Alliance factions were deeply indebted from the days of its resistance against the then Taliban onslaught and subsequent brutal rout of the Taliban government), and non-state actors – the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – continued their cross-border operations, obviously without least regard for the understanding reached between the two countries.

Occasionally, Pakistan armed forces acted against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda but failed to check cross-border incursions into Afghanistan.

The Taliban also began targeting Pakistani troops and even attempts were made on the life of President Musharraf.

Amidst uncertainty and tension, the Loya Jirga was again convened in Afghanistan in December 2003-January 2004 to frame a constitution.

The Jirga, comprising 502 delegates, had a large number of former mujahideen leaders and their allies. After considerable bickering, the Jirga agreed on a constitution based on a somewhat diluted form of presidential system and set a timetable for the holding of the presidential and parliamentary elections that were supposed to establish ‘democratic’ government in Afghanistan.

By that time the Taliban had become quite active in southern Afghanistan and there were reports that Pakistan’s tribal belt was fast becoming the base for their cross-border operations.

In reorganization of the Taliban in South Waziristan, Commander Nek Mohammad of Waziri tribe had played a key role.

He received financial assistance from the Al-Qaeda to establish training camps and recruitment centers in the region.

Wana, in South Waziristan, became a kind of headquarter, although camps were also set up at other places like Azam Warsak, Kalosha, Zareen Noor, Baghar, Dhog and Angoor Adda.

In the agency of North Waziristan, training camps were set up at Shawal and other places near the border of Afghanistan. South Waziristan also had its network of underground bunkers and tunnels that were used by the militants.

As the cross-border activities of the Taliban increased, the Karzai government, conveniently started pointing fingers at Pakistan, without looking for and reigning in these hostile elements within its own house, for allegedly allowing the Taliban a free hand on its territory.

On receiving reports from the commanders of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, the United States developed serious concerns about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda activities based on the Pakistani side of the border.

This led to building-up of American pressure on Pakistan government – an ally in its ‘war on terror’ – to take effective measures and rectify the situation.

While addressing the military officers at National Defense College on February 12, 2004, President General Pervez Musharraf admitted: “On the western border, certainly everything is not happening from Pakistan but certainly something is happening from Pakistan.”

By acknowledging that some interference in Afghanistan was taking place from Pakistani side of border, General Musharraf, if not intentionally, at least unwittingly, offered the international coalition and Afghanistan troops a pretext to enter into Pakistani territory in hot pursuit of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants if Pakistan failed to check them.

In order to prevent any such eventuality, General Musharraf called upon the tribal chiefs to rein in the Taliban and expel the foreigners associated with Al-Qaeda from the region.

Since the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants had reorganized themselves on Pakistani territory to an extent that they could launch very effective attacks inside Afghanistan, the United States insisted that Pakistan took some truly result-oriented military action against them.

With American presidential election to take place before the end of the year, reportedly, President George W. Bush wanted Pakistan to give a helping hand in his campaign and capture some high value Al-Qaeda targets and boost the prospects of his success.

After all peaceful options were exhausted to prevent the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from cross-border incursions into Afghanistan, the Pakistan government agreed to participate with the coalition forces in US conceived offensive against Taliban and Al Qaeda, christened ‘Operation Hammer and Anvil’ by taking stern action against the militants based on its side of the border.

While the coalition forces and Afghanistan troops, were supposed to act against the Taliban on the other side of the border, (which incidentally did not happen), the Pakistan armed forces resorted to a fierce military action against the Al-Qaeda elements and its local supporters, focusing on Wana in South Waziristan. Initially the Frontier Corps was involved in the action. General Musharraf recalls in his memoirs:

“When the troops reached Wana, they found themselves trapped in a cleverly laid ambush. Our forces were in a low-lying area while the terrorists had occupied the surrounding hills and mountains. There was a hail of fire from the mountains, and our troops suffered heavy casualties in men and materiel. A pitched battle ensued, with the terrorists dominating the area. The army was called in to break the ambush and retrieve the trapped men of the Frontier constabulary.” (Pervez Musharraf, In The Line of Fire, London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2006, p. 267)

This military operation, in which the Special Services Group of the army was also involved, proved extremely costly and according to some unconfirmed reports nearly 250 casualties were suffered by Pakistani troops in the clashes.

However, what jolted the military leadership was refusal on the part of scores of soldiers to shoot their Muslim brothers. Some of the local Ulema issued a fatwa (religious edict) that it was unlawful to offer janaza prayers (funeral prayers) for the Pakistani troops, who had been killed during the operation whereas the dead Taliban and foreigners were buried with due solemnity.

Pakistan government called off the military action after about twelve days and entered into negotiations with the tribal leaders.

As a result of military action by Pakistan armed forces, large number of the Taliban supporters, Al-Qaeda fighters and innocent people, including women and children, lost their lives. This created immense resentment and hatred against the Pakistan government and armed forces, particularly in Pashtun population of the country.

It is also believed by many that Afghan and Indian operatives fueled these feelings of resentment and anger against Pakistan government into hatred against the state of Pakistan.

Pakistan Government wanted to have a permanent presence of its troops in South Waziristan to ensure that those foreigners who had left the region during the operation did not return and there was no reorganization of the Taliban in the area.

Since the idea of permanent placement of troops was not acceptable to the tribal people of Waziristan at any cost, the Pakistan government agreed to confine them to the check-posts established at different places.

On April 24, 2004, the then Corps Commander Peshawar formally announced amnesty for all wanted tribesmen and an agreement was signed with Commander Nek Mohammad at Shakai. The truce proved to be short-lived as Pakistan army insisted that Nek Mohammad should ensure registration of the foreigners hiding in Waziristan. Perhaps the United States was not happy with the agreement and under its pressure Pakistan armed forces launched another operation on June 9, 2004 against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements.

It was during this operation that on June 19, Nek Mohammad was located and killed by a laser-guided missile that was said to have been fired by the US forces.

A few months later the situation became nastier when a Chinese engineer was killed and this time the central figure from the Taliban side was Abdullah Mehsud who had been released from the Gauntanamo Bay prison.

After sporadic clashes, which spread over several months, an agreement was signed at Sararogha in February 2006 with the Chieftain of the Mehsud tribe, Baitullah Mehsud, which bound Abdullah Mehsud not to attack Pakistani forces or give shelter to foreign elements. Like the previous Shakai agreement, this agreement was also silent on cross-border incursions by the tribesmen into Afghanistan.

During the year 2004, Pakistan also attempted to persuade the United States to open up dialogue with the ‘moderate’ Taliban. The advice was very sane because there was no hope that peace would return to Afghanistan if power was not shared with the true representatives of the Pashtuns. There were also indications that Pakistan wanted to create another Pashtun political force comprising the Taliban elements but without Mulla Omar or any Al-Qaeda militants.

These efforts did not bear fruits due to the firm commitment of the Taliban to their cause, their fidelity to Mulla Omar and the untrustworthy image of the Pakistan government. Pakistan’s hopes for inducting the Taliban into Afghanistan government under some other nomenclature remained unfulfilled.

As per the decision of the Loya Jirga, the presidential election was held in Afghanistan on October 9, 2004. The United States made much propaganda on the occasion, dubbing it as the first ever held democratic election in the country, (which theoretically, may have been true).

However, the very premise of the so-called election was destined to create a bigger problem of governance in Afghanistan, as was proved by the events those followed. It was obvious that without the participation of the Taliban and more realistically the people of southern Afghanistan, the presidential election was nothing more than a farce.

Karzai and twenty-two other candidates participated in the so-called election. The National Election Commission declared Karzai the winner on November 3, 2004 and he was declared to have secured 55.4% of the total votes cast with a majority in 21 out of 34 provinces.

Even after the election, Karzai could not legitimately claim that he represented the Pashtuns, who were full of anger against the United States. His writ continued to remain confined to Kabul and surrounding areas.

The presidential election did not bring peace to Afghanistan. With each passing day the Taliban grew in strength on both sides of the Durand Line. In Afghanistan, they regrouped in southern and eastern provinces and raised the level and frequency of their operations.

On Pakistani side, after the military action of spring 2004, a large number of Al-Qaeda militants had moved to North Waziristan where local pro-Taliban elements offered them protection. The Pakistan armed forces now targeted Miramshah where the presence of Al-Qaeda militants and the Taliban was very visible. The result was not much different from what had happened in Wana and the Pakistan armed forces faced stiff resistance from the militants.

Pitched battles were fought and it was only after heavy casualties that Pakistani troops could take hold of the town. Even the use of helicopter gun ships failed to break the will of the militants, who resorted to guerrilla attacks on Pakistan armed forces and targeted pro-Pakistan tribal leaders. During two years since the military action of mid-2004 more than a hundred tribal leaders who cooperated with the Pakistan government were killed in South and North Waziristan by the Taliban.

In the meantime, by 2005, the poppy cultivation in Afghanistan had broken the twenty-five year record. (The poppy crop is supposed to be over 6600 tons in 2006, a rise of 150% over last year). The warlords were minting money like anything in this fast growing undertaking. Drugs started getting access to Russia via Central Asia and then onwards to other parts of Europe. The traditional routes of drug trafficking via Pakistan and Iran were revived. Desperate to augment their means to conduct ‘jihad’, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda also found religious justification to have a share in the lucrative drug business.

More often then not, warlords and drug barons helped the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in transfer of arms, ammunition and money to continue their war against the ‘infidel’ America and its NATO allies. Money bought weapons for the militants, including those of Russian and Chinese make.

In the midst of deteriorating situation inside Afghanistan, the elections for the lower house of the parliament – 249-member Wolesi Jirga – were held in September 2005. As expected, these elections did not offer any solution to Afghanistan’s complex problems where the real stakeholders, the Taliban, were kept outside the state institutions and the presence of occupational forces made mockery of the so-called democratic exercise.

It was apparent that after the winter 2005-2006, the resurgent Taliban would intensify their struggle and Afghanistan would be in extreme turmoil. This did happen from the spring of 2006 when NATO was confronted with strong Taliban presence in southern and southeastern provinces of Afghanistan and had to resort to costly military operations to control the situation.

The issues that lately incited the Muslim sentiments against the West also helped boost the popularity of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.The inhuman treatment meted out to prisoners at Abu Ghuraib in Iraq:

Iraq, much publicized desecration of the Holy Quran by some American investigators, the maltreatment of the inmates at Guantanamo Bay, the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H.) in European newspapers, the Israeli intransigence and rogue behavior vis-à-vis Hamas and Hizbullah, the continuing bloodshed in Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir, the US double standards in the Middle East and the threats to Iran over its nuclear program, all contributed to the acceptability of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – the symbols of anti-Americanism – as legitimate resistance movements in the Muslim world.

The ferocious and bloody struggle of the Iraqi nationalists and Islamic militants, in Iraq, for ousting the American-led coalition forces strengthened the resolve of the Taliban in their fight against the American and NATO occupational forces in Afghanistan.

The resistance movement in Iraq provided an ideal training ground for foreign fighters from other Islamic countries, particularly Afghanistan.

It was widely believed that these Afghan and other foreign fighters were being trained on ground in Iraq in the art of suicide bombings and other tactics of carrying out sabotage, including car, donkey cart, and other forms of ambulatory explosions.

Someone should take notice of these breeding and training grounds in Iraq, Mr. Karazai should raise this very important issue with the incumbent democratic Government in Iraq, by sparing a little time from Pakistan-bashing!!

With nearly 20,000 American and 10,000 NATO forces on Afghan soil, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda opted for resistance and progressively made efforts at setting up decoys and ensnaring the US, NATO and Afghan forces and engaging them with the element of surprise.

It seemed that the resistance was aiming at a long drawn guerilla war on an expanding canvass by spreading the occupation forces thin and draining their resources and manpower.

After February 2006, Karzai and the Afghan officials repeatedly accused Pakistan of sheltering the Taliban. The commanders of the coalition forces and western newspapers often joined this mantra. The United States intensified its pressure on General Musharraf to order decisive military action in North and South Waziristan.

The battlefield continued to expand in Afghanistan and the Taliban adopted various tactics that proved successful against the American-led coalition in Iraq, including suicide bombings. The coalition convoys became unsafe in greater part of southern Afghanistan. According to one report nearly two hundred Taliban attacks per month took place on coalition troops and installations after the winter ended.

Practically the Durand Line became irrelevant and the Taliban belonging to North and South Waziristan got actively involved in cross-border operations, as they were too on the receiving end of Pakistan, ISAF and now NATO attacks.

In different towns and villages of North and South Waziristan, the Taliban took over the administration and it became extremely difficult to dislodge them, for they were thousands in number and their figure was soaring. In their zeal to establish Islamic system of governance and, basically, to have a territorial base for operation, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda proclaimed creation of the “Islamic State of Waziristan” in North Waziristan.

Across the border, in Afghanistan’s provinces of Paktia, Khost, Helmand and Zabul, the Taliban acquired a formidable presence and at different places established their administrative control.

On the other hand, it was widely noted by the western media, authors and columnists that the composition of government and assemblies in Afghanistan as a result of general elections of 2005 had resurrected the war- and drug-lords in the make believe democratic system of the country.

Hamid Karzai became more dependent on these war/drug/tribal lords, who had their own agenda and were carrying out activities to promote objectives that most of the time ran against the professed noble aims of Kabul.

Irony is that the very system, in the process, has become a vehicle for ensuring criminalization of Afghan governance and strengthening divisions in the Afghan society, while the writ of Kabul remains a farce.

It is generally believed that the hostilities, discriminations and outright maltreatment by Northern Alliance-loaded Kabul and Provincial Administrations in Afghanistan have resulted in alienation of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance-loaded Administration is playing havoc with its own people through discrimination and violation of sanctity of their homes and hearths. This deliberate and revengeful subjugation created a sense of frustration and anger amongst the Pashtuns.

On top of this, these ‘Shumali’ elements (Northern Alliance) time and again used the American and NATO forces to serve their own narrow objectives and at times even to settle personal scores. It had all but added to the frustrations and heightened anti American feelings.

The resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements exploited this general hate syndrome to their advantage and provided an alternate to Karzai, who was universally acknowledged in Afghanistan as a puppet of America and his Northern Alliance coalition partners.

To counter the resurgence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda on Pakistani territory, it seemed that the United States would at some stage demand that the Pakistan government should resort to indiscriminate aerial bombing of areas where they had entrenched themselves.

The idea of carpet-bombing was not new. During the war to topple the Taliban regime, the United States had undertaken carpet-bombing of Tora Bora where it was suspected that Bin Laden was in hiding.

Often the western newspapers reported that different high value Al-Qaeda targets were availing the hospitality of their allies, the Taliban, somewhere in the Pakistani tribal belt and Pakistan government was not doing enough to capture or liquidate them.

Occasionally, the US/NATO forces crossed into Pakistani territory in hot pursuit and hit different sites inside Pakistan with rockets killing alleged militants and innocent people.

This was despite the fact that since 9/11 the Pakistan government had arrested a number of leading Al-Qaeda figures, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj Al Libbi, Abu Zubayadh, Ramzi bin Alshiba and Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani.

If Pakistan had gone along with the US desire of aerial bombing, there was every likelihood that the Taliban, who had already entered Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu, might have opted for all out assault on Pakistan government’s installations in the NWFP and Pashtun areas of Balochistan.

There had already been incidents of attack on Pakistani troops in Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan. The situation was extremely grave and tricky. The best course for the Pakistan was to have some sort of understanding with the tribals/taliban to avert any major clash. It was in the interest of the country to respect the historical and traditional status of the tribal belt and avoid meddling into its affairs.

There is a strong opinion in the country that It should be left to the local ulema(clergy) and the tribal chiefs to decide how to deal with the foreigners and the challenge posed by the Taliban, even in terms of their having a pseudo Islamic system on their territory or not, provided Pakistan’s national interests were served.

Instead of resorting to further military operations that had the potential of proving counter-productive, the Pakistan government decided to persuade the Taliban / militants to amend their tactics of operations inside Afghanistan and not to use Pakistani territory for the purpose.

In the light of earlier experience, it was apprehended that any shortsighted or tactical military activity against these neo-Taliban on Pakistani side of the borders might result in thoroughly radicalizing the people of the Tribal Areas of Pakistan and lead to Talibanization of vast chunks of Pakistan’s own territory.

For Pakistan, there were and are other concerns also. Since Indian hold on the Northern Alliance is very strong, Pakistan considered it imperative to arrive at a political solution of Waziristan imbroglio.

Already there have been entries of saboteurs from Afghanistan into Balochistan and the Indian RAW was involved in efforts to strengthen the so-called insurgency in that province.

This naturally alarmed the Pakistan’s Military establishment, as in the past the Islamic elements augmented the country’s internal security vis-à-vis ethno-regional and linguistic movements and its defense against potential aggressors from outside.

Despite being an ally of the United States in its ‘war on terror’, the strategic considerations of Pakistan demand that its government maintain some a nexus for engagement with the radicals, via the Clerics and Elected Representatives of the people of Tribal Area and differentiate between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Since the Taliban leaders had attended the madrassahs run by the Jimiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, its Clerics were in an ideal position to use their good offices if the Pakistan government wanted to open a dialogue with the pro-Taliban tribal elders.


It was in this backdrop that the Pakistan government concluded a peace agreement with the elders of the Uthmanzai tribe on September 5, 2006 at Miramshah. Initially it was reported that the agreement was signed by seven militants on behalf of the Taliban Shura (advisory council) as the second party and enjoyed the blessing of Mulla Omar, the Taliban supreme leader.

According to the Miramshah Agreement, the militants have made a commitment not to attack the law enforcement agencies and armed forces personnel, government installations and property. They have agreed not to wage cross-border attacks into Afghanistan from the Pakistani territory, although the tribesmen would be allowed to carry on their routine trade and business activities across the border and would be free to meet their relatives in Afghanistan.

Under the agreement the tribesmen have also promised to refrain from interfering in the districts adjoining North Waziristan. Regarding the foreigners in the region, the agreement says that they would have to leave North Waziristan; however, if due to some valid reason they are unable to do so, they would live peacefully and respect the laws of the land and the present agreement.

The militants have undertaken to return vehicles, wireless sets and other assets of the government, which they have captured during the military operation against them.

On its part the Pakistan government has released a number of militants and restored their privileges. The government has given assurance that it would not resort to the use of force, including ground and air operations; instead it would settle the issues according to the tribal customs and traditions.

Newly created check-posts would be dismantled and the military would remain confined to its forts and bases. Tribal Khasadar force and Levy would take over the remaining check-posts.

The government has agreed to pay compensation for loss of life and property and to give back the vehicles, weapons and other assets of the tribesmen. The implementation of the agreement is under progress.

The detractors of the Miramshah Agreement have expressed several reservations concerning its efficacy:

1. The success of the agreement depends on the good faith of the parties. The agreements in the past ran into trouble as soon as they were signed due to differences over their interpretation and visible lack of determination to make them work.

2. The militants are not under the control of the Maliks and tribal chiefs. They are likely to continue with their cross-border incursions into Afghanistan. The initial reports suggest that there has been a two to threefold increase in attacks on NATO forces in the areas bordering North Waziristan.

3. North Waziristan would become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda elements, including top leaders, because foreigners have been allowed to remain there if they are unable to leave Pakistan and respect the law of the land.

4. The locals would implement Shariah laws in the agency. This would surely have spillover effects in the adjoining areas of the NWFP leading to promotion of Talibanization in the region.

5. The authority of the Pakistan government over North Waziristan would be compromised and the country’s sovereignty impaired.

6. There are elements in the ISI who have not given up the former agenda of promoting Islamic militancy in the region. They would find it convenient to secretly support the Taliban.

Notwithstanding their reservations, keeping in view the existing ground realities confronting Pakistan and its potential for spillover into the neighborhood, the critics of the agreement need to understand that the policy of confrontation has resulted in further radicalization and has not yielded the desired results.

Without a political solution there is a greater risk that the phenomenon of ‘Talibanization’ would spread like a malignancy in the socio-political fiber of Pakistan.

If this clear potential for ideological penetration or (call it subversion) is not taken note of for narrow political, tactical or short term gains by Pakistan, the United States and other partners in international coalition, not only Pakistan but the entire region comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and India may get embroiled in an unending cycle of violence. Such an eventuality would further fuel the Islamic militancy and may serve as the most potent threat to peace in the region and beyond.

According to President Musharraf the environment has undergone a change with focus shifting from Al Qaeda to Taliban and to the new phenomenon of ‘Talibanization’.

Therefore, the critics should understand that the Pakistan government is pursuing a holistic strategy to fight terrorism and extremism. Without addressing extremism the fight against terrorism is not going to succeed. (Dawn, September 30, 2006)

The Miramshah Agreement would enable the government to work for social and economic uplift of the backward tribal region and strengthen the traditional system.

It is heartening to see that during his September visit to the United States, President Musharraf was able to sell the new approach of the Pakistan government to deal with the Taliban to his US audience.

There is obviously a dire need to make efforts for forging some understanding with the Taliban within Afghanistan also. By keeping the real stakeholder on the sidelines no permanent peace can be achieved in the war torn country.

If the United States wants Pakistan to keep up the cooperation with its war on terror, it should seriously take into account that Pakistan can not work as a coalition partner if incumbent government in Kabul keeps its belligerent tone and tenor against Pakistan and acts in a manner that could make Pakistan’s western frontier insecure as obviously Pakistan can ill afford such an eventuality.

It is about time to take recourse to some reflection, soul searching and objective evaluation of the outcome of US policies in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and more so in Afghanistan. The resort to blame game and neighbor bashing by Kabul would not alter the existing complexities, those are home grown. It may only result in weakening of the fragile coalition against so-called war on terror.

Kabul has to understand that given the predicament it is in, it cannot afford to join the traditional raga of ISI bashing that is emanating from Pakistan’s eastern neighbor. It has to appreciate and pragmatically acknowledge that without Pakistan’s contribution there is not much, with the exception of occupation and installation of incumbent government in Kabul.

The government in Kabul ought to know that primarily the problems lie inside Afghanistan, where Kabul has failed to establish its writ and also to win the hearts and mind of its own people.

There have been many recent reports and articles about situation in Afghanistan published by International think tanks and correspondents, based on their observations inside Afghanistan. These reports are unanimous in their conclusions that given the fact that incumbent government in Kabul is, in reality, hostage to the vested interests of War Lords and Tribal chiefs, who are indulging in corruption, nepotism, smuggling, smuggling of drugs and weapons.

These reports further reveal that there is a strong nexus between the Mujahideens and these War and Drug Lords, which has historic roots and transcends political or religious boundaries. The availability of resources on such huge scales has definitely made the Mujahideens, the Tribal Chiefs, both from Southern and Northern Afghanistan, stronger than the Government in Kabul.

The Drug Barons and Tribal Chiefs have emerged as the most powerful segments in Afghan Society that is capable of influencing the Afghan Politics and the Politicians and are also qualitatively impacting the ISAF and NATO’s War on Terror.

It is also obvious that everything is not well in Northern Afghanistan too.

It is about time the World Community wake up to the emerging ground realities in Afghanistan, as Karazi led coalition government is in serious problems, owing to limitations and constraints imposed upon it by the very composition of its government. Every passing day it is becoming clear that Karazi is hostage to his own War Lords, Drug Lords and their representation in his government and the elected bodies. Even his erstwhile partners from North are making disgruntled noises. There have been reports of infightings between Northern Alliance factions.

It should also be a matter of serious concern that after war on terror of almost half a decade, the goals and objectives set by the UN, ISAF, NATO and their allies are, to put it mildly, elusive and a mirage.

It’s a wake up call for some rethinking and re-evaluation on the part of all concerned and to at least, sift the wheat from the chaff, the Afghan Taliban being the later.
(The Article was originally carried by on November 11 2005)

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