There seems to be a near-consensus within the organs of the State that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are a mortal threat to the state of Pakistan, and that the military action underway against them should continue till its logical conclusion.
The change in the popular perception came about after they moved from FATA, which appeared a distant region, into the settled areas of NWFP, including the beautiful and scenic valley of Swat, where they forcefully imposed a strict social, moral and legal code based on the tribal customs and a controversial version of shari’ah i.e., Islamic laws.
The reports of the TTP involvement in suicide bombings of Imam Bargahs, military installations and personnel, destruction of educational institutions and the Shrines of Sufi saints, attacks on video shops and hair-cutting saloons, beheading of opponents and suspected informers, kidnappings for ransom, restrictions on the movement and freedom of women, public executions and floggings without due process of law, creation of parallel judicial system and the Khwarij-like attitude towards the people of other sects and maslaks disfigured their image.
The Taliban leaders’ naivety in dealing with the electronic media and airing of controversial views about girls’ education and utterances about Pakistan, its Constitution and Judicial System, cost them heavily. Their interlocutor Sufi Mohammad’s outburst against democracy, constitution, superior courts and the parliament was not taken lightly by the intelligentsia, the Media and the people in general.
Taliban incursions and attempted grabbing of Buner and Shangla after the promulgation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations in Malakand Division, their supposed advancement towards Islamabad, pronouncement that they wanted the dispensation based on their version of shari’ah imposed throughout Pakistan, all facilitated formation of strong understanding of the threat TTP was.
Supposedly that in turn, created conducive environment in which, ultimately it divined upon and made the democratic-civilian government of Pakistan, opt for a military solution of the problem, albeit surprisingly, back to back, immediately after the ink on Parliament endorsed seal of approval to so called Nizam-e-Adal enactment sent by the President after sitting over it and mulling for weeks, was yet to dry.
Besides, the constant propaganda in the western media that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were unsafe and could be within the reach of the militants, the intense American pressure on the Pakistan government to show results on the ground otherwise there would be no ‘blank check’ and the allure of $ 1.9 billion in immediate aid, appeared to have spurred the government into action.
As the overall environment appeared propitious and the public opinion in favor, the government ordered the armed forces to crack down on the Taliban from land and air, even at the huge cost of displacement of a couple of million people from the war zones.
There should be no doubt that the challenge posed by the TTP to Pakistan state and society is very real and multi-faceted. It has religious, sectarian, social, cultural, political, economic, security and strategic dimensions.
Today’s Taliban are not a monolithic entity. Broadly speaking, they may be divided into the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
There are streams of reports that the Indian RAW and the American CIA have penetrated them.
The elements from the Kashmir jihad organizations and Al-Qaeda sponsored Sunni sectarian outfits have joined their ranks too. Some groups within the Taliban have close links with the Al-Qaeda and act upon its agenda. No one definitely knows who’s who and whose strings are being pulled by whom.
The Taliban are now at the centre of the new ‘Great Game’. The situation is complex and extremely difficult to make a sense out of the quagmire.
The totalitarian regime may have gotten away but the incumbent representative dispensation has miserably failed, to tap in to the views of vast majority of people of Pakistan. They may be opposed to its pro-American policy but they abhor and are more aggressively opposed to the retrogressive views of the extremist fringe in the Society.
Vast majority of People of Pakistan, want to live and let live; espouse the fundamental truths common to Islam and all other religion. Also believe, “to each according to his ability”, fairness, justice, equity and tolerance. Want education, health, peace and progress; firmly believe that Islam is the most progressive religion revealed to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) the Messenger of Allah, the most complete and progressive way of life for human kind.
Perhaps, in the spring of the present year the United States warned the Pakistan government in no uncertain terms that the drone attacks were not enough and as a last resort the NATO forces would have to enter the Pakistan territory, to eliminate the Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries and their command and control system, with the then impending Spring Offensive in side Afghanistan.
The United States leaned on the Pakistan government to walk out of the unpalatable Nizam-e-Adl Agreement concluded with the Taliban in the Malakand Division through the good offices of the Chief of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Maulvi Sufi Din Mohammad.
In face of the blatant American threat, the high handedness and anti state activities of the TTP and visible proofs of TTP getting finances, weapons and other resources from India, the Pakistan government, hardly had any option other than to launch a military action – Operation against the militants, who had entrenched themselves in the Malakand Division and challenged the writ of the state.
As a result of the Operation Rah-e-Raast few hundred militants were killed. The cautious approach of the Armed forces to reduce to unavoidable loss of innocent lives, did that-saved lives, but resulted in the displacement of nearly three million people from the Malakand Division.
As usual, instead of fighting till the last, the Taliban militants made tactical withdrawal to upper and lower Dir, North Waziristan and the settled areas of Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan and may have also melted away in IDP camps and elsewhere in Pakistan.
The ISPR, rightly, declared that the Pakistan armed forces have flushed out the Taliban militants, including the foreign elements, from a greater part of the Malakand Division and are likely to launch Operation Rah-e-Nijaat against the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan.
Reportedly the Taliban leadership also expects the Pakistan armed forces to move into South and North Waziristan, Dir, Khyber, Darra, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan any time.
Although, ostensibly, the Amir of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Umer, keeps advising the Pakistani Taliban to avoid confrontation with the Pakistan armed forces, if not out of love for Pakistan, sure enough, as it dilutes Afghan Taliban ability to fight against USA/ISAF and NATO and Afghan Security forces.
The leaders of Pakistani Taliban paid no heed. It shows that TTP leadership is not amenable to Afghan Taliban. They may be opposed to foreign occupation of Afghanistan, but appear to have their own or some one else’s agenda in Pakistan.
It is estimated that different Taliban leaders in Pakistan – Baitullah Mehsud, Mullah Nazir, Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, and Maulana Fazlullah – have a force of more than twenty thousand hardcore Taliban fighters under their command.
Although a clear majority of these fighters are Pashtun from FATA, NWFP and northern Balochistan, they include a number of recruits from southern Punjab and Sindh, particularly Karachi. Their orientation as professed has been Afghan Occupation of Afghanistan in the beginning.
The Taliban ranks have also been qualitatively infiltrated by foreign sponsored and financed elements, which come in the name of support to Taliban.
In reality those element only want to worsen the crisis by indulging in or inciting heinous, deprecating and ruthless, killings, rape, desecration of Holy Places of revered Saints, places of worship, Ulema of Barelvi School of Thought, with the sole alien objective of destabilizing the established order in Pakistan, so as to weaken Pakistan, the only Muslim Nuclear Power and a very important regional and global player.
The foreigners include Afghans, Uzbeks, Chechens, Uighars, Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Malaysians and Thais, the Mauritanians, even Indians.
TTP is soft area for alien state penetration, particularly for those who bring in Finances, Weapons, Communication equipment, tactical or strategic objectives in the region and also those who have an axe to grind, like India, Israel and Afghan government or Political Allies of the Government in Kabul.
This infiltration cuts both ways. For one these infiltrators erode the moral and religious high ground the Taliban may have, spoil their morals and then commitment of fighting the occupation forces in Afghanistan in support of their brethren in Faith and Race.
On the other motivates them to engage with their own state, the government at the helm of affair, believed by them to be faithful to occupation forces in Afghanistan and by extension engage with the Army and Para military forces and civilian administration.
The Afghan occupation forces and neighboring states have, by design or abetment, effectively converted a “pain in the neck militancy” emanating from border areas of Pakistan into a local, home grown militancy, slugging it out with Pakistan and its government. Pakistan now accepts and proclaims “It’s our War against Terrorism”.
The other players, particularly India, are having the comfort of having engaged Pakistan with its own insurgency in the North West and are optimistic that it will draw more and more resources in men and material, making it difficult to maintain its presence as necessitated by threat perception from the Eastern Borders. They also harbor the notion of widening canvas of chaos.
The offers and assurances from USA UK and India, in that order, clearly show that Pakistan may need to dilute from east and deploy in the west in order to sustain War against insurgents.
In order to finance their activities, the Taliban impose charges on drug trafficking, Afghan transit trade and even convoys carrying supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Their other sources of income include kidnappings for ransom, extortion from Khawaneen and proceeds from the sale of weapons inside Pakistan. Reportedly some factions of the Taliban receive assistance from foreign countries. They also have sympathizers and well-wishers among the Pakistanis.
The Taliban leaders are likely to offer a united front if the Pakistan armed forces launch the Operation Rah-e Nijaat. They are likely to resort to hit and run tactics and suicide bombings.
The Pakistan armed forces have been trained for conventional warfare. They need training and equipment and resources to develop proper counter-insurgency capabilities. Right now they are valiantly making the most of what they have.
To attract more people to their cause and impart legitimacy to their confrontation with the Pakistan armed forces, the Taliban may proclaim creation of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Waziristan’ with Baitullah Mehsud as its Amir. They did have a Website to the effect.
Unlike the conventional warfare, in the present case the enemy confronting the Pakistan armed forces, is a part and parcel of the Pakistani society, trained, financed and actively abetted by neighbors, regional players and stake holders in the region. The militancy in Pakistan is not exclusively indigenous or home grown, rather foreign sponsored.
It would be over-simplification to suggest that the Taliban have absolutely no sympathizers or they are regarded by all people as a bunch of criminals and foreign agents. In fact, the Taliban have strong pockets of support in FATA, NWFP and northern Balochistan and to some extent in rest of the country.
They also have sympathizers in southern Punjab where some Sunni sectarian and Kashmiri jihadi organizations have close ties with them. The Taliban have the capability to play havoc in Punjab if their strongholds in FATA and NWFP come under attack. There is potential of the southern Punjab getting radicalized.
Since the Taliban or those who use this title are not a monolithic entity, it is necessary that the ‘good’ Taliban are duly distinguished from the ‘bad’ Taliban. Those who are pursuing foreign agenda should be isolated from those who only yearn for establishment of a legal system based on shari’ah or who in the past have for long part remained our first line of defense and soldiers of Islam against the Indians and latter the then Soviet Union and thus allies of the USA.
Primarily these pockets of sympathizer or supporters are opposed to occupation of Afghanistan and Kashmir, which feelings are shared by many throughout Pakistan.
If over simplification was avoided, there is clear possibility for weaning away those pockets or segments from North Western Pakistan and Southern Punjab, sympathetic to TTP-Militants, through informed and focused exposure of Militants, for their real, foreign sponsored and financed designs against Pakistan, its people and Armed forces.
If reached and informed, predominantly, the people will neither tolerate nor condone, such anti State Elements. The dilemma faced by the State of Pakistan, is the insolvency of the political leadership, their lack of comprehension of the challenge to our Country, their bickering and petty politicking, perennial escapist tendency, in the final analysis, will be more harmful than the military part of the solution.
Contrary to what one may say, there are reports that during spring and summer Baitullah Mehsud used to send Taliban groups inside Afghanistan to fight the American-led occupational forces until he was compelled or motivated to divert his attention to the Pakistan and its armed forces.
It is the foremost responsibility of the government to expose Baitullah Mehsud and coterie, who are being financed and supported by foreign elements, in furtherance of their agenda to destabilize Pakistan, if the government wants to gather greater popular support for Operation Rah-e-Nijaat.
As stated earlier, the Operation Rah-e-Raast has resulted considerable damage and displacement of nearly three million people from their homes. It has also led to destruction of property, laying waste of standing crops and collapse of civic infrastructure in large swathes of the Malakand Division.
In the camps of the internally displaced persons, the shortages of food and medicine, and disruptions in electric supply have made the life terrible. This is not how heart and mind are won. In short term the people would be prepared to endure the hardship, but if no early solution is found the feelings of resentment would certainly develop very soon owing to the impending monsoon and resultant hardship for IDP and also for those responsible for management of supplies and logistics.
The rehabilitation of administrative machinery, restoration of civic infrastructure and return of the refugees to their homes in peace and comfort are huge tasks. Presently the army authorities are substituting for the local administration in the greater part of the Malakand Division, which could not last for long. There has to be a Civilian Administration, revival of their representative institutions and effective policing system. The best approach would physical movement of politicians and People’s Representatives to the affected areas, sooner the better.
At the end of the day the Pakistan would have to return to the negotiating table. Any strategy based exclusively on the use of fire-power is not sustainable or in national interest. In case the Taliban leadership is killed and they get dispersed or divided into innumerable small groups, it would be extremely difficult to control the situation. We need to engage elements those are apprehensive of being alienated from people of Pakistan generally and particularly the North Western Pakistan.
At a time when the eastern border is not fully secure, insurgency is already going on in Balochistan and all is not good in Sindh, the Pakistan armed forces cannot afford a protracted engagement in the North West too.
Armed Forces are doing more then its call of duty, where is the Political Leadership ruling the roost. Why they are not going to the affected areas and elsewhere in Pakistan to put some balm on the wounded, martyred and displaced?