THE CHALLENGE OF TALIBANIZATION AND NEW GREAT GAME
Central Asian Oil and Gas Pipelines:
After the traumatic events of 1971, Pakistan is faced with the most serious crisis in its political history. The Taliban are not knocking at the door, they are now a part and parcel of Pakistani state and society. The process of Talibanization in Pakistan’s north-western region has given rise to new tensions in the body-politic of the country. Pakistan’s national security and social harmony depend upon its government’s response to the multi-dimensional challenges posed by the rise of the Taliban.
Ideologically the Taliban:
· Subscribe to a belief system that is based on the teachings of Deobandi school of Sunni sect in Islam. Wahabi influence is also visible due to the Taliban’s Saudi connection.
· Reject modernism and adhere to a social and legal code that combines Pashtun tribal traditions or Pashtunwali with one of the most orthodox versions of Islamic fiqah.
· Regard Islamic ummah as a single entity and disapprove of geographical barriers as representing artificial divisions imposed by the colonial masters on the Muslim world.
· Recognize the identity of purpose of the various Islamic movements across the globe.
· Consider jihad or holy war as the sixth obligatory pillar of Islam.
In the short-term the objectives of the Taliban are:
· To liberate Afghanistan from American-led occupational forces through jihad.
· To enforce a social, political and economic order __ based on their ideology or interpretation of Islam __ in Afghanistan and Pashtun-majority areas of Pakistan.
· In the long-term their objectives appear to be:
· To drive out, in conjunction with other Islamic groups, including Al-Qaeda, the infidel forces from all Muslim lands.
· To export the ideology of radical and fundamentalist Islam to other Muslim countries.
To achieve these objectives, the Taliban consider jihad as the main weapon in their armory. In line with the opinion of Ibn-e-Taimiya, they are prepared to use force against those Muslims who hinder or obstruct them in the waging of jihad or who are perceived as siding with the infidels. In their zeal they resort to suicide bombings in which, along with the target, innocent Muslims also get killed.
The challenges that Pakistani state and society face from the Taliban are multi-dimensional.
The Taliban have established their virtual writ in FATA and some areas of the NWFP. They use Pakistani tribal belt as a base to launch cross-border incursions into Afghanistan to attack American-led occupational forces. Their armed struggle against the occupational forces in Afghanistan is a combination of jihad and Pashtun war of national liberation.
However, since Pakistan is an ally of the United States in its so-called ‘war on terror’ and international law does not allow cross-border incursions into other countries except
in self-defense, Pakistan comes under pressure to act against the Taliban.
Wherever the Taliban get power they impose rules that create resentment in various segments of the society that do not subscribe to their extremist ideology. The Taliban compel women to wear burqa and restrict their employment opportunities to only a few fields. They consider imparting of western education to girls harmful to social values. They ban cinemas, television, videos, music and dancing. They force men to sport beards and do not permit modern hairstyles and dresses. They use armed religious police to implement their edicts concerning ‘social morality’ and establish a parallel judicial system to deliver ‘swift justice’. They are ruthless in punishing the ‘delinquents’.
The opponents of the Taliban argue that there is a considerable room for ijtihad in Islam, and fiqah can not remain static as society progresses. They contend that the interpretation of Islam by the Taliban is faulty and inconsistent with the viewpoint of the majority of Muslims.
They think that the laws and rules framed by the Taliban do not conform to the needs of the changing times and are retrogressive in nature.
According to the detractors of the Taliban, there is no compulsion in Islam to observe its rites, but only persuasion.
The Taliban represent Deobandi sect of Sunni Islam. Their emergence in certain tribal areas, particularly in Hangu, has led to Shia-Sunni conflicts that have claimed many lives. Their domination is likely to promote conflicts between the Deobandies and Bareilvies.
In fact the ongoing clashes between the Lashkar-e-Islam and Lashkar-e-Ansar in the tribal belt represent sectarian divide. The pirs and sajada nasheens of Sindh and Punjab disapprove of the Taliban beliefs.
In Pakistan, where there is a sizable Shia community and probably a majority of Sunnis belonging to Bareilvi maslak, the rise of the Taliban pose a serious threat to social harmony.
The Talibanization is also a threat to traditional power-structure in the tribal areas. The political ascendancy and economic interests of the tribal maliks and feudal lords are at stake. They know that the radicalization of the society under the Taliban would eliminate their leadership role and privileges.
The Taliban include the local people and they are also well-trained, well-equipped and totally devoted to their ideology.
The use of military force against them has always proved very costly. Several hundreds of Pakistani troops have already lost their lives.
The Pakistan armed forces do not have moral resolution and fighting capability to eliminate the Taliban from the frontier region. A large number of Pakistani troops have defected due to religious and ethnic considerations. Others are fighting under great psychological stress.
The Taliban have the human and material resources to respond by attacking targets in Sindh and Punjab. With suicide bombers at their disposal they are capable of targeting military personnel and installations in high security zones.
Having no qualms in killing innocent Muslims as ‘collateral damage’, they have the means to target sensitive civil installations and create havoc in big cities.
The past military actions by the Pakistan armed forces against the Taliban have resulted in creation of a sympathy wave for their cause and soaring of their ranks. The process of Talibanization in the settled areas of NWFP has got impetus and they have succeeded in enforcing their version of Shari’ah in parts of the province.
Pakistan government’s dilemma is that if it resorts to military means as a solution, the process of Talibanization would only intensify, if it does not do so then it may have to concede establishment of a state within state, to make it palatable, call it conceding state writ, which in any case has always been the case.
Any concerted military action against the Taliban may lead to their movement to Karachi and other non-Pashtun areas. The MQM is already crying wolf, has repeatedly warned against the settlement of the Taliban in Karachi, as if that already is not the case. Karachi has the largest Pushtoon popultion, out side their home, one shudders to think the number may translate into thousands even percentge point is assumed.
The recent bomb blasts in the Pashtun-majority localities of the city are indicative of the potential dangers. The city may witness new rounds of Pashtun-Mohajir riots.
The non-Pashtun Islamists may join hands with the Taliban to settle their scores with the MQM activists.
On a different note, there have been reports that Deobandi ulema from India are involved in prompting the Taliban to fight against Pakistani troops on the ground that the later are ‘hypocrites’ and American paid ‘mercenaries’.
There can be no denying the fact that Pakistan armed forces are receiving approximately $ 1 billion annually as payment for guarding the country’s border with Afghanistan and to check Taliban infiltration into that country.
If the idea that Pakistan is nothing more than a client state of the United States gains acceptance, the Taliban may direct their efforts at the creation of an independent ‘Islamic Emirate’ comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan’s FATA, NWFP and northern Balochistan with a land corridor to the Arabian Sea.
Indian Consulates on the Afghan side of the border are also actively involved in fomenting trouble in the NWFP and Balochistan. There are confirmed reports of Indian material support to insurgents in Balochistan which has given renewed impetus to the nationalist-separatist movement in the province.
The number of attacks on gas installations and pipelines has increased. According to some accounts India has established training camps on Afghanistan’s territory to train Baloch and Sindhi nationalists, MQM activists and the Taliban. All this is happening in the presence of American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The question is: Is there any tacit approval of the United States for these anti-Pakistan activities?
The cross-border incursions of the Taliban into Afghanistan have led to infringement of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the American-led coalition forces. There have been air-raids and missile attacks on suspected targets inside Pakistani territory sometime resulting in casualties of Pakistani troops also.
There is likelihood that the American-led coalition forces would resort more frequently to missile attacks, aerial bombings and hot-pursuits deep inside Pakistani territory to target the Taliban.
It is surprising that well equipped NATO forces are unable to guard the Pak-Afghan border and blame is placed on Pakistan.
Pakistan has lost more than one thousand troops fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants and has set up nearly one thousand check-posts on the border. The question is: Where is ISAF? War on Terror was supposed to be Global Effort.
The United States is applying carrot and stick policy to Pakistan. The frequent statements of the US President, Secretary of State and high officials that Pakistan’s tribal belt has become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and that Pakistan should do more to eliminate the ‘terrorist’ threat to America are meant to brow beat Pakistan.
Simultaneously there are offers of military and economic assistance to Pakistan if it is prepared to ‘do more’. On 30 July a panel of the US Senate proposed a $ 15 billion package for Pakistan under certain conditions.
If Pakistan recants, the United States, could twist Pakistan’s arm through economic means. Since fuel and food prices are sky-rocketing internationally, and Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves are fast depleting, the United States can give tough time to people and Pakistan to extract submission.
Pakistan is caught between devil and deep sea. Opinions differ as to what should be the policy of Pakistan government. Risks abound whatever course of action is adopted.
Opinion in favor of policy of defiance of the United States
There is a strong opinion that before making any policy choice Pakistan’s decision makers should keep the larger context in mind and remember that the ultimate objectives of the United States and India are:
· To prevent China from acquiring a foothold at Gwadar whereby it can project power at the mouth of the Gulf region in the Arabian Sea. China plans to build oil terminals at Gwadar and to obtain transit facilities across Balochistan, the NWFP and the Northern Areas of Pakistan, which goes against the interests of the United States and India.
2.To deprive Pakistan of its nuclear assets on one or other pretext and, if they could, to reduce it to an innocuous buffer state between India and the oil producing Gulf region. India can then have access to the Central Asia and the Gulf region via Pakistan territory to meet its energy requirement and block China from reaching the Arabian Sea.
It would be the height of naiveté, according to this opinion, not to read this United States and Indian Strategic objectives and still indulege in collective self deception, as preached, that its objective is limited to elimination of so-called terrorist threat from the Pakistani tribal belt.
The United States has made it clear that it has come to Afghanistan to stay. So has Nato.
It is a new phase of the erstwhile ‘Great Game’ for control over energy resources and vital transit routes. The core areas in this ‘Great Game’ are Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan and principal players the United States, Russia, China and India.
The protagonists of this opinion ask: If the United States has limited objectives and is serious in a peaceful resolution of Afghanistan crisis then why is it not opening serious dialogue with the Taliban. After all it was and so was, the UN, had Taliban acted as required post 911. If it was kosher then it ought to be now.
Without taking the true representatives of the Pashtuns on board, how can the United States achieve a permanent peace in that country?
If Pakistan does not change its China policy, according to this opinion, the United States is likely to achieve its objectives by redrawing of regional map. This redrawing may be in the form of creation of an independent Balochistan by design and emergence of an ‘Islamic Emirate’ in the Pashtun majority areas, by defult.
In either case, China will be blocked and Pakistan reduced to a shadow of its past.silent struggle between America and China to set Pakistan's future course has bee under way for a while. The symbiotic economic relationship between the US and China is so deep that economic disaster in one could cripple the other. Simultneously, one could not ignore the security interests of both nations are coming in conflict.
Both nations are attempting to resolve conflicting security interests without upsetting the economic applecart. The battlefield of this carefully calibrated struggle is Pakistan. A silent proxy war between the US and China is under way there.
That struggle was out in the open the day President Musharraf assaulted the Lal Masjid and got off his neutral perch.
The Lal Masjid clerics were loyal to Baitullah Mehsud. The latter's brother masterminded the attacks against Chinese workers in Baluchistan and Islamabad. After Chinese workers were killed, Beijing cracked the whip. Musharraf who had resisted similar pressure by the US to counter the Taliban in Afghanistan reacted with alacrity. He ordered the Lal Masjid assault.
Assassination of Benazir Bhutto is also attributed to her declared agenda--to create a European style South Asian Union that would include India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
That is why Mehsud dismissed Pakistan's allegation that he was behind her murder. Mehsud had denied the allegation and there was no reason to disbelieve him.
Instead the pro-Al Qaeda elements including those in the Pakistan army and ISI were alleged to be the likely suspects because they had a motive.
In recent days the CIA charged the ISI with aiding the Taliban militants and organising the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Prime Minister Gilani made a ritualistic denial of this charge. Clearly he is not equipped to take on the ISI. His attempt to place the agency under civilian control was farcically reversed withinhours.
But Musharraf has leapt to the defence of the ISI and in good measure accused India of fomenting the unrest in Baluchistan. For both China and Pakistan, it is much easier targeting India than America.
However, it transpires that within closed doors, Musharraf, general Kayani and ISI chief General Nadeem Taj did accuse the US of aiding terrorism in Pakistan.
According to The News of Pakistan, impeccable sources had informed the paper that the Pakistani leaders had unburdened themselves to two senior US officials in meetings held on July 12th.
The paper reported that the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff admiral Michael Mullen and CIA deputy director Stephen R Kappes carried "what were seen as India-influenced intelligence inputs".
That "hardened the resolve of Pakistan's security establishment to keep supreme Pakistan's national security interest even if it meant straining ties with the US and NATO".
The report added: "The Americans were not interested in disrupting the Kabul-based fountainhead of terrorism in Baluchistan nor do they want to allocate the marvellous Predator (unmanned armed aerial combat vehicle) resource to neutralise the kingpin of suicide bombings against the Pakistani military establishment now hiding near the Pakistan-Afghan border."
The US officials were asked why the CIA-run Predators were not deployed after the exact location of tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud had been provided to them.
It is in this context that Musharraf has accused India of fomenting unrest in Baluchistan while ceasefire violations by the Pakistani army have increased. Impeachment of Musharraf is being discussed by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, leaders of two Pakistan parties. Musharraf has cancelled his visit to the Beijing Olympics.
Musharraf has seized the moment to strongly defend the army and ISI in order to counter his political opponents. After his recent visit to China he is probably confident of full support from Beijing. Rubbishing US allegations against the ISI seems to indicate that.
According to this opinion, a careful study of the situation would suggest that it is relatively far better to have truce and negotiated settlement with the Taliban than waging war against them.
The understanding with them can broadly be on the following lines:
· Pakistan government should withdraw its troops from the tribal belt and let the local people, including the Taliban, the ulema and the tribal chiefs decide about the fate of the region.
· Pakistan armed forces should not obstruct cross-border incursions into Afghanistan by the Taliban. It is far better to divert the Taliban towards Afghanistan with tacit assurance to them that their rear is safe, if not for its strategic interest then as “tit for tat” for harbouring, training and launching terrorists in connivance with India.
· The Taliban may be allowed to implement shari’ah laws and to establish Islamic judicial system in the Pashtun areas where they enjoy considerable popular support, with negotiation and lagislation. A leaf may be drawn from Malaysia, and many other brotherly Muslim Countries. Even UK and else where in the world, where there is a rich debate going if Muslim Minorities in their midst ought to have their own judicial system.
· The Taliban should be persuaded not to interfere with the sectarian beliefs of other people and not to forcefully penetrate into non-Pashtun areas.
· If India continues with its policy of mischief, it should be paid in the same coin. Even if the peace process is jeopardized let it be so. The dormant jihadi outfits should no more be supressed for Freedom of occupied Kashmir.
· If Pakistan still remains under pressure to act against the Taliban, the Line of Control in Kashmir may be heated up. The world would not be able to ignore nuclear flash-point and issue of ‘war on terror’ would recede into background.
The protagonists of this opinion maintain that even if the concessions to the Taliban mean creation of a quoasi- autonomous region within Pakistani state it is far better than spilling Muslim blood for other peoples war and ultimately witnessing the break-up of the country and surrender of its nuclear assets.
In the most critical times the tribesmen have stood like a rock to defend Pakistan’s interests. The Taliban can still serve as the most dependable line of Pakistan’s defense only they need to be won over and prevented from falling into the lap of India.
The examples of Iraq and Iran have demonstrated that the United States acts only against weak countries. Pakistan should rise from prostration, become assertive and tell United States, as it is, no more at the cost of state.
Opinion in favor of policy of compliance of the United States
The other opinion is that the United States is primarily concerned with the removal of terrorist threat emanating from Pakistani territory and that if another 9 /11 takes place it is likely to be from Pakistani tribal belt. That, un-wittingly, was articulated by Head of our Government.)
The protagonists of this opinion think that Pakistan is in no position to rise from prostration. Either genuinely or in order to ingratiate the United States they are prepared to declare the so-called American ‘war on terror’ as Pakistan’s war.
They project the Taliban as a threat to Pakistani state and society and justify use of force to destroy them.
Since 9 /11 Pakistan government has generally pursued this policy, although at times there was hunting with the hound and running with the hare. Towards the end of 2003, General Musharraf conceded that cross-border incursions into Afghanistan were taking place from Pakistani side and agreed to resort to military action. The use of force proved extremely costly, it destabilized Pakistan and intensified the process of Talibanization. At times the Pakistan government relented and entered into negotiations with the Taliban but peace agreements concluded between the two sides did not last long due to American pressure.
The protagonists of the policy of compliance believe that Pakistan’s hands are tied and it very desperately needs economic and military assistance which can only be secured if it carries out American directives.
Conclusion and Suggestions
Any policy based on outright defiance of the United States is fraught with great dangers. Similarly, the continuation of present policy may bring economic windfall but it is very likely to result in a protracted warfare in FATA and the NWFP that may lead to a virtual north-south division of the country or its formal break-up.
In the opinion of this scrib, the best course for Pakistan government would be to take the sensitivities of principal actors of the ‘Great Game’ into account.
If it is unmistakably proved that giving China access to Gwadar port, with millitary objectives, is beyond the limit of tolerance of the United States and India, Pakistan may need to allay their apprehensions.(1)
India is investing heavy on development of land route between Central Asia and Iranian Port of Chah Bahar via Afghanistan but the United States, despite its hostility with Iran, is has never shown any concerns to create any obstructions perhaps because the project does not involve China.
CHAHBAHAR ENERGY PORT IRAN
The Chinese also need to be made to realize that they have equal stakes in this situation. It can’t happen that Pakistan does all the dirty work while they sit there, grow their economy and reap all the benefits. That said, the point is, we should never be comfortable with the US sitting so close to us. We should only accept them as friends at an arms length.
Simultaneously, Pakistan should persuade the United States to take Taliban on board in Afghanistan and advise the Taliban to dilute their ideology as a tactical readjustment. However, if both remain adamant to pursue the present course of action Pakistan should withdraw its troops from FATA and let the locals decide their future. There should be no use of force against the Taliban, provided they remain confined to Pastrun-majority areas and eschew sectarian violence.
To India, Pakistan should offer olive branch. There are no permanent friends and foes in international politics. As has been the case untill now, in greater national interest, continue to let the Kashmir issue remain on back burner, that’s not burning.
Provided India behaves and call it day by putting an end to it’s subversion of Pakistan via Kabul. India ought to know that it could be otherway around too.
When elephants fight grass is crushed. Why should Pakistan become battle field of great powers?
Pakistan's Foreign Policy in a Changing World Date: Saturday, April 23 @ 01:36:04 PDT Topic: Central Asia Speaks)
About the author: Amicus is the pseudonym of Advocate Mohammed Yousuf. Has written extensively on Islam and Islamist Militancy. Advocate Yousuf can be reached at: