This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive
There is a lot of discussion as to the definition of Taliban, possibility of their segregation into good, bad, friendly, Afghan and Pakistani etc. While approaching this issue we need to analyze as to who is defining, with what purpose, biases, fears or mindsets ? How do the so called Taliban define themselves? Who owns greater media and propaganda prowess with the ability to force their views? etc. I cannot claim to be free of biases and distorted perceptions. However I wish to put before the readers a point of view, with the desire to initiate logical discussion to arrive on a general broad consensus, that may enable us to guide the Pakistani public and various stake holders to decide the relationship with the entities known as Taliban. I propose not to discuss their genesis, evolution and role of various actors in their creation and then abandonment etc, as more than enough has been written and said about this aspect.
Pakistani Clarity on Al Qaeda
There seems to be no ambiguity in the minds of overwhelming majority of Pakistanis that Al Qaeda has no business to perch in our territories and challenge the whole world and in turn invoke a global bad feelings about our intentions and capacities. So they are our established enemies, they have challenged our sovereignty and need to be expelled , cleansed or destroyed . The effective methods of getting rid of them can only be evolved by those who understand the nature and methodology of this great menace. No more discussion on this in this paper as it requires a separate, detailed and serious treatment.
The Afghan Fighters( Taliban Category A)
Those Pashtun or non Pashtun fighters who as per their own perception are fighting against the occupation forces (US and NATO), are not very keen to call themselves Taliban anymore. Mullah Omer and Afghan fighters under him prefer to be called mujahidin. Gulbadin Hikmatyar and the likes are pure afghan freedom fighters and have nothing to do with Taliban. Most of them are sustaining themselves from within Afghanistan and are active in the entire length and width of the country. The western media and governments lump them with other Taliban for their own reasons. The fear in some quarters of Pakistan is not because of their present activities, but more due to their expected future attitudes if they win in their freedom struggle. In my humble opinion though they shall ultimately succeed in their freedom struggle but would not be able to form such an exclusive government capable of enforcing their type of system. We also hope they would have learnt from history and previous experience . Our fears of their ideology spilling over into our territories are misplaced. Threat to any system and ideology is always from a superior system and ideology. To prevent a defeat from Taliban Ideology we need to make our own systems efficient and just. Any vacuum always invites a storm. So let us call this group of Afghan fighters (composed of numerous sub groups) as Taliban Category A . This Category is vast in numbers and has no animosity with Pakistan except that they hate our policy of partnership with US. Their interplay with other states and non state entities can be deferred to be discussed later.
Those Operating in Afghanistan from Bases in Pakistan (Category B)
Before trying to understand this type, we must be very clear about the geography including demography and the tribal traditions along Pak-Afghan border. There are numerous tribes large and small that straddle on both sides of Durand Line. Some villages are physically loc and spread on both sides of the border, yet considered as contiguous one entity with a single name. Special status of these dwellings is further strengthened through a mutually agreed statute ( between Pakistan and Afghanistan ) known as ‘Easement Rights’ , that enable these tribes to move quite freely on either side of the border. Ironically all Pakistani efforts to convert Durand Line into a properly managed and controlled international border have been scuttled by Afghan Government and Allied Forces operating there. They are neither in favor of erecting a physical barrier in the shape of fence etc nor support mining of movement routes. Yet they keep blaming us for cross border ingresses. The problem with these dual nationality type tribal is that they are bound and forced by their traditions to support their kith and kin, fighting the battle of survival as per the local perception. They are avowed enemies of American and NATO troops just like Category A Afghans. For us they are a great embarrassment as we fail (just like NATO, US and Afghan Forces) to control their cross border movements. Let us call them Category B Taliban. The militant activities of this group will only cease with the end of struggle in Afghanistan. The moral authority of the State of Pakistan to stop their cross border movement can only be established by declaring Durand Line as international border and abolishing all easement rights. Then both countries become equally responsible to prevent any cross border activities.
Tehrik-e-Taliban e Pakistan: (Category C)
This is a conglomerate of drug barons, gun runners, smugglers, angry youth, religiously motivated sectarian extremists and enemy abetted paid mercenaries. They are gelled together due to complementary interests as well as efforts of hostile intelligence agencies. Weak writ of the State, social and economic deprivation, total absence of justice and law enforcement are the main factors that has made our Country fertile for this crop. Indian, Afghan and US intelligence agencies are all using them to further their own interests. Some of these groups are also operating independently to pursue their own ideals. These Category C Taliban are the main and immediate threat to the integrity of our Country. Without a well chalked out and comprehensive national response focused on this Category we may not be able to survive for long (God Forbid). Americans are using them to raise the level of hatred of Pakistani public against the Category A and B mujahidin. RAW is employing them to bleed us internally and weaken the morale and resolve of the nation. This will also keep our Armed Forces entangled in a long difficult war creating vulnerabilities on Eastern borders. Unless we have a general national consensus on recognizing our real enemies(Al Qaeda and Category C Taliban) we shall keep frittering away our resources and efforts in pursuit of ghosts.
Lashkar-e-Taiba , Sipah-e-Mohammad, etc.
These are totally local phenomenon either Kashmir related or sectarian groupings. Some of their splinter groups have developed affiliations with one type or the other Taliban. They have flourished due to broken law and order, weak prosecution resulting in total absence of the writ of the State. It is American and Indian endeavor (for their own different reasons) to lump them with the mainstream Taliban and pitch the armed forces against them also. Any such attempt by Pak government may ignite a large scale civil war.
Steps Required to be Taken
Separate Own Strategy From US WOT . Our main enemies are Al Qaeda (common enemy) and TTP. We have nothing to do with Afghan freedom fighters within Afghanistan. We may not be in a position to help them diplomatically and morally that they actually deserve. The ones operating from within Pakistan must be managed. But we can clearly tell Afghan Government that prevention of these cross border operations is a combined responsibility and strict measures (abolition of easement rights, mining of possible routes and fencing etc ) are required on both sides of the border. Both countries should be responsible to prevent activities on their own sides rather than focusing across. US should operate against Al Qaeda within Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world (Yemen etc) and leave us alone to tackle the elements in Pakistan. We should make a comprehensive strategy (economic, social, political and military) against TTP, led by the political Government as per the wishes of the people of Pakistan as reflected through Parliamentary resolutions. There is no need for the military to spearhead the security policy unless clearly and openly mandated by the Government.
Take a Pause in Own WOT
All learned people understand that LIC and internal upheavals cannot be fought only through kinetic means. If other organs of the government and the society do not play their effective role these small long wars cannot be won. Armies due to their nature of training and capabilities can never win hearts and minds. They are not designed to do so. If Army keeps going alone pursuing this anti terrorist campaign, not only that we would not win but the entire burden of defeat will be dumped on Armed Forces. Please get out of this vicious circle immediately. If the Government and civil society cannot wage a media, political and economic campaigns against TTP, we stand no chance. Army is forced to raise local lashkars, carryout development works, institute political activities in war torn areas. Where are the people and institutions who are supposed to do all that? And on top of it they also blame that military doesn’t allow them to do their job! So let us stop fighting with everyone, reduce the number of enemies by talking some of them out. Make an integrated LIC strategy clearly delineating responsibilities, ensuring that an equal or sequential progress (as the case may be ) is made by each organ and instrument of the State and military should never be seen running alone to secure the first position. There can be no lone winners in this nature of conflicts. If others are incapable of doing their share of work, then it must be spelled out clearly and be known to all, specially ever alert media. Army may not be blamed for taking things in their hands at their own, it may rather be taken as a compulsion, ratified by the parliament and the government.
Create Harmony in National Aspirations, Government and Armed Forces. The confusion prevailing as to this is our war or US war has to be removed immediately. It is only possible if we segregate various militant groups, analyze their objectives and home onto real enemies of our State. Ask US to spare us and leave us alone to tackle our own issues the way we want to. The colossal US ingress in our polity, economy and society must be pushed back with wisdom but sagacity. We must politely inform them that it is politically no more possible for us to allow them drone attacks, logistic flow through our territories, and stationing of any additional personnel other than the normal diplomatic requirements. . No institution should try to carve out a separate relationship paradigm with any country outside the overall state to state relationships. If Government is seen to pursue policies in contradiction to the aspirations of the majority as enshrined in resolutions of the parliament, recourse must be made to Supreme Court or directly to the people (referendum) by appropriate quarters. All said and done any effort at national level should be cohesive and inclusive and for that an effective National Decision Making Forum is also an absolute necessity that must accommodate all the stake holders. Policies must be made counting the national aspirations, national interests and own resources. The fallout of veering away from the American line is well understood. Their embrace is very tight, but in my opinion, fatal. The blame that Army runs the foreign policy etc is an insult to the government and foreign office. Why do they allow this ambiguity to exist? Let the foreign secretary and the foreign minister come on a talk show or go to the court and speak on oath what is that Armed forces dictate and for what purpose?
Enact and Implement Effective Laws, Ensure Social and Economic Justice. These factors cannot be over emphasized. Suffice to say that it is a matter of life and death for the Country. We have to put our house in order as a top priority, including strict accountability across the board (better starting within the armed forces).
My premises and conclusions may be wrong, but one thing is for sure, that our present policies and strategies need a comprehensive review and that too immediately, as the things are moving from bad to worse.
Let us stand up, unite and move forward confidently, without being over awed by the enormity of the obstacles. Let us give in to each other rather than to some foreign powers. All Taliban are not one homogenous entity and we need not fight all of them, specially when some of them our misguided, misunderstood and many of them are having sympathizers in large numbers. Whether we like it or not, this is a time for reconciliation with own people, and bifurcating with Americans, who in any case, surely, have their sights on something else.