By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times, April 27,2012
Are Taliban Pashtun nationalists? Or are they all proxies of the Pakistani military establishment? Does the establishment still support these proxies from the past, and if it does, are the motives for doing so any different from those of other countries who found allies in the criminal Afghan warlords immediately after the 9/11, and continue to do so?
A series of articles by Dr Farhat Taj published in The Friday Times has raised several important questions about the nature of the Taliban phenomenon in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But before those questions are addressed, it must be established that it is unrealistic to see everything in black and white. There are a lot of political grey areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and even more in FATA.
In the summer of 2004, Malik Bakhan, an apparent pro-government Malik who was publicly demanding handing over of foreigners in Wana to the army, was himself hosting some 'paying guests' - Arabs and Uzbeks. Even the people I stayed with during my visit to the region were hosting Uzbek paying guests despite calls by jirgas and the Pakistan Army to turn the foreigners in. It was all happening under the ruse of Pashtunwali in the first place, and for economic benefits in the second. It was largely a cloak and dagger story. It was indeed lucrative for many maliks, who were generally known as opportunists among FATA residents, to support the authority of the political agents on the one hand, and harbour militants and criminals on the other.
During the March 2004 Kaloosha Operation, the entire Kaloosha, Sheen Warsak and Ghwakha villages rose against the FC when it tried to evict Uzbek militant Tahir Yuldashev. Dozens of army and Frontier Corps personnel were killed simply because they had no support from the locals, who were more inclined to back the militants.
It was only after the killing of people like Malik Mannan, and several attacks on the army and the FC in late 2006 and early 2007 that the locals realized Al Qaeda and Taliban had taken over and were trying to turn their lives around.
While the linkages between the army and certain militant groups are a historical reality, to claim that all militants remain proxies of the army is unfair.
Army commandos were embedded in Mulla Nazir's militia to drive out all Uzbeks and their local supporters in Wana in March 2007, because the militants were killing soldiers and government officials. The army and its intelligence did use Mullah Nazir to fight the militants who had killed their men, but they have not backed Nazir in the last five years.
One must concede though that while the military establishment might have turned its back on most militant groups, a number of individuals within the security apparatus remain sympathetic to some of them and provide them with "inside support" to undermine counterterrorism efforts.
It is also certainly not appropriate to say Taliban are Pashtun nationalists, even if their causes were ethnic. They are disparate small-time criminals from menial backgrounds. They generally practice and propagate Salafi Islam at the cost of Pashtun traditions. Attacks on a number of jirgas reflect this brutal side of the militancy which knows no bounds and no norms. It is an indiscriminate assault on Pashtuns and other Pakistanis.
In Orakzai, for instance, Friday was observed as a day of peace for centuries, but the militants flouted this tradition, attacking jirgas in Orakzai, Darra Adamkhel, Matani, Bajaur and Mohmand. They abducted people saying their Friday prayers and killed many on the doorsteps of mosques.
Pakistani Taliban - from Bajaur to Waziristan - are out to destroy symbols of a largely functional state, with a functional government, judiciary, vibrant media, and a large literate human resource that is moderate in outlook and beliefs. In Afghanistan, they emerged as warlords who took advantage of the competing interests of Pakistan, the US, India and Iran in their country.
It is true that the Pakistani military establishment relied on people like Baitullah Mehsud and Sufi Muhammad for long. In April 2009, it even tried to resurrect Sufi Muhammad against Mullah Fazlullah, but the move backfired especially after his speech against the organs of Pakistani state on April 19.
A major general who was then GoC of Malakand, likened the former proxies to "a puppy who had grown, developed rabies and was now biting the hands that had fed him". The only way to deal with them was to put them down, he had told us. This was the beginning of the Swat Operation.
One cannot and must not defend the policies of Pakistan's military establishment that have pushed the country into its current security and economic crises. At the same time, however, it is unrealistic to expect that the establishment will change its policies overnight, especially in a region where there are conflicting geostrategic interests.
The army needs to do a lot to change the impression in FATA and Frontier Regions that the military and the militants are one. A good start would be to cleanse the security establishment of elements sympathetic and or supportive to any kind of militants.
Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo