Pakistan’s Cliffhanger: Between the Good & Bad Taliban



by Hamid Abbasi


The stalemate stretching over the uncertain future for warzone Afghanistan has markedly matured in the past few months, credited to American realization (though with limitation) that inclusion of Taliban in accepted norms into power will guarantee a lasting solution.

It stands defined that for team Obama it has been a tough task to convince back home that the very force they came to eradicate 10,000 miles away from the mainland will be a key fragment in the future orientation of Afghanistan. The ice has melted over the previously seen “Taboo of International Policy”, American sitting side by side with traditionally dressed Taliban for the future Afghanistan whether it be in Kandahar or Doha. The nucleus of US-Taliban talks have hardly made it beyond the well-guarded rooms in the Middle East, although it has been widely believed that the parties are mostly engaged in the post withdrawal settlement with reference to the stationing of US troops and bases in some regions of Afghanistan. Even if the agenda is somewhat close to it, the 1st and most vital phase has been agreed between the two parties with reference to US pullout as well as Taliban inclusion into post withdrawal Afghanistan framework. Beside this, news coming to us, cautiously filtered has primarily revolved around Karzai (and his boys) hardline stance over meager issues like hosting of flag, official name tag etc. Even a tot can ascertain that these issues get addressed before the policy negotiation commence, not the inverse.

Across the border there are many roving eyes in Pakistan which are not only concerned with the developments in Afghanistan, but anticipate these developments as the corner stone for their future orientation. Explaining Pakistan’s status as frontline state in US led War in Afghanistan is just partial, without understanding how much at stake this frontline state has owing to the events in this 12 yearlong battle. Pakistan has been transformed into a “Shooting Gallery” as a consequence of War Theater in Afghanistan, with aftershocks felt at every level till date. Up to 40,000 security personnel’s and civilians have lost their lives as a result of terror activities across the country. The army is engaged in all fronts unlike in history, with threats from internal as well as external elements. The Pakistan chapter of Taliban, TTP has emerged as the single biggest threat to the country in the recent past, inflicting unimaginable losses to the country’s foundation from their bases across the border as well as in the border regions of Pakistan. Unlike US, the policy makers have admitted in Pakistan that without bringing Taliban to the table of talks, solution to insurgency on both side of the border is not possible. In the past with US adamant of not extending recognition to Taliban, the talks with TTP could hardly materialize. To the surprise of many, it is established that the security apparatus of Pakistan has always initiated the talks with the Taliban chapter, even during days when in remote areas of Pakistan Taliban were brutally beheading their colleagues. Whether it was Swat or North Waziristan, Pakistan Army has initiated operation after the talks have failed, owing mostly to the cross border tensions.

One factor also contributing to the pros of meaningful negotiations this time around is the change in government. Unlike the earlier leadership of PPP under Zardari, PM Nawaz is a seasoned campaigner in Afghan affairs and holds credibility both inside and outside Pakistan. The government for the 1st time seems spearheading the talks which was not the case in previous years. From this we move to the negotiations and the complexities attached with them.

Pakistan chapter of Taliban, TTP is as vague as it can be. There is still a question over their official association with the Taliban in Afghanistan under Mullah Umar. One has to recognize that in Afghanistan Taliban has a shape and existence, whereas in Pakistan it is scattered and shabby. Though Taliban Afghan chapter have not officially disengaged itself from the TTP, rifts remain over their ideology as well as their standard operating procedure. Unlike Al Qaeda or other organizations, Taliban under Mullah Umar is strictly an Afghan based outfit with interest and agenda only limited to the borderline. In engagement with US troops, they have maintained least level of civilian causalities which has paid them well. Leadership is another aspect which differentiates them from similar organizations. Mullah Umar is an established name and has remained in power as well. His control over the Afghan chapter of Taliban has been much disciplined and enjoys support and trust of his fellows. On the other hand TTP as quoted earlier has failed to project itself as an organized unit in over a decade. They have mounted unimaginable losses on Pakistani soil, but they still lack a shape or a face. Toward ideology they are far from reality. The most alarming element of TTP is their ambition. They have from time to time staged acts to attract international attention, like the case of Faisal Shahzad in Time Square bombing plot. Going a step further, they were even out to claim an attack on US soil which later turned out to be an individual act on behalf of an insane. They were recently capitalizing on rumors of their men being part of the Syrian episode, all for extended recognition and attention. In their practices, they have proven time and time again that they have no boundaries between civilians and military targets. Even bomb attacks in crowded civilian targets killing infants and women have been claimed boldly by them, making it highly inconvenient for the negotiating party to offer them any concessions. Toward leadership, TTP is as vague as ETA in Spain has been for decades. The power has changed hand from Nek Muhammad, Baituallah Mehsud, and Fazalullah and now to Hakimullah but it has been symbolic. The TTP being composed of over 32 chapters it seems have mostly remained aloof of each other. Presently, any terror is claimed is claimed by chapters rather than the TTP itself which reflects the fragmentation within the organization, a nightmare for any meaningful negotiations. Earlier, Wali ur Rehman Mehsud came out as supportive to talks but he was wiped away by a US drone, courtesy tip off from internal sources. Recently with Pakistani PM announcement of talks with Taliban, Muavia had to loose his slot for extending support to negotiation. Also, the element of ethnicity has also emerged in TTP ranks. Muavia controls the Punjabi chapter of TTP whereas Hakimullah Mehsud power base rests with the tribal and foreign elememts of TTP, including Uzbeks, Chechans, Afghans etc. A split on these lines may draw the boundaries for future course of action for Pakistan.

Presently, with all its constrains it seems that the “carrot and stick” of international politics will prevail in the domestic environment of Pakistan. The negotiations will only be possible with fictions accepting the government offer for a peaceful resolution whereas military strength will be unleashed to the hardcore elements, for 1st segregation and ultimately control of their outfit and areas of operations. Having said this, US role still will hold the key as the backlash from warring TTP chapters can be immense. As the case for both parties, the across border support keeps elements like TTP pumped and it must be ensured that the “Bad Part” on both sides of the border gets recognized as of no one’s interest. Also, US drones targeting militants showing willingness of talks with Pakistan’s government will wipe away the positive orientation on US-Taliban talks from Pakistan.

As 2014 approaches, the stakes and responsibility for the parties engaged in Afghanistan and Pakistan have matured but it must be capitalized or else Afghanistan and its surrounding will drift into another era of warfare, benefitting none.


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Hamid has a Masters Degree from National University of Modern Languages, with expertise in international relations and political science. Since 2008, Hamid has remained wired to the blogging circles of Pakistan.