(By Saleem Safi)
The elite can’t see beyond their noses and that’s the biggest tragedy with this country. Generals, politicians, clergy, intellectuals or journalists, everyone is a prisoner of his own little self. Out of this prison and their thinking is yet again inside a party line, class ethos, an organizational goal or a career compulsion. Here history is written and bandied about in light of personal and group interests or biases. The present is analyzed with special spectacles and future is predicted in light of own wishes. The result is that after an inflation of all the news, analyses, conferences and talk shows, confusion reigns and people with good enough common sense find themselves lost. The same happened with talibanization and that is the reason that while confronted with this existential issue there is no unity of thought in state apparatus or populace. Everyone has his own theory about taliban and listening to anyone on this score will only add to your confusion.
Who are Taliban? Shortly, they are an extension of Al Qaeda and Afghan taliban. Probed a little more and it is found that the Afghan Taliban are a product of an evolution of the ‘jihadi’ mentality in Afghanistan which was prescribed here by America, Arab countries, Pakistani generals and the religious parties especially the Jamaat e Islami and the JUI. Although Afghan taliban surfaced as a reaction to the Afghan mujahideen who had defeated Soviet Union, but whereas most of their leadership was ex-mujahideen commanders (Mullah Omar was himself a commander of Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi’s Harkat e Inqilab e Islami) their ideological bases were the same as laid down by the aforementioned actors. Thus we can say that Afghan taliban were an evolved (not in a positive sense) manifestation of Afghan Mujahideen. And seen in this light, the Pakistani taliban are nothing more than a new and deformed shape of Afghan Taliban. I am amazed at those intellectuals and analysts who are now lamenting the situation of Swat, Lahore and tribal areas but keep on encouraging Afghan taliban. What is happening in Swat kept happening in the tribal areas for the last six years and what was happening there was routine in Afghanistan since 1994. We witness this unease over lashes to a Swat girl because now we can sense that this can extend to Islamabad and Lahore. But the same courts have been working in the tribal areas for the last six years and these penalties are meted out to people regularly. Ban on women’s education and penalties a la Swat were the norm in taliban’s Afghanistan.
I personally know that Afghan taliban aren’t happy with the Pakistani taliban over their confrontation with Pakistani state institutions and they would like the energies devoted towards fighting NATO in Afghanistan but this doesn’t mean that they will risk disturbing their relationship with Pakistani taliban over this difference of opinion, let alone confront them. Afghan Taliban, despite differing with the tactics of Pakistani taliban, considers them an asset because the latter’s power and influence suits them. They can afford some tantrums and mistakes, of a force which they consider strategic support. It is exactly the same, as we bore with the activities of Taliban in Afghanistan. Our generals were neither in agreement with their understanding of Islam nor with actions such as banning girls’ education, but since they served the strategic interests of Pakistan therefore our clean shaved generals, whose own children are in western educational institutions, were also their supporters. So were those journalists and intellectuals who can’t go to bed without adding a bit of colour to their glasses.
If one looks inside of what is happening in Pakistan in the name of taliban, we will see that the architect is Al Qaeda and she has the steering wheel. This process was started from South Waziristan and after 9/11 more Arabs and Uzbeks than Afghan taliban came there. The one Afghan Taliban leader, who interfered the most in South Waziristan and organized the taliban here, was Mullah Dadullah Mansoor. He was the one who was considered Al Qaeda’s most trusted lieutenant inside Afghan taliban, considered more loyal to Al Qaeda than even Mullah Omar. I have watched many such CDs in which Mullah Dadullah is shown interacting with Al Qaeda’s Arab and other foreign leaders. This Mullah Dadullah was instrumental in organizing militants in Waziristan and that is perhaps the reason that we see a higher tendency of slaughtering people and suicide attacks; in Pakistani taliban. We saw that till 2003 there was no trend of suicide attacks in this region. Al Qaeda’s Arab leaders transferred this technology here. Initially they entrusted this task to Mullah Dadullah and then they trained many others. In addition, they sent more such trainers to the taliban in Waziristan. Such was their advance.
After establishing the writ of militants in South and then North Waziristan, Al Qaeda adopted a totally different strategy regarding the rest of Pakistan. Instead of showing their own presence they targeted those individuals and organizations which could mobilize people or challenge the government’s writ for some reason. If Al Qaeda’s planners saw that the administration of Lal mosque had this capability to pick up arms for sharia, then they were used indirectly. Similarly they went to support Maulana Fazulullah in Swat when they saw that he could mobilize people and pick up arms. They targeted and killed local Khans and influential where they sensed that the people are fed up with the same. They promoted suitable people in sectarian conflict zones on the basis of Sunnis and Shias. They targeted police and state institutions where they sensed that the environment against them is conducive. They stayed at the back and promoted suitable people for each particular set up. After gaining strength in each area they initially conduct operations which are sentimentally appealing to the common man. In tandem, they spread terror by slaughtering people, meting out public punishments or suicide bombings such that no one could confront them.
In once sense, different types of people form the ranks of Pakistani Taliban. Maulana Fazlullah has neither fought in Afghanistan in the past nor has been associated with Jihad. In the beginning he belonged to the Panjpeeri school and later converted to militancy. Baitullah Mehsud is a Deobandi and in the past has fought in Afghanistan for the taliban. Similarly Darra Adam Khel’s taliban leader is from Sipah e Sahaba and so the story goes. That is why their priorities differ. For example, Swat’s taliban concentrate more on people who believe in mausoleums and saints but you will not see such things with the taliban of Waziristan. Similarly, the taliban of Darra Adam khel and Kurram agency target people belonging to shia community but this tendency is absent with the taliban of Mohmand and Khyber agencies. Despite all these differences they have come together under the umbrella of Al Qaeda on the basis of a few agreed points; Hatred and war against America, Hatred and war against the state of Pakistan and the implementation of Sharia (according to their own separate understanding), and armed struggle for the implementation of this sharia. These are the common denominators which combine them into one. Before 2007 the taliban of one area did not have any direct communication with the other area. In 2007, Ustad Muhammad Yasir travelled from Swat to Waziristan to bring coordination among them. He brought them together and unified them under the umbrella of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan. According to my information this duty was entrusted to Ustan Yasir by Al Qaeda but this doesn’t mean that they are all the same or have been graduates of the same types of madrassahs. For example the spokesman of Swat Taliban, Haji Muslim Khan isn’t a graduate of any madrassah. He stayed for a long time in America and in Saudi Arabia and this is why he can speak fluent Arabic and English. One of his sons studied at the agricultural university which has been built with American help.
Now people are using taliban brand name but their ranks are filled with all kinds. Those who detested America or the Pakistani government, and those who wanted to settle their score with local khan or police, joined taliban. Unemployment was at its peak in the area and when the youth saw that a forum can solve this as well as (supposedly) will endear them to God; they joined taliban. Criminals, who used to curry favour with police and officials, saw that the balance of power has shifted to taliban and so they also joined the bandwagon to continue their own activities. Those who abducted for ransom now did the same in the guise of taliban and the weakness of government’s writ only furthered this business.
I think those who limit talibanization to Pukhtoons or think that talibanization is the problem of Pukhtoon belt; are fools. I sincerely believe that taliban and the supporters of their philosophy are present in the whole of Pakistan. The problem came to be identified with Pukhtoon belt because it is on the border with Afghanistan and these elements needed a center for such activities in the beginning. This thinking has not only spread in South Punjab but the whole of Punjab, Karachi and Islamabad are filled with such people. Right now the In-charge of Al Qaeda for Southern Afghanistan, is a Punjabi. Many trainers of the suicide bombers in Waziristan are from central Punjab. I have a CD from Afghan Taliban in which one Engineer Muhammad Ashraf from central Punjab is shown carrying out a suicide attack against the Americans in Jalal Abad. Our Interior advisor says that these people carry out suicide attacks for the sake of half a million rupees, but in this video Engineer Muhammad Ashraf, in his will to his mother, asks her to sell his share of land and give the money to taliban. Likewise, those organizations which were banned, have their real base in Punjab. Thousands of their workers are present in these areas and the real strength of Maulana Fazlullah of Swat isn’t local, It comes from these same people. The situation now is that some people from a few main stream religio-political parties have not only gone to these areas but are also involved in getting trained as suicide bombers. These relations aren’t new and in many respects have been longstanding and durable. We forget that the mouthpiece of Afghan Taliban was published and distributed, not from Peshawar or Quetta, but from Karachi. When ISI’s ex chief, Gen. Mahmood, in the company of ‘Ulama’ went to see Mullah Omar after 9/11m, he took along three of them from Karachi. I have personally watched the video of the leader of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Qari Tahir Yeldishev, in which he spoke for one hour about Red mosque. He says that we had promised the people in the red mosque that we will save them but we couldn’t fulfill that promise therefore they hold us in their debt. Then he declares that they will surely avenge the red mosque. In the same sequence, footages of an attack on security forces and their bodies are shown; declaring that this is the first installment of that revenge.
I only want to state that these dots do link. If taliban is the name of madrassah graduates then they are too few in this business from Swat to Waziristan. But if Taliban is the name of elements who hate America, are fed up with the Pakistani state and wants to implement the penal system as a prelude to the implementation of sharia; then these are spread all over Pakistan. They are not only in contact with each other but they will also be resurrected as they did in Swat.
As a measure of incorrect perceptions about Taliban, people consider Maulana Sufi Muhammad as the leader of taliban whereas he has neither any link with Al Qaeda nor any organizational link with Pakistani taliban. People consider him the leader of taliban only because he went to Afghanistan in the past to fight or because he was given an important role in Swat agreement. Who is Maulana Sufi Muhammad? What does he want? And how is he different from taliban? We will leave these questions for another sitting.