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  • The “Taliban” is back

    by Zak
    28th June, 2006 at 2:48 am    

    WaziristanAn Army sent with insufficient numbers on, wrong information, a mission to root out terrorists from a lawless part of the world and as part of the War on Terror.

    Iraq? Nope! Welcome to Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

    The tribal areas (I use the word loosely here) are governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a hundred plus years old law introduced during the British Raj. The laws indirectly administer the region through tribal leaders, un-elected tribal councils, tribal levies and a political agent appointed by the federal government.

    It is a region which was efficiently, if unjustly, governed by an antiquated legal system and in the 1980’s and 1990’s used as a base for the war against the U.S.S.R and to exercise influence in Afghanistan.

    Fast-forward to the post 9/11 era and the Pakistan Army was sent (circa 2003, under US pressure) to “root out the terrorists and liberate the oppressed people”. Sure enough fighting erupts, the Al-Qaeda lot disperse waging guerrilla warfare and the old system collapses.

    Following the most basic rule of physics; nature abhors a vacuum and the locals look for a group that can enforce law in a now truly lawless region. Sure enough the only group organised enough are the religious groups. Enter the Neo-Taliban (my word copyrighted, basically you’re an average Daily Mail reader on steroids).

    The Neo-Taliban’s immediate dispensation of the law wins popularity with the locals. Their popularity spreads and for the parable to go full circle you have the old barbaric regime (Saddam et al) being replaced by a new generation of far more dangerous Islamists (modern day Iraq and Somalia).

    The situation was getting little national coverage partly because of the media blackout imposed by the government. However, recently a journalist from the tribal areas Hayatullah was tragically killed. His death hit the headlines due to the accusation that his death was planned by Pakistani intelligence because of his criticism of human rights abuses and the extent of American involvement in the region.

    Hayatullah, like a few others, did not agree and came up with photographs and facts that suggested the house may have been targeted with missiles from an unmanned US drone. His reports were critical of the political administration and the military operating in the region to hunt down al-Qaeda men and their local supporters. Hayatullah remained missing for six months and 10 days and was finally eliminated. In the interim, no militant or criminal group contacted his family either for ransom nor one claimed responsibility of his kidnapping.

    “This is not Taliban-style because they dispose off cases of suspected informers and pro-government agents in a few days,” says Ihsanullah Khan Dawar, younger brother of Hayatullah. Hayatullah’s family holds agencies responsible for his captivity. Fellow journalists draw a comparison between the assassination of US journalist Daniel Pearl and the murder of Hayatullah, although the circumstances may have varied.

    Ihsanullah says officials had assured his family that Hayatullah was being questioned and detained in the interest of the country. “‘The day his name is cleared, he will be released’,” Ihsanullah quoted one military officer as telling him. It was a major in the secret services who called up Ihsanullah to inform him about Hayat’s death and where to find his body.

    The success of the Neo-Taliban in Waziristan was bound to spread outside the region and it seems to have already begun:

    Until recently, most religious violence was limited to North and South Waziristan, the poorest and most isolated of the tribal areas, where Islamic fervor has always been strong. Although a recent truce has calmed South Waziristan, the fundamentalist fervor now seems to be erupting in other parts of the region.

    In Swat, a peaceful agricultural valley, Islamic preachers persuaded people to hand over their television sets in May and burned stacks of them in public. In the Khyber Agency, a prosperous commercial area that straddles a major highway into Afghanistan, armed followers of an Islamic preacher burst into shops and lodging houses in early June, demanding at gunpoint that people pledge to follow Islamic law. In the ensuing clashes with another religious militia, several dozen people were killed.

    Anyone else getting a sense of Deja vu?

    On the weekend a suicide attack on the Pakistani army killed six soldiers.

    This is a guest piece. Zak blogs here.

                  Post to

    Filed in: Pakistan,South Asia

    12 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. Kismet Hardy — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:50 am  

      Taliban Bully: Hey kid! Get down on your knees and pray. (Punches Afghan Kid) And don’t let me catch you smoking in the poppy fields again…

      Afghan Kid: Headmaster! Headmaster! The Taliban Bully is picking on me.

      Headmaster Bush: Like I give a fuck…

      (A few days later)

      PE Teacher Rumsfeld: Headmaster! The Saudi Bullies are out of control.

      Headmaster Bush: But I like their fathers. They always contribute generously to the egg and spoon race events…

      PE Teacher Rumsfeld: Well, we need to do something…

      Headmaster Bush: How bout we get tough on the Al Qaeda bullies?

      PE Teacher Rumsfeld: We don’t have any of them in our school.

      Headmaster Bush: Darn it. How bout the Taliban Bullies?

      PE Teacher Rumsfeld: You rock! I’m gonna fuck them up good. A spot of golf and pretzels first, darling?

      (A few days later)

      Afghan Kid: Headmaster! Headmaster! You’ve killed my classmates.

      Headmaster Bush: How do you know they weren’t Taliban Bullies?

      Afghan Kid: Because the Taliban Bullies have been playing truant since you announced you were coming down hard on them.

      Headmaster Bush: Fuck off kid. They were Taliban


      Opium Bully: Hey kid! Get down on your knees and stop studying. (Punches Afghan Kid) And don’t let me catch you not smoking in the poppy fields again…

      (when suddenly)

      Taliban Bully: Hey anyone missed me?

    2. sonia — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:53 am  

      i see the bbc article says - “Tens of thousands of Pakistani security forces are trying to flush out foreign Islamic militants and their local supporters”

      deja vu indeed. doesn’t sound like an easy task and definitely sounds like it would escalate the trouble in any case.

    3. truthfinder — on 28th June, 2006 at 12:00 pm  

      read Nafeez Ahmed’s new book ‘The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry’, and follow his blog at Ahmed is a leading researcher on 9/11, terrorism and now 7/7, and even testified in US Congress. He says that al-Qaeda has been used selectively by the Americans and Brits to “secure strategic and economic interests” in areas like Central Asia and the Balkans. And is still being used. Which, if true, would really raise questions about this so-called “War on Terror”.

    4. soru — on 28th June, 2006 at 12:23 pm  

      I wonder if there is anyone who thinks that:

      1. Bush is behind al Qaeda and the Taliban.

      2. Consequently, Bush is, despite superficial appearances, a true Muslim leader who must be supported.

      Why are conspiracy theories always so negative, always looking at the down side?

    5. sonia — on 28th June, 2006 at 12:37 pm  

      perhaps bin-laden and bush are the same that why we can’t find bin-laden ( or because he’s shaved his beard and wearing western clothes? judging from the al-qaeda manual - that’s what he would do. has anyone else read that by the way?)

      if any one is silly enough to think they should support al-qaeda and the taliban on the basis they’re ‘muslim’ i can’t see any ideological problems for them to then support bush - they have a lot in common :-)

    6. Kismet Hardy — on 28th June, 2006 at 12:50 pm  

      Bush is Qaeda fiddler

    7. Kismet Hardy — on 28th June, 2006 at 1:05 pm  

      “Why are conspiracy theories always so negative, always looking at the down side?”

      Girl, I’ve just wasted the best part of my lunch break trying to think up a happy conspiracy theory and I’m confumbled. I got quite far about one where the mass of proton in helium would actually be higher than the one in hydrogen were it not for the power of love until I was suddenly pierced by the realisation that in the grand scheme of the cosmos, I have no idea what I’m talking about

      Don’t try it kids

    8. Arif — on 28th June, 2006 at 1:39 pm  

      There is the taliban itself, and there are its sympathisers, and there are those who feel they share a common enemy with the taliban and there are people who want political change …. there are a lot of concentric circles which can swell the ranks of the taliban if situations develop.

      Let me tell you a story which is told that Pakistan’s major problem is that it has no safety valve, other than sending angry people across borders. Forgive me if you have heard it before. The Zia military dictatorship was sustained by the US and gave opponents a ready made democratic, secular and anti-imperial identity just by being in opposition to the perceived oppressor and their religious advance guard being educated in Saudi madrassahs to put religion before humanity. When he was gone, the democrats had their chance.

      But after Zia, democracy just did not happen. Liberation seems to be more than toppling a dictator. Free press, sure, but few readers. Elections, sure, but the balance always won by feudal chiefs with little manifesto beyond personal ambition. Sovereignty, sure, but always in fear of US sanctions and being invaded as the next rogue State in the shooting gallery. So the governments did things opposed by huge majorities, particularly in terms of supporting US foreign policy, openly saying it was to avert the anger of the US. But at least there were a variety of small parties keeping up the argument. And Zia’s old religious zealots were syphoned away to kill and die in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

      Iraqis and Afghans might envy such a peaceful transition to the same kind of desolate future they can expect. But after the humiliation of corrupt democratic government, Musharraf brought new hope for the old secular, democrat, anti-imperialists - a chance to set up a new system with new political parties. And then he played the same games, sucking up to the Americans, and ensuring any ambitious local politicians knew they had to suck up to him. We are almost back to Zia - American money to fight American wars.

      But this time, only the religious parties and Tehreek e Insaaf seem to have the guts to oppose the US. Even though this is the mainstream opinion. So the circles potentially supporting the taliban are swelling - for the first time in history religious parties are gaining large numbers of seats. They are the democratic opposition and sometimes governors. By give vent to anti-imperial feeling, they represent it in the public mind. No longer any hope in secular democrats. They were quickly corrupted by power and so those of us enthused by its latest incarnation (Imran Khan) are seen as dupes. We probably are dupes.

      The taliban failed (almost inadvertantly) to maintain an alliance with the US. For this they are given credit. They also failed to combat imperialism. Yet for this they are not discredited. Instead they are the safety valve. Instead of being encouraged to exert democratic choice, people are sent to the taliban, a neat way for the destabilising anti-imperialists to lose their lives across a border.

      This is just a story, but in different ways it has been told a long time. Teaching pride, practicing humiliation, and sending people off to fight wars as if this is the solution to their fears. The End.

    9. sonia — on 28th June, 2006 at 1:57 pm  

      “those who want political change” - spot on. what i find so disturbing about the whole war on terror thing in pakistan and ‘rooting out terrorists’ is that it lends itself so easily for the dictatorship to do away with their opponents and anyone who wants political change. which, in a dictatorship, ought to be just about everyone…

      and as a consequence, it highlights the major problem of america not preaching what it practices - supporting dictatorships.

    10. justforfun — on 28th June, 2006 at 2:29 pm  

      Arif - an interesting read.

      Was Zia uniquely sustained by the US? Didn’t the US also sustain the the Bhutto regime and previous regimes?

      Why was Pakistan fearful of US sanctions before 9/11? I can understand the ball game has changed since 9/11 but what was America’s game before 9/11?

      You say “American money to fight American wars”, but before 9/11, America’s only war in the region was the Afghan war against the Soviets and not against anyone else that I can think of. Did not the Pakistan people support this liberation war? Was the American money not wanted?


    11. Arif — on 28th June, 2006 at 3:58 pm  

      justforfun - I told the story the way I did, a folk tale from a Pakistani point of view, because I am making a point about how naughty Pakistani politicians are seen to be. It was not about the US, except as the power served by Pakistani politicians instead of their subjects/citizens. But I’ll give a potted history (not authoritative!)

      What Zulfikar Bhutto (pre-Zia) portrayed was an independence from the US. Zia was heavily bankrolled, militarily supported and completely identified with US policy in the region. This was the period when we proudly displayed pictures of F-16s on the back of cereal boxes and pumped up lots of Mujahideeen to US applause. But when the Soviets left Afghanistan, the American money started to dry up.

      To answer your last question (I’m not sure what the point is you are making and if it is a rhetorical question), I believe the war was popular and seen as a liberation war. the Zia dictatorship and the military as a consequence did have its nationalist and religious extremist supporters. But obviously democrats were dismayed that the the US was arming and supplying a military dictatorship in return for funnelling money to insurgents/terrorists/freedom fighters next door. The glory for that war, such as it was, is given to the mujahideen fighting the foreign-backed Najibullah and the taliban have taken on that mantle in popular imagination by fighting the foreign-backed Karzai.

      Bhutto’s first government seemed to have good relations with the US, But military aid was suspended at the same time she left office (1990) and Nawaz Sharif’s government had to face further sanction threats because (depending on your point of view) the US suddenly took an interest in Kashmiri terrorism, or the US decided it wanted better relations with a liberalising Indian economy. Military support continued being debated in Congress with Indian and Pakistani lobbies there fighting it out, and Pakistan increasingly losing.

      The first Gulf War gave Sharif the chance to keep US favour. By giving it support, he managed to finally expose the National Assembly as an undemocratic talking shop - surviving on US sufferance.

      The second Bhutto Government coincided with the taliban coming to power (1996), and relatively stable relations with the US, but the second Sharif Government coincided with the Indian nuclear test (1998). Pakistan’s subsequent test meant more sanctions. And the military coup (1999) did not improve things (more sanctions), until, once again, the US took an interest in Afghanistan. ie 9/11.

      Now we are allies in war again.

      The game has always been Afghanistan or India, it seems. When wanting to interfere in Afghanistan, Pakistan becomes useful. When wanting to get into the Indian market, Pakistan becomes a hindrance. I don’t think the US necessarily always supports dictatorship over democracy.

      The American wars I refer to are only the Afghan wars, really, although the first Gulf War was another where Pakistan was put under a lot of pressure. For the second Gulf War there was less pressure - assumed to be because destabilising Musharraf for the sake of a security council vote you’d take no notice or would have been counter-productive.

      What I was drawing attention to in this context is how all these political games have discredited secular and democratic political movements and glorified the taliban as the successors to the anti-imperialist mujahideen. I stress again, I put the story of blame on Pakistani politicians and the army, not the US, in case there is misunderstanding.

    12. justforfun — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:14 pm  

      Sorry Arif - my mistake - I realised you were only re-telling a folk history and lazily addressed the questions to you as if you needed to defend an point of view that was not necessarily yours.

      Thank you for your considered reply which is more than my questions deserved. You have given me a more detailed understanding of Pakistan’s more recent history.

      I share your sentiments expressed in the last paragraph and having re-read your work I admit I had misunderstood it as American blame game.

      The whole of Pakistan’s history seems to have been a dance with the devil, with American money being used as slush fund that has been diverted into the pockets of whomever is the current ‘dictator’ to use for political patronage.

      It seems to me that from Partition, Pakistan’s existance and purpose has been manipulated by its military so as its seems in a permanent state of conflict with its neighbours and in this way they are able to justify and enhance their existance and hold on the levers of power and wealth. The timeing of America’s own global agenda own security agenda and its consequential dollars has unfortuanetly only conspired to

      In Pakistan’s current state is there any hope for a secular democracy to emerge? I get the impression you are not at all hopeful.

      Oops - seen the time - have to go


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