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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2964

Hue and cry made over threat of Taliban

By Asif Haroon Raja

The initial plan of occupying Afghanistan had been conceptualized by Clinton Administration in 1997. Final shape to this gory drama of blood, death and destruction in this region was given in Washington in the aftermath of 9/11 by George W. Bush led team of neo-cons. Britain, Israel and India were also the architects of the game plan. The real purpose behind the bloody venture was not to seek revenge of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but to fulfill commercial interests. USA had for long eyed the vast oil, gas and mineral resources of Central Asia.

Uncompromising Taliban regime in Kabul and nuclear Pakistan stood as impediments in the way of perceived energy corridor from Central Asia to Arabian Sea via Mekran coastal belt in Balochistan. The two Muslim neighbors were on very friendly terms providing strategic depth and security to each other. The fighting ability of Afghans as well as Pakistani tribesmen from FATA had been well tested in eight years war against Soviet forces. Pakistan armed forces had the resilience to defend the motherland tenaciously. The Americans knew that the combined strength of the two neighbors could not be defeated in a straight battle.

With these considerations in view it was planned to encircle Afghanistan from all sides and to isolate it. The Northern Alliance forces comprising non-Pashtun Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras were to be equipped and given full backup support including air and missile support to carpet bomb Afghanistan into nothingness. It had already been put under harsh sanctions since 1997 and subjected to intense vilification campaign projecting the Taliban as most villainous and devilish people on God’s earth.

It was easy to rope in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, China and Russia, since all these regional states had their own fears against Taliban’s puritanical brand of Islam based on Sharia. In their reckoning Pakistan was the most difficult nut to crack and it was because of this apprehension that Collin Powel gave no choice to Gen Musharraf when he told him “either you are with us or against us”. It was a different matter that he turned out to be the easiest to intimidate. All the players were taken on board after creating the myth of Osama bin Laden led Al-Qaeda and terrorism posing grave threat to the security of the world. Later on when the US military got bogged down in Afghanistan, the threat of Taliban was magnified. Both these outfits were painted as barbarians and all sorts notorious names pasted on them.

When the grisly plan was being finalized, India insisted on taking on Afghanistan and Pakistan simultaneously and offered its services. It argued that the root of the problem was Pakistan and not Afghanistan. Others agreed to Indian suggestion in principle but overruled it saying that piecemeal approach was more profitable. They wanted to overwhelm the two targeted countries one by one. Pakistan nuclear capability was the major reason for their disinclination to tackle the two simultaneously. It had to be first made use of against Afghanistan and then weakened from within through covert means to be able to denuclearize it without waging a war. Had Afghanistan and Iraq possessed nuclear weapons, the US would never have dared to attack them. It has a history of bullying or attacking militarily, economically and politically weak nations only. Even then it has not succeeded in any of its military ventures and each time it had to pull out ignominiously. After 2nd World War, it has always given preference to indirect strategy over direct confrontation and applies the hammer only when the prey is completely exhausted as a result of its military coercion, economic sanctions and psychological warfare. At times it achieves its objectives by offering inducements and pretending to be friend.

Musharraf under pressure from USA not only changed Pakistan’s foreign policy on Afghanistan by ditching the friendly Taliban regime and assisting the US to oust it, he helped in installing an unfriendly regime under Karzai in Kabul. India poured in over $1.5 billion for development works, education, and health and cultural sectors to establish itself in Afghanistan. Apart from the road project from Zabrang to Chahbahar Port, a ring road was also undertaken around eastern, southern and western Afghanistan which mostly traveled through the desert area. For the road projects, tons of explosive was shipped from India through Chahbahar to dynamite mountain patches, but most of it was meant for Pakistan for acts of sabotage and to strengthen the hands of insurgents. Once the base of Afghanistan was consolidated by US-NATO troops and the Indians regained their lost influence in all the state departments, the conspirators turned their attention towards Pakistan.

Biggest ever intelligence centre composed of intelligence agencies of six countries was established at a place near Kabul to under take covert operations in the region. String of Pakistan specific Indian consulates were opened up in Afghanistan which instead of providing visas helped RAW in carrying out clandestine operations against Pakistan. Several training camps were also established where terrorists and suicide bombers were imparted training.

Balochistan and FATA were selected for subversion to destabilize Pakistan. The CIA and FBI enjoying unlimited liberty of action to operate in Pakistan under the guise of tracking the terrorists established their outposts and cultivated agents within areas of interest. MI-6, RAW and Moscow helped the two agencies in establishing contacts in Balochistan. The US used its influence to get their lackeys appointed in key posts who not only kept their mentors informed about the inside thinking and policy decisions of the government but also played their role to move things in accordance with the directives of USA. Since there was one man rule, all state institutions did the bidding of USA.

The army was pushed into the furnace of Waziristan in February 2004 at US commands to safeguard US interests. Once the army started hounding the militants and handing over suspects to USA and innocent civilians got killed in the crossfire during the operations, the flames of militancy spread out of Waziristan. The blazing fire extended towards other five tribal agencies of FATA as well as neighboring settled areas of Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Hangu, Kohat, Darra Adam Khel, Swat, Shangla, Dir, Buner and outskirts of Peshawar,. The enchanting Swat valley got converted from paradise on earth to hell. Nearly 1300,000 people got displaced as a result of fighting US dictated war on terror.

Thousands of soldiers, militants and peaceful citizens got killed in the firefight. Apart from bomb blasts, unheard phenomenon of suicide attacks became a norm giving severe jolts to the fabric of Pakistan. Even Islamabad could not remain safe from the saboteurs.

Taking advantage of chaos and mayhem instigated by the plot makers, they kept adding fuel to fire by rushing in batches of trained and well equipped terrorists from Afghanistan to fight the army and at the same time nudging the army to do more. In order to besmirch the reputation of the Islamists, paid miscreants posing as Taliban were tasked to intensify anti-social activities within the troubled spots. Under the garb of helping the Taliban to fight the army which in their view was fighting at the behest of USA to earn dollars, miscreants burnt schools, killed tribal elders, prisoners and pro-government officials, kidnapped for ransom, and attacked police stations, destroyed bridges and civic centres. Chinese were deliberately targeted to spoil Pak-China relations. Media played a role in demonizing the Taliban and the good and bad Taliban were painted with the same brush. Drones were deliberately brought in to further destabilise FATA and sabotage peace deals.

The TNSM under Fazlullah sought Nizam-e-Adl in Malakand Division and Kohistan district based on an agreement arrived at in 1994. Baitullah and Fazlullah joined hands once the army tackled Bajaur and Swat simultaneously in July/August 2008 and started achieving appreciable success on both the fronts. When the duo sought assistance from Afghans, RAW entered the scene. Reinforcements of men and material as well as funds were continuously supplied from Afghanistan almost on daily basis. Highly sophisticated communication system was provided to the militants which could not be jammed or deciphered by own signalers. They were also furnished effective jammers and coders to jam or encode own transmissions.

Baitullah, Fazlullah and other Taliban warlords in various tribal agencies were provided bagfuls of dollars to enable them to pay each recruit Rs. 15000 monthly salary. The suicide bombers trained in Afghanistan were initially paid Rs. 50000, but later were paid between 5-15 lacs each, depending upon the nature of target engaged. Afghan, Tajik, Uzbek and Chechen fighters duly trained by RAW came in big numbers to fight the army. The chief motivation imbibed in the minds of the Islamic militants was to fight for introduction of Islamic laws in FATA and Malakand Division to be able to win over the support of the public.

Focused operations pushed the militants against the wall and by Early February 2009 they were left with no choice but to either surrender or sue for peace. Peace deal in Swat on 16 February between Maulana Sufi and ANP government was rejoiced by the people of Swat who had suffered a great deal for two years. Sufi was given a hero’s welcome when he led a peace march. His popularity was again seen on 19 April when he addressed a huge gathering in Mingora. This deal was however much to the dislike of the schemers who had burnt lot of midnight oil since 2002 and invested huge amount to destabilize Pakistan. Swat peace deal was a big spanner in the way of new Af-Pak policy since it would have led to similar deals in FATA as well as had happened in Bajaur. It had the potential of undoing American ‘hammer and anvil’ strategy to crush the irreconcilable within Afghan-Pakistan border belt, with Pak army providing the anvil.

A sustained propaganda campaign was launched by western and Pakistani media to derail the peace deal. Remunerations for liberal writers were doubled and they promoted American and Indian themes with great alacrity. English newspapers flooded with articles ridiculing the deal. The public was frightened that monstrous Taliban were on the verge of imposing their horrific brand of Sharia which would affect the education system and the women the most. Video clipping of flogging of a girl accused of adultery was part of the campaign. Establishment of Qazi courts in Malakand Division to dispense speedy and cheap justice were termed as surrender to the militants. The army and ANP in particular were reprimanded. Zardari was pressed not to sign the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation. Much to their disgust, the Regulation was unanimously passed by the parliament with MQM as the lone dissenting party.

Zardari was left with no option but to sign the Regulation. Hectic efforts were still made by USA to get the peace deal scrapped since it went against the very spirit of the gory plan on which they are feverishly working.

Sufi had promised that militants would lay down their weapons once Nizam-e-Adl was introduced and peace restored. Contrary to his promises, neither weapons were surrendered, nor their aggressive activities terminated. The foreign and local miscreants within the Taliban which are out of control of Maulana Sufi and even Fazlullah were instigated by their foreign handlers to create trouble in Lower Dir and in Buner districts adjacent to Swat. Entry of few dozens militants and their violent activities in these areas raised alarm bells that Tarbela Dam and Islamabad were about to fall. Specter of Taliban capturing state power and nuclear bombs was vigorously trumpeted by US officials. Pressure was maximized to convince policy makers that if immediate steps were not taken to tackle the Taliban threat with full force, Pakistan would sooner than later collapse.

Commencement of military operation in Lower Dir and then in Buner and now in Swat has bolstered their sagging morale, making them optimistic that the Swat deal will soon be abrogated. Holbrooke has happily announced that the deal is dead and has claimed that Zardari had already assured him that it would not last long. The army has launched focused operations in restive areas and succeeded in clearing Lower Dir of the presence of militants. Good progress has been made in Buner which has been reinforced by the militants; hopefully in the next few days situation would be stabilised.

However, Fazlullah led militants have begun to prepare for third round of decisive battle in Swat and have entrenched themselves in Mingora, Saidu Sharif, Khwazkhela, Qambar and other areas. Lull period of about three months has enabled them to fill up their weaponry stocks from Afghanistan and further fortify their strongholds. People from Lower Dir, Buner and now from Swat have begun to migrate to safer areas in huge numbers. Relief camps have been set up to accommodate them. President Zardari, DGISI and DGMO are currently on a visit to Washington. They are being pressed to become more serious to defeat the militant threat and not to repeat the mistake of signing peace deals with the militants.

Nawaz Sharif has suddenly become an important leader for Obama Administration. This change has come about after the 15 March historic cavalcade from Lahore towards Islamabad which resulted in reinstatement of chief justice Iftikhar, end of Governor Rule in Punjab and restoration of Shahbaz Sharif Ministry. The US has started to bet on him as an alternative to Zardari who in their view has proven to be a weak leader and has become highly controversial. Nawaz has mooted the idea of all parties’ national conference to adopt a unified national response to various critical challenges faced by the country. In this regard, he has assured full cooperation to Zardari and Gilani led regime. Imran Khan continues to maintain his usual aggressive style and doesn’t mince his words calling a spade a spade. His vote bank has also increased. Talk of a national government is in the air.

Notwithstanding a noticeable change in perceptions of religious political parties, Sunni Tehrik, religious ulemas as well as PML-N about Maulana Sufi led TNSM and Fazlullah led Taliban, it is still to be seen how long the west loving liberal class support the army. This class has traditionally ridiculed and condemned the army. It will not be long when they would cry out that the army is using excessive force and is responsible for the bloodshed and uprooting of the people and destruction of their homes. The adversaries of Pakistan do not like the army to succeed in the war on terror but to get bogged down and fail. Their strategy is to kill two birds with one stone by instigating both sides and bleeding the army and the Taliban to death.

Asif Haroon Raja is a defence and political analyst based in Rawalpindi.

- Asian Tribune -

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