Self-defeating attitude of the Taliban

  0 comments   |     by Usman Khalid

Among many stories that come out of Afghanistan I read one which is remarkably similar to the experience of the people of Swat and Waziristan. In the village of Hiratian in Afghanistan's Helmand province, locals found the body of eight-year-old Dilawar hanging from a tree of a small fruit farm. The Taliban fighters had accused the boy of spying for the American forces; they kidnapped him, strung him up and left his body to sway in the wind for hours for all to see.

The murder was horrifying, yet few villagers come to the defence of anyone charged with spying for the hated Americans. But slowly, the details of the story emerged. The Taliban in the area had been collecting donations — money, food or weapons. They demanded money or a weapon from Mullah Qudoos, the boy's father. Qudoos, poor and jobless, had neither. So the insurgents took his son instead. He was too young to be suicide bomber. So, they killed him to strike awe and set an example. When villagers learned the truth they erupted in fury. They openly vowed to fight the Taliban. Some called the Taliban "our oppressors." Others swore never to help them again.

Hiratian lies in an area that is outside the government's authority and has been under nearly continuous Taliban control for years. The political bankruptcy of direct Taliban rule in these areas has succeeded in doing what the Americans have not: turn the population against them. While the residents of Hiratian have not yet expressed their sentiment through action, villagers in other areas have. The Taliban exerted complete rule over large parts of Gizab district, in Dai Kundi province of central Afghanistan for years, until many villagers started refusing to cooperate with them earlier this year. All these areas have had few foreign troops. The insurgents imposed their harsh rule and the population suffered. Even after the large influx of troops in South Afghanistan over the past few years, the dynamic persisted: the Taliban were so powerful that it obviated the need to win over the population.

On the other hand, in those areas where the insurgency's growth roughly coincided with or followed the arrival of the foreign forces — in the provinces near Kabul, for example — the Taliban have been more sophisticated. They have had to compete with the foreigners for the population's allegiance, and in the process had to administer their rule with a softer touch. In such places, troop presence actually makes the insurgents more popular in local eyes. The conclusion is obvious. Without US troops in the area, the Taliban have no legitimacy.

It is a trend that belies conventional wisdom. It is hard to believe that increased effort to wage a war for ‘hearts and minds’, which at the heart of the COIN strategy, makes the Taliban popular. General Petraeus may well be smart enough to see that and move away from the present strategy of ‘surge’ which places reliance on a large U.S. military footprint. But the US has failed to rally Pashtun villagers to its side or to break the will of the resistance. For this reason many of these Pashtuns call for a negotiated ceasefire. They want to end the war their own way and rightly maintain that only they can deal with the Taliban and on their own terms. As the Taliban in Hiratian (as well as Swat and Waziristan) have shown that the Taliban can be their own worst enemy.

Negotiating between the populace and the resistance in Afghanistan would be protracted if the Americans continue to maintain a heavy military presence. I believe that a ‘threat’ of an early withdrawal would expedite matters. Instead of saying that the Americans ‘could stay long after the July next year deadline’ they should be saying that ‘withdrawal could begin’ as soon as all segments of populace and the resistance can come together to negotiate a settlement. 

Many American strategists have already expressed the opinion that it is the future and fate of nuclear Pakistan, not the future and fate of Afghanistan, which should be the focus of US policy. The access of Afghanistan to the outside world would be through Pakistan. The alternative of Shia Iran, and Central Asian Republics (which are themselves land-locked) is not viable. It is the common interest of the USA and Pakistan-Afghanistan that Pakistan and Afghanistan should be friends – like twins conjoined at the hip, as President Karzai put it. Why the three of them are not pursuing what is their obvious common interest? It is because there is another group of three – India, Israel and the Neo-con America (supported by much of the Republican Party) – who would like the USA to not only stay longer in Afghanistan but also make use of the opportunity to strike at Pakistan and Iran. 

The Republican Party would like President Obama to be a ‘one term President’ failing to get re-elected and being held responsible for the ‘defeats’. The Zionist lobby in America would like the destruction of the military of two more countries – Pakistan and Iran – to ‘make Israel more secure’. India eagerly wants to split Pakistan into several countries like it did in 1971 but that is possible only if it can win a victory in a conventional war in which the USA neutralises the nuclear deterrent of Pakistan. The ruling coalition in Pakistan is of parties that opposed the creation of Pakistan or have since emerged with or adopted that agenda. The USA may be persuaded to opt for the course being recommended by India, Israel and Neocon America merely because the ruling coalition in Pakistan is eager to oblige without questioning what may be done to Pakistan by ‘the three’. All eyes in Pakistan are on the military. 

The Army is headed by a wise General. But he is due to retire in November this year. It has been the practice to grant one year extension to every COAS in Pakistan. But Zardari-Geelani may decide against it because he cannot be relied upon to refuse to obey the Supreme Court (SC) if he is asked to impose its judgement. Such a situation may come about well before November if the SC decided that the President cannot hold the office of PPP Chairman. Nobody in Pakistan’s Government is giving much thought to the dwindling prospects of the Taliban and Pakistan’s role in: 1) honourable exit with continued friendly US engagement with Afghanistan; 2) a durable peace settlement in Afghanistan between the populace and the resistance. I believe that vague objectives of the USA and Pakistan have fudged the issues which precluded emergence of wise and viable common objectives. But USA and Pakistan-Afghanistan do have common interests; they can surely agree on common objectives.

The Taliban did rule Afghanistan for a time but their government was recognised only by three countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It was because of perceived illegitimacy of their rule that it was hard for Pakistan to stand by them when they were invaded in 2001. They are now being offered negotiations and peace that the Afghan people desperately want and deserve. If the Taliban refuse to make a deal with the USA, there would be no recognition of their rule even in the remote eventuality of the American leaving Afghanistan like they left Viet Nam. Pakistan is sincere in its support of Afghans; it has made much sacrifice for their sake against Soviet occupation and now American occupation. The Muslim World has a stake in the Afghan leaders acting sensibly to guard the national interests. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have some influence over the Taliban. They can and they must act to bring about a peace settlement. ++ 

The writer is the Secretary General of Rifah Party of Pakistan

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