Dawn News

Terrorism and the Taliban

THE cold-blooded shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the girls’ rights activist, by a Taliban hit man has led to an unusual outcry in Pakistan against this “bestial”, “obscene” and “horrendous” act of terrorism. This commendable popular revulsion, emanating from religious and political parties, as well as the military leadership, can crystallise effective action against the perpetrators of terrorist violence in Pakistan.

Some policy and administrative measures are self-evident. Gun control in Pakistan must be a high priority. All political parties and groups which maintain armed militias should be obliged to disband them. Security checks need to be intensified including the use of CCTV. The investigative and forensic capabilities of the security services need to be enhanced. Justice and penalties for terrorist attacks need to be dispensed boldly and quickly. And, Al Qaeda’s presence must be eliminated through decisive national and international action.

However, undertaking a comprehensive campaign against the terrorists will require not only political courage and unity within Pakistan’s disparate power structure but also a full understanding of the nature and causes of the terrorist threat which Pakistan confronts and which has apparently claimed over 36,000 Pakistani lives since the launch of the ‘war on terror’.

A plan of action against terrorist violence needs to start from a full analysis of the composition, motivation and modus operandi of the militant groups operating in Pakistan. This is a motley crowd. The generic word ‘Taliban’ is now an overextended brand name applied to a variety of groups within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is not possible, nor necessary, for Pakistan to fight all of those who are called, or call themselves, ‘Taliban’. All of them are not involved in attacks against Pakistan. Nor is it possible, as some have suggested, to negotiate peace with all of those called ‘Taliban’.

Most of the attacks in Pakistan have emanated from fighters grouped under the Al Qaeda-linked Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’, presently led by Hakeemullah Mehsud. The Mehsuds rose against the Pakistan Army after its first ingress into South Waziristan in 2003. Following the Red Mosque episode, the militant leader Baitullah Mehsud brought together a variety of Pakistani militant groups, including those operating in Swat as well as the so-called ‘Punjabi Taliban’, under the umbrella of the TTP.

These groups are united on one issue: opposition to Pakistan’s alliance with the US ‘war on terror’ (which they construe as a war on Islam). But each component group within the TTP also has its own specific objectives and priorities.

The Punjabi Taliban are largely hard-core Sunni groups with a sectarian agenda and an ideology similar to the ‘original’ Taliban led by Mullah Omar. These groups have been utilised by some of Pakistan’s leading political parties to play a pivotal role in south Punjab’s denominationally divided districts.

Some were involved in the Kashmiri freedom struggle. A few among them, working with Al Qaeda, twice attempted to assassinate former President Musharraf for his perceived ‘sellout’ of the Kashmiri freedom struggle after the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. However, the feared pro-Kashmiri Lashkar-e-Taiba did not join the anti-Pakistan attacks although, at US and Indian behest, it was eventually declared a terrorist organisation.

The approach to each of the groups within the TTP will need to be different. The Punjabi Taliban can be best controlled through political, security and judicial arrangements in the relevant districts. Promise of a share in electoral power but also demonstration of a determination to penalise illegal actions against Pakistan’s national interests could be elements designed to pacify these Punjabi groups. Their militancy may ease also with the US-Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan and an end to Pakistan’s cooperation with them.

It will be difficult to negotiate with the Taliban group which was operating in Swat and is probably responsible for shooting Malala Yousufzai. The last negotiations attempted with this group in 2009 — so mistakenly endorsed by Pakistan’s National Assembly — failed miserably. The media projection of their atrocities created the political environment that enabled the Pakistan Army to launch military operations in Swat and other frontier agencies. Interestingly, during these operations, the army found itself fighting highly trained Uzbek and Chechen fighters who could have come to Pakistan only through Afghanistan. They will have to be hunted down.

It will also be difficult to negotiate with the core of the TTP led by Hakeemullah Mehsud. At present, many TTP fighters operate from safe havens in Afghanistan against Pakistan Army positions. Pakistani intelligence has assumed for some time that these groups enjoy tacit support from Afghan intelligence if not the Kabul government.

These cross-border attacks against Pakistan from Afghan territory are likely to continue until a broader political arrangement is reached or the Pakistan Army takes action.

The military option against this core of the TTP can be accompanied by talks with the tribal leadership of the Mehsuds and other clans involved. This is probably what Imran Khan is advocating. A re-assumption of authority and power by the tribal maliks from the TTP warlords would help significantly in defeating these militant groups, restoring peace and halting terror attacks from Pakistan’s tribal agencies.

Much as the US and Nato would like Pakistan to undertake military action against the Haqqani group, Islamabad has no pressing reason to fight them or other Afghan Taliban. To do so will expand the number of groups targeting Pakistan. These groups are not involved presently in the attacks against Pakistan.

These Afghan Taliban are not only in North Waziristan; many are ‘hiding in plain sight’ with the two million Afghan refugees who populate virtual cities along the border in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan should help to contain and halt cross-border operations by the Afghan Taliban.

This can be best done in talks relating to the full and early withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. In return, Pakistan should secure credible guarantees that Afghan, Indian and Western agencies are not involved in sponsoring terrorist violence within Pakistan, especially in Balochistan.

Pakistan should also be able to convince Washington that an attack on the Afghan Taliban at present makes little political sense.

The US wants to withdraw from Afghanistan in peace and dignity. This will be possible only if a cessation of hostilities is in effect, even if a political solution for Afghanistan’s future governance cannot be agreed by 2014. Pakistan can help to negotiate such an arrangement.

A US-Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan, and an end to Pakistan’s reluctant cooperation with them, will considerably ease the anger of the religious parties and other Pakistanis who oppose America’s objectives and presence in the region.

If Pakistan’s leadership can ensure that, following US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the much delayed investments in infrastructure, education and jobs are made in Pakistan’s urban and rural centres of poverty, especially the tribal agencies, the country can finally begin to address the root causes of extremism and militancy. This is the most sustainable way to consign terrorism to the dustbin of our history.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Comments (38) Closed

p r sharma
Oct 14, 2012 09:31am
Taliban ( be it TTP or the afghan Taliban / Haqqani network )will continue to receive overt support from the vested interest at least till the withdrawal of NATO forces. Strategy may undergo a change thereafter.
Oct 14, 2012 10:37am
very nice analysis and positive approach!
Oct 15, 2012 03:51am
...but why would they shoot Malala for that?
Oct 14, 2012 01:28pm
Well laid out analysis, in contrast to the hysterical outpourings of other so called political writers. Saner elements do exist within our society and should be listened to by the authorities. Good on you Ambassador.
Oct 14, 2012 07:57am
You make it sound so easy and straight forward. I suspect the reality is that terrorism will remain a problem in Pakistan for decades to come. The terrorism has its roots in Islamic Fundamentalism, deal with that at source and you stand a chance. The other big challenge in Pakistan is corruption. Recent events show that this reaches to the highest levels it could even be said to emanate from the very top of government.
Saddam hussain samo
Oct 14, 2012 06:23pm
i agree with u.
adam memon
Oct 14, 2012 11:19pm
God bless our beloved country.
Oct 14, 2012 09:01pm
Actually what Akram is saying is exactly how Pakistan landed in its current mess. Differentiating between jihadists depending on whether they attack the Pakistani state or its neighbors is the best way for Pakistan to create enmity with Afghans and Indians. On the other hand, if Pakistan does the right thing by wiping them out, its neighbors will go out of their way to help Pakistan be successful. If your aim was to ratchet up the need for Pakistan's neighbors to make it fail, I commend you for proposing a plan that is bound to succeed.
Eqbal Khan
Oct 14, 2012 12:20am
We need some more of "Cool Heads," like the writer. Brilliant.
Salman Khan
Oct 14, 2012 07:21am
Really really awful article.
Oct 14, 2012 11:09am
Sounds like the Wild West !
Oct 14, 2012 12:21pm
It would seem that when the Americans leave the region that the taliban would have more resources to attack Pakistan. What are the chances that Pakistan can and will make the investments mentioned by the author supposedly addressing the causes of extremism.
Oct 14, 2012 03:25pm
The author did not say that. Your putting words he never implied
Oct 14, 2012 10:19am
Lo and behold, Lord Howell has spoken.
Oct 14, 2012 03:11am
why dont u stop crying on Malala there are so many other big issues than that
Oct 14, 2012 03:15am
Does anyone really believes that all this Takiban and Al Qaida menace will disappear once the US forces leave Afghanistan? This is just a farce. These terrorists have a wider agenda to establish Sharia. Basically they want to drag everybody back to the medieval ages.
Oct 14, 2012 09:40pm
keep it up...you are the HOPE
Oct 14, 2012 09:42pm
you hit the nail...
Oct 14, 2012 05:13am
If Pakistan?s leadership can ensure that, following US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the much delayed investments in infrastructure, education and jobs are made in Pakistan?s urban and rural centres of poverty, especially the tribal agencies, the country can finally begin to address the root causes of extremism and militancy. This is the most sustainable way to consign terrorism to the dustbin of our history." Yes, this is one way & there must surely be other ways of turning the Taliban into civilized citizens. Can we start doing something~~~stop talking about the remedies, do it , please.
Oct 14, 2012 02:02pm
How laughable ?Instead of addressing the issue at hand ie how the hand reared monster is now biting the hand that fed it the writer does the usual and lambasts foreign forces and links domestic problems of xenophobia to the war on terror! Why has not the minister pronounced a fatwa on the gunman and offered a reward ? That usually works with these sub humans .........Let the drones continue to do their work and meanwhile continue shooting your children in the head when they want to something seditious like read a book ...
Oct 14, 2012 04:26pm
Taliban are not terrorist, its USA, capture other peoples territory and if they fight back call them "terrorist" ???
Oct 14, 2012 01:33pm
Well said.
Oct 14, 2012 02:27am
I must say that Mr. Akram is on the right track on how to remove all the causes that have resulted in an attack on Malala. It is time for the Pakistani Government and Politician to realize that it's US oriented policies are the core of all the problems. Even the US and West realize it by making Malala as a symbol of their own self interests. The US and the West do not shed a tear if a Malala like girl is killed by a drone. Pakistan is trying to fight and defeat those groups of people that it created to defend itself against the Soviet armies. Pakistani government and politicians should look at the whole picture and its own national self interest and not that of the US and West to negotiate with Talibans and all such rebellious group to bring them under its flag. No doubt, Pakistan will need these resistance minded people in the future to defend all foreign aggressions. Looking at the reality and the current mentality of the Pakistani elite, there is no doubt these rebellious people, besides the military, will be the only one who could be trusted to defend Pakistan against an aggression, while all the elites will fly out with their wealth to their cozy destinations.
Concerned Citizen
Oct 14, 2012 02:50am
I disagree with some of your comments especially the last para....why would investments in Pakistan's infrastructure would have to be made soon after 2014 after US forces pull out of Afghanistan - why not yesterday, today or tomorrow? If past and present governments had focused on internal challenges some years ago, we would not be facing multiple terrorist organizations manipulating our youth for the last so many years.
Oct 14, 2012 11:29am
Just another stereotype and self-assumed analysis of Pakistan's problems.
Prakash Rao
Oct 14, 2012 11:33am
Pakistan should go after all hues of terrorists irrespective their allegiance like Srilanka did with Tamil tigers.
Oct 14, 2012 10:18am
I don't think the author is implying at all that it's going to be easy or straightforward. But he's certainly chalking out a roadmap, something that is completely lost on our political parties.
Oct 14, 2012 10:10am
brother hunting them down is not the solution to it or else US would have succeded in bringing peace to Afghanistan
Oct 14, 2012 12:23pm
In this article one can see one of the supporters of that discredited "strategic depth" at work -- with "Denial, Confusion and Obfuscation".
Oct 14, 2012 10:09am
Fantastic! you have really bought up the true picture and root cause of the problem. I hope max people read it.
Oct 14, 2012 02:07pm
Only a pakistani diplomat can write an article like this. Pakistani bureaucrats are extremely short sighted and ideologically inclined towards extremists. Pakistani citizens are far more reasanable and better than these guys.
Oct 14, 2012 12:32pm
How can you finish TALIBAN, when your system is creating them in thousand on daily basis in your class rooms. If any one has seen the TV coverage of anti-movie protests, will realize that it were the kids, who were enjoying the destruction. Better change your education system to nip the evil in bud. It will be a slow process, but is the only way.
Oct 14, 2012 09:12am
Taliban are an evil breed no matter with or against Pakistan. Either they should leave our country or we should hunt down every one of them.
Oct 14, 2012 03:18pm
Taliban are NOT attacking. Taliban are defending.
Prakash Lal
Oct 14, 2012 04:22pm
Well said.Pakistan should follow zero tolerance towards terrorism and any suggestion of good or bad taliban is dangerous.Take charge; do not blame others and Root out Punjabi element or Haqqani element of taliban then only you can have peace and prosperity in Pakistan.
Cyrus Howell
Oct 14, 2012 08:00am
"You only have the freedoms you are willing to fight and die for." -- Thomas Jefferson
Oct 14, 2012 01:44pm
Author is just splitting hairs here. There is no such thing as a good terrorist and a bad terrorist. Political will is all that is required. When the likes of Bin Laden were housed in a fortified safe house, is one really expected to believe that the "govt machinery" had "absolutely no clue" about what was going on ? The govt should at least have the guts to face the "most obvious" terrorists first before even quibbling about who is and who is not a terrorist.
Cyrus Howell
Oct 14, 2012 07:58am
"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government." --Thomas Jefferson