Dr Hassan Abbas is a professor and a Washington-based academic and recently published a book titled The Taliban Revival. Dawn spoke to Dr Abbas to get a perspective on the ongoing military operation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Q: What do you mean by ‘revival’, have the Taliban changed their objectives?
A: In my opinion, what we see right now is the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan. Right after 2001, they seemed to have melted out of sight and out of mind for nearly four to five years. However, the world saw them resurface again after 2005 in Afghanistan, and ‘emerge’ in Pakistan in 2007. There could be a number of reasons for their resurgence and many of them point towards the failure of the US in Afghanistan.
From 2007, we saw the Taliban emerge as a completely new organisation in Pakistan that formed an umbrella for various religious extremist groups that were operating in the tribal regions of Fata and KP. They converged their interests and perhaps formulated a new shura, with a new motto. For the first time, they declared Pakistan’s armed forces the enemy and accused them of supporting the US. This is when we started hearing the slogan “Amreeka ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai, ghaddar hai”.
Q: The political dialogue didn’t work out and the military operation may also have limited success. Given the circumstances, is there a third option?
A: Let us first consider the peace talks that have been held in the past between the Pakistan government – led by the military – and the Taliban between 2004 and 2007. General Safdar, who was Peshawar corps commander at the time, signed an agreement with Nek Mohammad. But this only further empowered the Taliban. Some deals, such as those with Gul Bahadur in 2006-07, did work in some aspects. But instead of taking an offensive stance against the government of Pakistan, these militants ended up establishing and
expanding their writ in KP and the tribal regions. These negotiations also created space for the militants. It gave them media attention, while their representatives were given airtime on media outlets to present their cases.
Past military operations resulted in a lot of collateral damage. Initially, it seemed as though the army was specifically targeting the Wazir tribe, however, the Wazirs later joined the Pakistani forces and the focus shifted towards the Mehsuds. As the Mehsud tribe is
being targeted and alienated, they have become easy bait for the Taliban, who can recruit young men from this tribe to fight against Pakistani forces.
Q: What has been the global perception of Pakistani’s efforts against terrorism? Is the operation likely to affect President Obama’s decision to pull out from Afghanistan?
A: Pakistanis have sacrificed a great deal in this war against terrorism. But these sacrifices are not recognised on a global level. Although, the government has only recently started marketing this in a positive manner to gain global attention, it does seem like too little, too late.
The operations against the Taliban started from Swat back in 2009; which, according to the international players, was already too late. Whenever I ask personnel from security forces or defence experts why the operation against them was not launched back in 2007, when Mullah Fazlullah was started to gain momentum, they allege that there was not enough public support against the Taliban at that time.
In my opinion, it is not the army’s role to be concerned about public opinion. That is the job of the government, which they successfully managed to do in Swat, right before the operation. US has been supporting Pakistan, monetarily and in-kind, in its war against
terrorism. But at times they were quite impatient, and perhaps rightly so, because they were not getting to see the desired results of their efforts. There is a hint of scepticism on both sides, which is why despite so many interactions the process has taken this long.
One thing is certain, that Obama has finally realised that the presence of US troops in Afghanistan is only helping the Afghan Taliban gain local support. Thus he will eventually pull out of Afghanistan to curb this problem from escalating.
Still, financial support from the US will be critical for the success of the Afghan government. Better Pak-Afghan relations will also play a critical role for peace in the region.
Published in Dawn, June 28th , 2014