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Complex strategies

January 05, 2013

MAULVI Nazir is no more, the good/bad Taliban wiped out by an American drone in South Waziristan. The reason for targeting him is obvious: Nazir and his fighters focused their attention on the fight in Afghanistan against the government there and the foreign troops. For the army-led security establishment, Nazir’s death is a blow — the dead militant was one of the key players in the state’s strategy of securing the restraint of some militants when it came to attacking the Pakistani state. Softening the blow, from the army’s perspective at least, is that Nazir’s purported successor, Bawal Khan, is also seen as one of the ‘good Taliban’, a young fighter whose attention is drawn towards the fight in Afghanistan and who is not particularly sympathetic to the TTP. If all of this can seem bewildering, it is. The very idea of good Taliban is rooted in a flawed, defensive approach to the fight against militancy: fighting all militants at the same time is beyond the state’s capacity; the policy towards Afghanistan is to rely on jihadi proxies to keep Pakistan’s role influential; ergo, not all Taliban need to be defeated or even organisationally degraded. The argument that the fight to reclaim South Waziristan at least isn’t as tough as it could be had Maulvi Nazir and his fighters joined the Mehsuds fighting the Pakistani state is also deeply flawed. ‘At least it isn’t as bad as it could be’ is really just another way of the state saying that it doesn’t have the resolve or capacity to impose its will on groups whose explicit goal is to establish their own writ over Pakistani territory. The argument is not just a slippery slope, it is effectively giving up on the idea of the modern state, a peculiar concession for a country as heavily militarised and security oriented as Pakistan.

The killing of Maulvi Nazir also underlines the deep and continuing differences between Pakistan and the US, a reality that recent developments had suggested may be narrowing. The strong reaction in private by security officials here suggests that they were not involved in the decision to take out Nazir, a decision that will once again sharpen suspicions on both sides that for all the talk of closer cooperation in the so-called Afghan endgame, the US and Pakistan still have fundamentally different goals and interests. The tragedy is that Nazir’s killing can exacerbate problems for both countries, triggering revenge attacks inside Afghanistan against the US and perhaps renewing debate in the next tier of leadership in Nazir’s group that a harder line against the Pakistani state is also necessary.