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Old Tuesday, June 28, 2011
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Agenda of terrorists

By Iqbal Jafar
28th of June, 2011

WHO are the terrorists, and what do they want? There are many answers to these questions that have kicked up so much bitter controversy that there hardly is any possibility of consensus.

The confusion about terrorists and terrorism is mainly because three different sorts of activities by three different groups have been lumped together, ignoring their separate concerns and objectives. Those three groups are clearly distinguishable: Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Pakistani Taliban and their affiliates, and the Afghan Taliban.

Al Qaeda, born during the ‘jihad’ against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is mainly an Arab-led organisation that felt betrayed when the US established a strong military presence in many Arab lands soon after the release of Afghanistan from the Soviet bear hug. It has an anti-US and anti-West agenda, and a global network. But having been hunted down in many parts of the world for the last 10 years, it now reportedly has diminishing resources and arguably weakening support in the Arab world and elsewhere.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have no global agenda or network. Like their precursors, the Mujahideen, they are fighting against the occupation of their land. They have never attacked any American or European asset outside Afghanistan.

They do, however, have sympathy for Al Qaeda, an organisation of their brothers-in-faith.

As Pashtuns and Wahabis they do have close affinity with the Pakistani Taliban, but they have never been directly involved in any unprovoked acts of violence in Pakistan. Calling them terrorists doesn’t belittle their objective nor does it diminish support for them in Afghanistan.

Finally, there is the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates. Accepting the reality of what the Pakistani Taliban did in the areas that fell under their operational control, such as Swat, and what they claim to aspire to, we should have no doubt that their goal is to capture the state apparatus by force and establish in Pakistan a regime dedicated to imposing their version of Islam on the model of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. While the story of Al Qaeda can be said to be almost over and the story of the Afghan Taliban will reach a predictable end in the near future, the story of Pakistani Taliban has just begun.

Even from those few things that we know for sure about the Pakistani Taliban, it is clear enough that what we are facing today in Pakistan is a raging ideological civil war, not merely terrorist activities by criminals or semi-literate mullahs. The Pakistani Taliban are, in fact, well-trained, well-equipped, overly motivated and generously funded. They also have significant support in every section and strata of society directly or through their affiliates and sympathisers.

The way this insurgency is proceeding in its early phase is so well-orchestrated that we cannot be sure whether we are in the midst of a civil war. Most of us have the uncomfortable feeling that we are in the midst of some kind of war. But whose war? We keep asking this question with the detachment of an unconcerned onlooker.

In the ongoing insurgency the classic tactics of guerrilla warfare are already observable: harass, weaken, infiltrate, confuse and sow the seeds of discord, and harvest the countryside for associates. The insurgents have done all this and more. Their technical and organisational competence has been displayed in the raids on such military strongholds as the GHQ and PNS Mehran where almost all the aforementioned tactics can be seen in operation.

The insurgents operate from behind the smokescreen of anti-US, anti-India and anti-Israel slogans and have probably assimilated a bit of the ideologies dictated by all these slogans. But their persona is not the sum total of all those negativities.

They have seemingly assigned to themselves a much larger task: overthrow the existing state apparatus and inaugurate a theocracy of their definition. During the course of an evolutionary period of more than 30 years, they have evolved into a formidable weapon.

This brings us to the most disturbing question of all: who wields this weapon? It is difficult to believe that any of the known present or past leaders of the Taliban could possibly plan and execute such professionally conducted raids as the ones on the GHQ or PNS Mehran. Could it be that all those names that we keep hearing are no more than the public face of so far unknown persons who operate from behind the scenes? Could it be a cabal of highly educated, trained and experienced zealots that are well-versed in the art of unconventional warfare?

It could be that the truth, if and when revealed, will turn out stranger than fiction.

Who can stop the insurgents, whether or not led by a hidden cabal? Obviously, the armed forces — not unarmed civilians. It is time, therefore, for the armed forces, politicians and civil society to stop slinging mud at each other and come together. It is also time that the security forces cleansed their own ranks of infiltrators and zealots, instead of behaving like a harassed and embarrassed giant flailing at outspoken politicians and a hostile media.

Finally, the enigmatic role played by the US administration and think-tanks in providing fuel to the anti-US bandwagon, driven by the Taliban, on which all sorts of people are trying to clamber. Consider just two of the many examples. The US administration continues to rebuke and humiliate the Pakistani leadership publicly, while drones continue to pound the tribal areas. US think-tanks keep rolling out all sorts of anti-Pakistan prescriptions, including the break-up of Pakistan.

A number of analysts have joined the band of political cartographers in Washington that feel that an independent Balochistan would be a good idea. Yet, even better would be an independent Pakistan.

The writer is a retired civil servant.
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