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Old Monday, November 12, 2012
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Default The fiction of 'good' and 'bad' Taliban

The fiction of 'good' and 'bad' Taliban

Pakistan is increasingly relying on the subterfuge of dividing the Taliban into 'good' (Afghan) and 'bad' (Pakistani) Taliban as a prop to the Army's 'endgame' strategy in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. But there are complications encountered in this formulation that cannot be explained without destroying the credibility of Pakistan's future strategy, more focused on Afghanistan than on Pakistan's internal erosion of sovereignty.

Pakistani Taliban are killing our citizens and soldiers and therefore it stands to reason that we should designate them as bad. But we have a hard time preventing this label from becoming blanket, enveloping the other category too, the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Umar. We are supposed to believe that Mullah Umar and his Shura are in Afghanistan, manfully battling the forces 'foreign invasion' engineered by Islam-hating America. We describe them as good because we suppose they don't kill our citizens and soldiers.

Contradictions of good-bad doctrine:The polarity we wish to establish by setting up this good-bad designation is based on rejection of America which significantly supports India's Afghan strategy in our eyes, and challenges Pakistan's pursuit of 'strategic depth' in the neighbouring state. Fleshing out this formulation further, we assume that the Afghan Taliban do not wish to kill our citizens and soldiers while the Pakistani Taliban are doing so at the instigation of America. This formulation is supposed to please Mullah Umar and his Shura while exposing the Pakistani Taliban - who kill us because of our pro-America policies (sic!) - to internal fracturing. The doctrine assumes that pro-America Taliban are killing pro-American Pakistanis.

There are insurmountable contradictions in this doctrine. Pakistan's madrassa network and the religious parties support the Pakistani Taliban and therefore attract the mischief of the doctrine that Pakistani Taliban are American stooges. But there is a problem here too. Since the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) - against the reopening of the NATO route - was organised and deployed by the ISI, the theory exposes the Pakistan Army and the DPC to the same accusation. It redefines the DPC as a handmaiden of America which is in contradiction of the underlying policy of using it against America and India.

'Good' outfits that support 'bad' Taliban:There are others who fall victim to the policy of describing Pakistani Taliban as an American policy instrument. Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) has adopted a policy of believing that the Pakistani Taliban are not American-funded but are alienated tribals who will relent only after the Americans are gone from Afghanistan and the Taliban government is restored in Afghanistan. It is a carefully crafted policy buttressing the anti-American strategy of the Army of getting America and India out of Afghanistan at the cost of the Northern Alliance empowered by these two external players.

The non state actors of Pakistan linked to the madrassa network and religious parties are one strong factor that defies adjustment to the policy of 'bad' Taliban. Led by Jamaatud Dawa of Hafiz Saeed, these laid-off warriors have linked themselves to the Pakistani Taliban although some will partially 'disapprove' of their policy of killing Pakistani soldiers to the extent they (non state actors) are supported by the ISI. The non state actors are strong in Punjab, some having moved to the tribal areas and attracted the label of Punjabi Taliban, but they are growing strong in Karachi and interior Sindh too.

PPP 'bad' because it calls Taliban 'bad':The power of the non state actors has influenced political attitudes in Punjab. Somewhat like PTI, the dominant Punjab party the PMLN also holds that Pakistani Taliban are not 'bad' and should not be attacked but instead engaged in talks. Both PTI and PMLN and to some extent the (pro-Lal Masjid) PMLQ now in electoral alliance with the PPP simply do not embrace the formulation of 'bad' Taliban. If one counts the generally anti-American media and the population of Pakistan the situation that emerges radically undermines the strategy of 'bad' and 'good' Taliban propounded by the PPP government through its Interior Minister Rehman Malik who in turn performs the function of reconciling his government's thinking with that of the Army.

The most obvious victim of the doctrine of 'bad' Taliban is the PPP government, its genetically programmed bad governance already exacerbated by the slow death of the state at the hands of the Taliban. In the face of an overwhelming popular support of the 'bad' Taliban on the basis of the Army-directed anti-Americanism, the PPP along with its allies ANP and MQM runs the risk of getting ousted from the 'good' category. In other words, anyone who describes Taliban as 'bad' cannot be 'good' by reason of being close to the American view of Taliban.

Afghan Taliban 'good' because Pakistan trains them:To consolidate his doctrine of 'bad' Taliban, Interior Minister Rehman Malik attributed the lawlessness of Karachi to 'bad' Taliban. He announced recently (The News, 4 Nov 2012) that 'Karachi has become a centre of Taliban activities while action against the Taliban was continuing'. Ironically, Karachi is also the city where the ISI is said to have located the Afghan Shura of Mullah Umar and is not terribly pleased with reporters, such as late Saleem Shahzad, who get too close to the Shura members there. In most areas where the Taliban are dominant the populations are once again manifesting signs of embracing the anti-American worldview of the Pakistani Taliban.

How 'good' are the 'good' Taliban of Mullah Umar? How far does Pakistan control the 'good' Taliban? How will Pakistan stop the madrassa network and the non state actors from supporting the Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban at the same time? The fact is that in the coming post-withdrawal Afghanistan Pakistan will participate in a possible 'regional solution' without the ability to control the mujahideen that will inevitably go from Pakistan into Afghanistan to tilt the battle against the Northern Alliance. If 'facts on the ground' are to be created in favour of the 'good' Taliban then this infiltration will be inevitable even as a part of Pakistan Army's strategy.

'Good' Taliban support 'bad' Taliban:Morally speaking, if there are good and bad Taliban they should be opposed to each other. It would be absurd for Pakistan to defend this Manichaeism if the two categories are in fact merged. There is news that actually exposes the absurdity o0f Pakistan's artificially bifurcated thinking. In January 2012, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban set up a five-member council to coordinate attacks in Afghanistan and resolve differences between factions on both sides of the border. Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the development through pamphlets distributed in the markets of Miranshah, the main town of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region.

There are further definitional complications here. The good-bad Taliban council included representatives from the Haqqani network, which the US blames for attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Haqqani network a 'veritable arm' of Pakistan's ISI. If the Haqqani network is 'good' Taliban in our lexicon then the Shia of Kurram Agency do not agree as they report that the network is involved in sectarian massacres in Parachinar. The 'bad' Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud who kills Pakistani troops is hiding in North Waziristan together with the 'good' Taliban who are supposed to kill only Americans.

'Good' Taliban too hate Pakistan:There is evidence that the 'good' Taliban too do not like Pakistan as represented by the ISI 'handlers'. In October 2011 the BBC broadcast its two documentaries titled Secret Pakistan showing ISI's handling of the Afghan Taliban in the Afghanistan battle zone, helping them kill US-NATO troops. The most disturbing factor in the revelation made in these documentaries was that most Afghan Taliban being 'handled' (trained) by the ISI hated Pakistan.

Earlier in 2010 a British academic Matt Waldman working for London School of Economics interviewed a number of Afghan commanders who were not too enamoured of Pakistan. (Waldman worked in Afghanistan for two and a half years as Head of Policy and Advocacy for Oxfam and is now a fellow of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He advised the Liberal Democrats on defence and foreign affairs from 2004 to 2006.) The Afghan Taliban resented the fact that they had to do what the ISI wanted in return for a pledge by Pakistan to release their leaders (Mullah Umar, etc) from Pakistani confinement.A Pakistan Army spokesman described the Waldman report as ridiculous and 'part of a campaign against the Pakistan Army and the ISI'. In Pakistan, most TV cables don't carry the BBC channel.
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