We Can’t Eradicate Terrorism Without Changing Afghanistan Strategy

Afghan-Pakistan-Strategic-Depth

The top military brass has reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate terrorism. The words are sweet, but the reality is more sour. As we were reading the Army’s new pledge, another suicide attack ripped through Peshawar. Today, another blast, this time against the most vulnerable: IDPs. The problem of our own home grown militancy has been discussed elsewhere, most recently in a highly recommended piece by Aziz-ud-Din Ahmad. There is another obstacle to peace, however, which is our Afghanistan policy.

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Karachi Naval Dockyard and Punjabi Taliban

Punjabi Taliban chief Ismatullah Muawiya

Two very troubling facts have come out of the recent terrorist attack against Karachi Naval Dockyard. The first, obviously, is that our own military officers helped carry out the attack. As has been noted, this is unfortunately not new, rather it is merely the latest in a string of incidents in which terrorists have had inside help from our own security forces.

The second troubling fact is related to the first, I believe, and that is this important sentence in a report on the arrest of the military officers involved in the attack:

“The suspects were trying to escape to Afghanistan, when they were intercepted by security forces”.

Since long, our military has invested in an Afghan strategy that helped build up the strength of the Taliban. This may have been seen as a policy of ‘strategic depth’, or it may have been seen as aiding a legitimate insurgency against a foreign occupier, or it may have been justified as both. The end result, however, is that whether or not Pakistan has ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, extremist militants do.

News that a faction of Punjabi Taliban have declared a halt to armed struggle in Pakistan has been received as if it were a sign that anti-militant operations have been a success, but militants in Punjab were never targeted in these operations. Actually, it should be noted that Punjabi Taliban even said they are halting operations against Pakistan to focus on Afghanistan. In other words, they are not done fighting, they are simply making a strategic change. We get a reprieve, but it will most likely be temporary.

One newspaper declared on Sunday that ‘Zarb-e-azb will in all probability fail’ because we have failed to eliminate the root cause of extremism. The continued involvement of military personnel in terrorist attacks against our own security forces is a grave warning that the Punjabi Taliban and other militants are shifting away from attacks against Pakistan not because they believe the are losing, but because they believe they have already won.

Pakistan’s Psychosis

Pakistan psychosis

In a moving reflection on the tragedy presently unfolding in Islamabad, Farrukh Khan Pitafi noted that, “The first casualty in all this is reason”. Sadly, Pitafi sahib may be eulogising something lost well before Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri mobilised their goondas supporters. Last week, a new extensive survey of Pakistani attitudes was released that includes some startling revelations about how we perceive reality, and just how disconnected we have become from the same.

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How ISIS Could Undermine Zarb-i-Azb

ISIS militants in Iraq

At first glance, fighting in Iraq and Zarb-i-Azb seem to be completely unrelated. Iraqis are fighting over control over their own country, and Army is fighting to retain control of ours. What is being missed however is an important connection that could undermine any success Army sees from operations in North Waziristan. It is a threat that we would be very mistaken to ignore.

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‘Good Taliban’ Hafiz Gul Bahadur Declares War – Any Surprise?

One of the recurring themes of the discussion about anti-Taliban operations is that the so-called ‘Good’ or pro-Pakistan Taliban be protected. This point of view believes that jihadi militants who target Afghanistan, India, or the US but not Pakistan are not Pakistan’s enemy and should not be targeted because it could turn them against us. It is a belief that is often heard from PTI leaders like Imran Khan and Arif Alvi, but is also voiced by PML-N leaders like Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar who termed majority of jihadi militants as ‘patriots‘.

One of the jihadis whose name often arises as an example of ‘Good Taliban’ was Hafiz Gul Bahadur.  Today, Bahadur has crossed the line from ‘Good’ to ‘Bad’ however when he openly declared war against Pakistan. Before that, though, he was often discussed as someone that the Army could work with, often quoting a 2006 peace agreement. Should it be a surprise that he has turned around and declared war though? The answer is no.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur was believed to be ‘Good Taliban’ because his main target was not Pakistan but Afghanistan, as was accepted by the Army before the last ‘all out assault’ against the Taliban.

In preparation for the assault, the army made ceasefire deals with several influential Taliban warlords who run large networks against coalition troops in Afghanistan. They include Mullah Nazir, the chief of the Taliban in Wana, South Waziristan, who operates the largest Taliban network in the Afghan province of Paktika. Mullah Nazir is neutral in this Pakistani conflict and agreed to allow passage to the army to enter Mehsud territory.

In North Waziristan, two top Taliban commanders, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Moulvi Sadiq Noor, also agreed to remain neutral. They are members of the Shura of the Mujahideen and a main component of the Taliban’s insurgency in the Afghan province of Khost.

Instead of dealing with Bahadur five years ago, he was given that time to recruit, train, and grow his forces stronger only to have them openly turn against Pakistan in the end. Again, it should have been no surprise.

Though considered a “good Taliban” commander, Bahadur is known to have provided sanctuaries to foreign militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Al Qaeda. His friendly attitude towards anti-Pakistan militant groups and special affiliation with the ETIM was frustrating for the security establishment.

So-called ‘Good’ Taliban or ‘Patriotic’ jihadis are only ‘good’ and ‘patriotic’ as long as it serves their purposes. Eventually, however, they will turn against Pakistan because their final goal is to replace Pakistan with a pseudo-Khalifat of their own designs.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur is the latest ‘Good Taliban’ to show his true colours, but he will not be the last. How long until Hafiz Saeed, Syed Salahuddin, and other supposedly ‘patriotic’ jihadi leaders turn their sights inwards? If Zarb-i-Azb is to be a decisive action against terrorists, let it be a decisive action against ALL terrorists. Otherwise, will we find ourselves facing another ‘surprise’ in 5 more years?