The Good the Bad and the Ugly Taliban

On June 19, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s (K-P) information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain shocked us all when, at the end of his keynote speech at a CRSS-Radio launch ceremony in Peshawar, he asked all those present to raise their hands and pray for the safety of all in the province. Never before did Hussain, who lost his son to a terrorist attack two years ago, sound so grim while discussing the wave of terrorism and its impact on K-P.

“I will even forgive the killers of my young son if militants agreed on talks in the larger interest of the people. We must negotiate our way out of the current security crisis. But if talks fail, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US must agree to take on terrorists collectively by rubbing off distinction between ‘good’ Taliban and ‘bad’ Taliban.How can one’s Taliban be good if they are killing the other’s innocent?The three countries need a joint strategy for the enemies of mankind,” Hussain underlined in what seemed to be an expression of helplessness with regards to violence in his province.

Hussain made these pleas in the backdrop of extremely disturbing developments since early June; until June 22 about 90 terror incidents had claimed 248 lives. According to a CRSS study, 300 victims died in May.

Let us first recollect who had been presumed to be a ‘good’ Taliban; Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Maulvi Sadiq Noor, Maulvi Nazir, Maulvi Faqeer Mohammad, inter alia on this side of the Durand Line. The Haqqani Network, Mulla Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — the three pillars of the Afghan insurgency — also count among the ‘good’, friendly Taliban.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as well as splinters of Lashkar-e-Taiba stand out as the ‘bad’ Taliban as far as Pakistan is concerned. This is why the South Waziristan military operation in Oct 2009 resulted in the relentless pursuit of the TTP militants in both North and South Waziristan.

What is disturbing of late — coupled with the fresh wave of violence across K-P and Fata — is the reported realignment among many ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban; Mulla Nazir has reportedly allowed several TTP activists and supporters to return to Wana and its vicinity (South Waziristan), including those relatives of Maulvi Sharif who had been forced out of Wana in the March 2007 operation against the Uzbek militants.

Similarly, while Hafiz Gul Bahadur serves as the guarantor for peace in most of North Waziristan, facilitating the ongoing construction of the Bannu-Miranshah road, his contacts with the Haqqani Network, as well as a tolerance for some TTP elements hiding out in his areas such as Hakimullah Mehsud have reportedly increased. At the same time, Tariq Afridi, the dreaded TTP operative in Darra Adamkhel and the Khyber Agency, reportedly has ties with Haji Mangal Bagh, the elusive chief of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI). Until recently, both the TTP and the LI had been at loggerheads, but have apparently patched up.

Observers of the militancy scene interpret this as a growing synergy of strategy among those who justify their militant approach by pointing to the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. Not only are they redrawing common strategies in view of the operational and political hiccups that the US-Nato is facing in Afghanistan, but they are also becoming a source of instability in Pakistan itself. All Pakistani militant forces inimical to the US-Nato presence in Afghanistan, including the al Qaeda, who consider Pakistan as an equal culprit (for the sufferings of Afghans) have ratcheted up violence — delivering the proverbial pinpricks to Pakistani society (including the June 23 murder of nine people in Quetta).

A scary scenario indeed that the ‘good’ or cooperative Taliban, like Hafiz Gul Bahadur, become the cover for anti-Pakistan, anti-US violence perpetrated by the TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhanvgi and other al Qaeda affiliates. Similarly, al Qaeda’s shield in Waziristan, the Haqqani Network, remains the thorn in Pakistan-US relations because both Kabul and Washington talk of the ‘signature’ Haqqani-style of attack every time militants strike in Kabul or elsewhere. Regardless of how true these claims are, the network remains the major sticking point with all American officials projecting it as the biggest source of violence in Afghanistan, and thus asking Pakistan to go after it. Sooner or later, Pakistani security apparatus shall have to make the choice; stay in alliance with pan-Islamists of all shades or divorce and crackdown on them in the long-term interests of the country. Mere prayers won’t work!

The Express Tribune

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