ZoneAsia-Pk: Divorcing the Taliban

By Nida Afaque

The long and short of the war in Afghanistan was to eliminate terrorists and reinstall social equality for the locals so that women can have a greater say, children can acquire education and the young Afghans can find a stable source of income. The decade long war has ripped Afghanistan limb from limb; thousands of people have died, millions have incurred lifelong crippling injuries, social security is non-existent and perpetual state of chaos has taken over the nation.

The politics of withdrawal of coalition forces has seen ups and downs. The Chicago summit underscored the sincerity of the coalition forces in exiting Afghanistan. Months prior and after the summit, NATO forces have been integrating the Afghan security forces in their daily routines. NATO agreed to carry out night raids via Afghan counterparts, stop aerial attacks on Afghan residential buildings and even basic literacy camps have been set up to educate the afghan troops. A dip in Taliban attacks was also recorded.

The past few months have witnessed resurgence in violence from the Taliban. Suicide attacks, gunfire and bombs have occurred near the bases of Coalition forces and the Afghan security forces. Western embassies have not been spared the terror either. The latest attack was at a hotel in a scenic locality of Kabul on the pretext of un-Islamic activities like alcohol consumption. Soon afterwards, a cross-border attack was launched on Pakistani check-post resulting in deaths of 8 soldiers and 17 Pakistani security armed forces personnel were beheaded after being taken hostage.

These graphic attacks have sent strong messages to coalition forces, afghan forces and even neighboring Pakistan. Taliban have been quite stubborn in working for a peace process but they did cede to form a diplomatic office in Qatar. While coalition forces have repeatedly stressed on their determination to leave the battlefield, some like the French have promised to leave even before the set date. Unfortunately some serious blunders have been committed by them too which has turned positive reinforcements sour and send the reconciliation process many steps behind. The burning of the Holy Quran was a major incident that brought disapproval from all over the world. Shortly afterwards, a US marine allegedly suffering from PTSD killed 17 afghan civilians. But perhaps the greatest irksome moment for the Taliban are the reports from western media that their power has been weakened.

Indeed, actions speak louder than words and these graphic images are not soon to be erased from the minds of the locals. The targets of these attacks were mainly soldiers and civilians in close proximity to these soldiers, physically and/or figuratively. It is important to realize that these attacks occurred at the same time negotiations were taking place with the coalition forces. Thereby, indicating that the 10 year war has hardened the hearts of the Taliban against foreign invaders. This could also mean that the Taliban would reassert themselves and carry out the same tribal code of ethics they followed back in their term.

Another distressing point is the attitude of the Taliban regarding aid workers and volunteers. Many foreign social workers have been kidnapped for heavy ransom which some believe funds their extremist attacks. A senior British aid worker, Khalil Dale, was even killed when the ransom was not paid. For human right activists this would signal the continuation of violations against women, children and minorities.

The Taliban also symbolize a big question mark for Pakistan’s security. The porous Pak-Afghan border will continue to remain a source of skirmishes and refuge for the militants. Some intelligence reports have claimed alliances between ISI and the afghan Taliban. Assuming that it is the truth, Pakistan’s strategy to gain the Taliban’s vote has failed. TTP, which have been marked as a terrorist group by Pakistan, has been maintaining sanctuaries in Afghanistan probably with the help of the Afghan Taliban. The latter has been terrorizing locals near the border. The TTP already idolizes the Taliban for fighting foreign forces. With a history of terrorist attacks all over Pakistan, if the afghan Taliban decide to use the TTP for their purposes, Pakistan is looking at a serious threat. The Afghan Taliban could use this to harm Pakistani forces. The Afghan Taliban have also started warming up to Indian presence, a blow to their relations with Pakistan.

After these hiccups, Pakistan has to rethink its strategy for dealing with the Taliban. It has suffered immensely from being labeled as “part of the problem”. Domestic concerns are too pressing for Pakistan to be indulging in foreign battles. It’s time to end this insecurity by completely wiping out the presence of terrorists in Pakistan. Non-interventionists would recommend a strategy of negotiation. But the peace deal with the Taliban in Swat has proved how unreliable such accords can be.

The strategy of differentiating between the “good” terrorist and the “bad” terrorist can no longer continue. Discriminatory ethnic and religious movements be those of the Sipah-e-Sahaba or the Lashkar-e-Taiba will all have to end. For such a mass scale operation, foreign powers will be willing to help Pakistan achieve their common goal of regional and global peace. Furthermore, a new holistic strategy to be applicable after the operation has to be formulated, one that encompasses the presence and activities of these groups.

Such an aggressive strategy of uprooting the terrorist elements will also prove dangerous for the country’s politicians, armed forces and other law enforcement personell as always innocent civilians. It will invariably clamp down the nations’ freedom of speech and right to privacy but then nothing comes for free. Sadly, Pakistan has reached a point where a return to normalcy will cost them dearly but a radical operation like this can give it the chance to reestablish the writ of the state and get rid of the boulder blocking its economic and social prosperity.

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