Editorial: The rise of Tehreek-e-Taliban (DAILY TIMES OF LAHORE,29-1-08)
The former interior minister, Mr Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, has been outspoken to the foreign press about the strength of Talibanisation in Pakistan, pointing to its penetration of Pakistan’s electoral process. He told The New York Times that the only way to confront it was through “swift and decisive action”, but, he added, “the police are scared; they don’t want to get involved” and the paramilitary Frontier Corps was “too stressed” to meet the challenge. He expressed his dismay over the fact that while the Pakistan Army had forces in the Tribal Areas where the militants have built their sanctuaries, “the soldiers have remained in their headquarters” and not out front fighting them.
Mr Sherpao then said something more frightening. He claimed that the Taliban were supported by elements determined to affect the electoral process in their favour: “the Taliban are well-financed, skilled in propaganda and paying political opponents to stay away from the elections”. Fearing “total Talibanisation”, he warned that unless political parties, civil society, and religious leaders unitedly acted against it, it was bound to overwhelm Pakistan.
As if on cue, the next statement on the continuing power of the Taliban came from the Afghanistan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, who told the Washington Post that his country along with Pakistan faced “gloom and doom” from Taliban insurgents, and called for the world to “join hands” to defeat the “Islamist” rebels. He said, without naming Pakistan, that the Taliban had “external backers”, but the US intelligence had made it clear that the Taliban “receive support from the tribal areas on Pakistan’s western border”. Like President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan he too referred to extremism as the dominant worldview in the region and asked for firm international opposition to it.
As Mr Sherpao spoke, the NWFP was getting ready to enforce a special judiciary of Qazis in the provincially controlled areas of Swat, Dir and Chitral. On the surface the courts would be presided over by normal judges but would be helpless to follow the verdict of the clerical “adviser” attached to the courts. Fears are being expressed that verdicts handed down by these “qazi courts” would simply supplement the extremism of Talibanisation which has so far waged war against the culture and economy of the region.
Reacting to the development, Mr Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), has stated that Islam had not laid down any edict in favour of “qazi courts”. It would clearly be a parallel system that the Taliban would support.
The area has already been primed for a parallel extremist system by illegal FM radio and in the federally administered Khyber Agency punishments like stoning to death are already being doled out.Meanwhile reports are circulating in the world that in the middle of this month, 40 different groups commanding an army of 40,000 gathered in Peshawar to unite under a single banner, Tehreek-e-Taliban under Baitullah Mehsud.
According to Al Jazeera TV, Mr Mehsud has facilitated the building of a base in South Waziristan for elements of Al Qaeda. During the TV interview, Mr Mehsud claimed he had never met Osama bin Laden but had known Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader who died in Iraq fighting the Americans, but sources inside the Tribal Areas say Mr Mehsud received funding from Al Qaeda: “Afghan and Pakistani businessmen — usually in the UAE — are given money to buy high-priced goods like cars. The goods are shipped to Pakistan and sold, often tripling Al Qaeda’s investment”.
What was the most important factor in the rise of Baitullah Mehsud? According to a former adviser to the government on Tribal Areas, Brigadier (Retd) Mehmood Shah, it was the conciliatory policies imposed on Islamabad by the clerical MMA government of the NWFP. “Peace agreements” were signed with Mr Mehsud because President Musharraf was under pressure to obtain the cooperation of the NWFP government, but within weeks tribal elders and dignitaries known to support the government began to be gunned down till there was no one left in the Tribal Areas to speak for Pakistan.
Because of Mr Mehsud’s personal allegiance, Afghanistan’s former ruler Mullah Muhammad Umar leads the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line. A very transparent ruse was revealed last week when Mullah Umar actually “fired” Mr Mehsud for attacking Pakistan and not the Americans in Afghanistan.The US is supposed to have offered a wider CIA role in the Tribal Areas to President Musharraf earlier this month, which the president rebuffed. But there is need to focus on the issue of Tehreek-e-Taliban in order to protect the 2008 elections. It is only after a political consensus is reached through the elections that effective action to bring the writ of the state back to the region will be possible.