Taliban, Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex and the United States

Some Taliban are allied with Pakistan, against America. Other Taliban are against Pakistan because of America. None of them are ‘moderate’.

Choose your pick: aspirin or scotch. You’ll need help to cope with this week’s news from Pakistan.

First, there is Mullah Omar and his shura, all but openly operating out of Quetta in Balochistan, reliably with the connivance of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. Mullah Omar’s group is primarily interested in fighting Western troops in Afghanistan.

Second, there is the Pakistan Taliban, operating out of Bajaur and Swat, in Pakistan’s FATA region. Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah are primarily interested in fighting Pakistani troops in Pakistan (although the converse is not entirely true). Even so, Messrs Mehsud and Fazlullah are patriotic Pakistanis, as the Pakistan’s military spokesman informed us after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, going to the extent of threatening to attack India in case of the latter declared war on Pakistan. Then again, they just threatened to kill the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen, for not taking up arms against the Pakistani government.

Third, out of the blue, or rather out of the grave the Pakistani army presumably dug for him, comes Mustafa Abu-al Yazid, one of al-Qaeda’s ‘top leaders’, with a video threatening India with all sorts of dire consequences were it to go to war with Pakistan. The video is out of pattern with those released by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and could well have been the handiwork of the ISI’s psy-ops unit.

Confusing? Well, yes. But even so, it should be clear that other than Messrs Mehsud and Fazlullah (who form the core of the Pashtun militant groups that form the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) the Pakistani military establishment is comfortable with the other jihadi groups—whether it is Mullah Omar’s Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen and groups fighting in Afghanistan, like the Haqqani militia.

And if there is a problem between Mehsud & Fazlullah and the Pakistani government, it is largely due to the deployment of the Pakistani army in FATA. But to the extent that Pakistan’s military establishment complex finds it unacceptable for the Pashtun tribesmen to extend a Taliban-style regime over FATA and NWFP—which will happen if the army backs out completely—this creates trouble for both Pakistan’s civilian government and the military establishment. This is the big problem: and as K Subrahmanyam and M D Nalapat envisage in this month’s Pragati—the war to Talibanise or DeTalibanise Pakistan is inevitable.

If we take Hamid Mir’s word for it, the fact that the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen have come under the Pashtun Pakistan Taliban’s crosshairs validates the use of the term "military-jihadi complex", as the military and the jihadi establishments are joined at the hip. But if the Pakistan Taliban carry out their threat, can we expect the Lashkar-e-Taiba to direct its energies against the Mehsuds and the Falzullahs? Actually, it’s not a question of possibility—it ispossible. The more important question is what will it take?

Further, the alliance between Mullah Omar and the Pakistani military establishment may well have survived the Bush administration. But there are signs that under Barack Obama, the United States might attempt to crush the Quetta shura, despite Pakistan’s best attempts to convince it otherwise. In the event that the United States manages to sever this alliance then Mullah Omar might well make common cause with Messrs Mehsud and Fazlullah, thereby driving the Pakistan military establishment to side with the United States. Indeed, this is the outcome that Richard Holbrooke and General David Petraeus should be working towards.

What about al-Qaeda then? Whatever might happen to its relationships with the Taliban groups, the Pakistani military establishment has an enduring interest—beans, cats and skeletons being involved—in keeping Messrs bin Laden and Zawahiri out of US hands. Besides, it is al-Qaeda that helps Pakistan by providing ‘senior leaders’ who can be killed by UAV-fired missiles, and yes, occasionally by appearing in threatening videos.

8 thoughts on “Taliban, Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex and the United States”

  1. My head is spinning. This is a Darwinian fast-forward on all possibilities. May a thousand stinking lilies bloom.

  2. What is the status of Iraq? If US has “bought” peace in Baghdad till it can exit, then we are not looking at a sustainable equation. How many months before Iraq goes the way of Iran?

    They seem to be attempting something similar in Afghanistan. Buy peace by sharing power with Taliban in Kabul outskirts. But will Taliban continue keeping distance from Kabul once US is out, in say two or three years?

    It appears something similar is being attempted in Pak. Rein in fringe elements by sharing power, till you can declare victory and exit.

    But fringe elements have already tasted power, and Iran is a tested template on how to run a Islamic theocracy with facade of democracy. I see Afghan, Iraq and Pak following the same footsteps in a decade. Saudi and others too may not be able to hold out for long after that.

    With G.W.Bush, US would have at-least maintained the massive embassy in Baghdad and sufficient troops on ground to prevent a religious take over by likes of Sadr. The new administration under the guise of “new” foreign policy may cut down many of these safety nets to save money in the recession, and let Middle-east countries chart their own course.

    Paint me paranoid, but we may well be looking at Islamic theocracy ruling by proxy from Pakistan to Africa in a decade or two.

  3. That the pak army has been sleeping with the jihadists isn’t news. That their pushtun plans have gone awry of late certainly is.

    The Pak army is fighting the hostile section of the taliban in areas like bajaur perhaps but is supporting the pakjabi and friendly talibs establish a base in Swat for example.

    An independent pakhtunistan carved out of Pak and Afgn is not a bad scenario from India’s POV, IMHO.

  4. I didn’t see a post by Nitin yet on this, but the Pakistan “government” has announced arrests in the Mumbai attacks investigation. My gut tells me that the only reason they did this is to diffuse the inevitable incoming heat when the Pak links to the recent Kabul attacks are identified.

    The Pak establishment is not fighting the on terror – its only managing the PR impact.

  5. Mumbai attacks are Pakistani establishment’s desperate attempt to deflect the problem that it is facing at the hands of the Taliban and the US. Musharraf did that well by keeping the US at bay for eight years. Also the US had its attention in the middle east at that time. Now Afghanistan is coming back under intense focus. Pakistan and the jihadi groups it supports against India are trying hard to draw India into the conflict somehow and create chaos before the US gets involved deeply. Time is running out. I am sure they hoped that all the terrorists in the Mumbai attacks would die after causing enough damage. They did not expect Kasab to be captured alive. Now they are caught red handed and do not know how to come out of it. But they have tried everything that they had in their plan of operations to dodge everything if the attention fell on their side. This was a good opportunity to get India to attack Pakistan. And if that had happened, even the Taliban was willing to unite with the establishment and fight the infidels on the East. Before they could wriggle themselves out of the mess that they have created, Holbrooke arrived and is not going to let go of his grip from here on. So Pakistan will try to wriggle out of this grip by bringing the Kashmir bunny out of the hat. Zardari, on one side was saying that there is an Indian in every Pakistani. But the events that have unfolded has clearly shown that there is a clever jackal hiding inside every Pakistani. Mumbai attacks happened in retaliation to nothing and they did not think much in the planning and attacked Westerners and Jews. This was a big mistake in their plans. And it has backfired on them. I can tell you that Pakistan’s government and the anti-Indian groups are involved in the Mumbai attacks as a desperate measure. I am sure they will try more to draw in India into the conflict. They will be praying that somehow the BJP comes to power because those fools will surely retaliate and work to the advantage of Pakistan. I can bet they will get desperate and attack something that will bring in very strong emotions inside India – may be an IPL match or kill some famous cricketers. Or they may cause chaos during the next general elections. India should be ready for all this and somehow dodge these assaults. If they happen, then the Indian leadership will be forced to retaliate and Pakistan will succeed in its plans. They want the Taliban to go on their side and the US to back off. Only a conflict with India will achieve that. How many Indians and their leaders think about this? This is not the end. As the chaos increases inside Pakistan, India should be very worried. Mumbai is only the beginning.

  6. Mauryan

    You have voiced several rational fears. But this is incorrect “..that there is a clever jackal hiding inside every Pakistani..”.

    It is true that there are several jackals inside Pakistan, and may be even true that Pakistan itself is being run by these jackals. But it is unnecessary to assume that Pakistani people have any knowledge or compliance in this show.

    More likely, a huge majority of the Pakistani people are fed up with what is offered to them on a platter by the government : total lack of security, total unaccountability of the armed forces, armed forces being complicit of supporting terrorists (as in Swat) and in the murder of civilians, monumental corruption inside the ruling classes ..

    India needs to use this anger of Pakistanis towards its advantage.

  7. Vakibs,

    I am sorry to have called all Pakistanis as jackals. It was only an attempt at the rhyme. If one takes a percentage of sensible people in any country, I can bet all countries will have a similar proportion, Pakistan and India included (call it the silent majority, sheep or whatever). No patriotic citizen will speak against his country, even if his nation is on the wrong side. That is the unfortunate thing. To make someone admit that there is a problem on his side, takes a lot of careful efforts in communications. In the case of the Mumbai attacks, I am of the opinion that the Pakistani establishment has made a calculated move to draw India into the conflict. They knew what would happen and their responses seemed to confirm that. They knew that the Indians are idiots and will start barking right away. This brought the Pakistani media and the public on their side. Prior to that look at the precarious state of the Zardari/Gilani government. Bombs were going off inside Pakistan. After Mumbai, for almost two months, peace prevailed inside Pakistan. November is the month when the government changed hands in the US and November is the month when the Mumbai attacks happened. Zardari is an extremely corrupt fellow and a very clever manipulator. He has turned the tables using the circumstances and now no one is going after him. The Taliban and every fanatic system inside Pakistan rallied behind him anticipating a military strike from India. It almost worked. But for that Kasab and the amateur way in which the militants left their evidences on their path exposed the truth. And the bigger mistake was taking out Westerners and Jews. Had the plan worked only against Indians, none of the Western powers would have cared and Pakistan would have made a major gain. But that was not to be. The dust has settled and the Taliban has started pounding the military. Holbrooke is in the neighborhood. More US troops are coming. May be there will be one more attempt? This has nothing to do with the people of Pakistan. All this is part of the terrible power plays that have become a norm inside Pakistan and is spreading around. I sincerely pray that the moderate parties win in India’s elections. So I expect a terrorist strike at the time of the elections, which will skew the voters’ minds into electing a party that uses the opportunity to whip up the sentiments. Remember the overwhelming majority that Rajiv Gandhi got after his mother’s assassination. Pakistani establishment might try to whip up the emotions and get a belligerent party to power in India. Then it will be easy to get India to retaliate. Strike number 2 will happen and an impatient India, embarrassed about its inability to do anything will do what the soldiers are doing in Kashmir. Go off in a rage and it will be used as a human rights abuse by the Pakistani propaganda machinery. They have done that well in the case of Kashmir. This will add more fuel to the fire and guess what it achieves? A fully united Islamic front that is ready to take on India. These acts of subterfuge will help gain a lot for Pakistan. Hence my suspicion on the Zardari/ISI establishment. One terrorist strike during the IPL will bring down the curtains on Indian cricket. All foreign players will run for their lives and will never step into India. BCCI will not make any money after that. How simple? Let us hope Obama drives a deep wedge into all this.

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