Analysis: The Taliban in Pakistan

Tuba Omer - TCS Reporter 19 October 2009

The Taliban are in Pakistan. And the world knows it. It sees it when the terrorist claims to be of “Pakistani origin”, it hears it when the country’s casualties hit three figures, and it senses it as the attack on Rawalpindi comes alarmingly close to the capital. The Taliban are in Pakistan.

Imagine that there is a militant attack on the Headquarters in Rawalpindi and a Pakistani is asked, “What do you feel about terrorists in your country?” He stares and looks a bit baffled replying, “Just what you feel of course. Who are these people and why are they here?”

The number of bomb blasts in the country does not reflect an affinity, a sacred bond with the terrorists. For so many attacks to be successful there has to be some kind of support from the inside, perhaps the public, perhaps the Pakistani Intelligence Services (ISI).

This is a complicated answer. Most people do not know that the Taliban were created by America to assist in the war against U.S.S.R, and that during that war millions of Afghan refugees entered Pakistan. The moment America won that war, the Taliban were of no further use to them. This created a feeling of great resentment, which led to war and the development of power bases. Pakistan became one such base.

This is not to describe Pakistan as a powerless victim. When Karachi became a frequent target for suicide bombings, the government should have dealt with it ferociously, as if it was their own war, and not one fuelled by September 11. It was the political and economic chaos of those years, coupled with the vacuum of strong and stable leadership that gave the militants power and people the right to ask the question: “So how many people do you know who support the Taliban?”

What role has the Pakistani army played in eliminating the Taliban? Perhaps a greater one than the media commonly claims. The army was successful in flushing them out from Swat, a key militant headquarters. They also restored more than half a million Swat inhabitants to their homes and provided them with basic amenities and a secure environment. However, this is not enough. The public knows this as they see the attack on the Rawalpindi GHQ kill 49 people. Since the militants cannot be defeated in a single moment collectively, a tug-of-war is likely to ensue with the balance of power shifting constantly between the army and the Taliban. It would be naive to assume that there won’t be backlashes when the militants are defeated. But the important thing for the Pakistani public is how viciously the Taliban responds. Some Pakistanis, like my friend Nabeel Ahmed, are optimistic. “The South Waziristan operation is pretty vital. I’m no analyst but my opinion is that though the militants are still pretty strong, they’re nowhere near as strong as they were before. For one, as a US analyst pointed out, the militants don’t have ISI support anymore. So this might well be desperation,” he tells me.

Others, like Ahson Rana, are deeply pessimistic. “I don’t think things are getting better anytime soon. The attack on the GHQ just goes to show that the army and government have no control over the Taliban. Every bomb blast and death is claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban,” he says.

Today, the war on terror cannot be discussed without mentioning American involvement, and undoubtedly the Swat offensive would not have been a success were it not for American aid. But this is a sensitive chord for most Pakistanis who feel it is one thing for America to talk about liberty, freedom and human rights, and another thing for them to then conduct drone attacks which kill 200 innocent people and one militant, and finally label most of the casualties “collateral damage”. Pakistanis feel genuinely disappointed and impotent when a suicide bomber kills innocent people; they crave for a faster end to this war, one that does not really feel like their own.

Tuba Omer – TCS Reporter