Notes on the Taliban (V) | Saleem Safi

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Afghanistan blames Pakistan and firmly believes that the Taliban insurgency persists due to the continuous support shown by Islamabad.

But the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA)’s perceptions against Pakistan have also been remarkably altered. Feeling betrayed by Pakistan, the TTA harbours hatred and resentment against Islamabad. The reasons are manifold.

First, the TTA – which largely consists of Afghans – maintains the traditional Afghan approach towards Pakistan. Second, the Taliban blame Pakistan for betraying them after 9/11. They have not forgotten Pakistan’s U-turn in Afghan policy, the arrest of Abdul Salam Zaeef and Mullah Baradar, the death of Mullah Abdullah Akhwand in Pakistan’s prison and the killing of Ustad Yasir in Peshawar. Third, a large segment of the Afghan Taliban believe that the US targeted Mullah Akhtar Mansour with direct or indirect help from Pakistan.

Fourth, the Haqqani Network is resentful on Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. Fifth, the Afghan Taliban are unhappy over the scapegoating and harsh treatment of Afghan refugees at the hands of Pakistan’s law-enforcement agencies. Sixth, the Afghan Taliban want to regain power and rule Afghanistan but strongly believe that Pakistan does not want to see them in power.

Despite these grievances, the Afghan Taliban have showed restraint in fighting against Pakistan. Unlike Al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban are not engaged in a war with Pakistan. In that sense, both the TTA and TTP appear to be different entities. The TTA fights against the Afghan government and the Indian lobby, while the TTP is directly at war with Pakistan and in direct contact with some elements of the NDS and RAW.

In other aspects, the TTA and TTP appear to be opposite sides of the same coin. Both groups share the same ideology and propagate jihad, the concept of the Muslim Ummah and the irrelevance of geographical boundaries. The TTA and TTP both idealise Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden as their heroes and have the same degree of affection for prominent religious figures like Maulana Sher Ali Shah and Mufti Shamzai. Both groups use the same jihadi literature and share hatred against the West and its liberal ideologies.

The TTP appears to be an extension of the TTA and other former jihadi groups. Naik Muhammad was an influential commander of the Afghan Taliban in the Kargha region of Kabul. Prior to becoming head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud served as the personal secretary of Mullah Dadullah Akhwand, a prominent Taliban figure. Mullah Dadullah participated as a chief guest in the first passing-out parade of suicide bombers in South Waziristan. Abdullah Mehsud was wounded while fighting with the Afghan Taliban against the US and Nato and was subsequently imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammed was also fighting along with the Afghan Taliban before they focused on Pakistan. Ustad Yasir, the Afghan Taliban commander, organised the TTP in the Khyber and Mohmand agencies of Fata. Commander Abdul Wali aka Umar Khalid, Ilyas Kashmiri and Asmatullah Muawiya from Pakistani jihadi groups also joined the TTP. Malik Yaqoob Awan and Dr Arshad Waheed, the former leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s jihadi wings, now occupy important positions in Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda played a vital role in the coordination and formation of the TTP from these splinter groups and prominent jihadi commanders. Since it was on the driving seat of the TTP, Al-Qaeda maintained the group as a decisive force. The Al-Qaeda leadership was also in direct contact with the Afghan Taliban. The latter never stopped the former from sponsoring the TTP. Al-Qaeda organised the TTP and the Afghan Taliban and allowed them to spread terror in Pakistan.

The Afghan Taliban and the TTP have been living alongside one another in Afghanistan and they have never come into conflict. Whenever there was a difference between the Pakistani Taliban in North and South Waziristan, the Afghan Taliban would mediate and resolve the issue. The TTP used to call Mullah Umar amirul momineen (the commander of the faithful) and his name appeared on the TTP’s letterhead along with the names of Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. The Afghan Taliban never stops the TTP from using Mullah Umar’s name. They also never condemned the TTP for its atrocities in Pakistan despite persistent efforts and demands by Islamabad.

Hakimullah Mehsud was also declared a martyr on the Afghan Taliban’s website. Mullah Fazlullah, the current chief of the TTP, is reportedly living in Kunar where the Afghan Taliban enjoy control. Without the support of the Afghan Taliban, it would be impossible for him to live and move about freely in Kunar.

Despite these facts, Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban has exaggerated in the minds of the Afghans. President Ghani considers Pakistan’s role in resolving the Taliban crisis to be far more important than the role of the US, India or Iran. However, he envisions building relations with Pakistan on new terms and conditions.

Ghani wants a step-by-step and case-to-case engagement with Pakistan. He wants to adopt a balanced approach and deal with Pakistan in a way that neither annoys India and Iran nor offends the internal opposition. A statement issued by the Afghan president office’s following a telephonic conversation between President Ghani and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa shows resentment toward Pakistan as well as Kabul’s willingness to engage with the country on new terms and conditions. The question is: what should Pakistan do to eliminate the doubts and bring the two countries closer?

This article is part of the writer’s ‘Afghanistan’ series.

To be continued

Saleem Safi works for Geo TV.