Pakistani Taliban: Nipping the evil in the bud

Pakistani Taliban: Nipping the evil in the bud

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Espionage has always been an essential part of war and conflict between countries. New dimensions, such as disinformation, organized crime and social subversion have been added to it in the modern age. They help cause instability in opposition ranks and trigger a crisis of legitimacy in the hierarchy of its command. With such tools, the world is now hurtling towards a new era of permanent, low-level conflict — often unnoticed and undeclared. 

We would do well to heed the maxim that ‘wars are no longer won on the battlefield’. Any space gained through kinetic means now only suffices to bury those who have fallen trying to seize it. Non-kinetic means are often the only option to ending conflicts with a greater degree of permanence. Eradicating the breeding grounds of enemies and addressing the root causes of their enmity is what finally yields fruitful results. 

The Taliban emerged in September 1994 as a prominent faction in the Afghan Civil War. The international community had not cared much about the future when this force was seizing increasing power from the Mujahideen warlords. On our side of the border, their rise was sheepishly supported by the powers of the day, which gave space for Taliban factions to put down roots here. 

The Taliban phenomenon was imprudently welcomed and adopted in Pakistan at the state level. Even a few stalwarts in law enforcement and civil society proudly and publicly branded themselves as Taliban. Eventually, as the group’s deep ailments were finally exposed, those who once nurtured and supported it abandoned it in haste. However, there was no strategy to neutralize it, and they are now back to haunt us in the TTP avatar — brandishing weapons and spreading terror as viciously as they have in the past. 

The TTP finds charisma in Noor Wali Mehsud, who has united the various factions of Taliban. There is an agenda in the group’s attempts to regain control of an area where it was once dislodged from; especially since things are rough across the border. According to sources, some leniency had been shown to returning militants after earlier negotiations. However, the TTP leadership soon started asserting its authority over the lower tiers and, as a result, heavily armed groups moved in, often occupying vantage points in the region. They now stroll through Dir to Malakand, reaching areas as far off as those bordering the Hazara region. 

Just a few days ago, I was at a famous eatery in Peshawar’s fabled Namak Mandi. We were shocked to learn that the restaurant’s owner had been paying the TTP to stay safe, lest grenades were hurled to damage his business.

Dr Syed Kaleem Imam

What are they up to and what do they want? According to some, the TTP’s usual demands include the removal of checkpoints, limited state patrolling, hegemony over the region, exploitation of its mineral resources, and even stakes in pinewood harvesting. As part of their new wish list, they want the previous status of FATA, the removal of border fences, and their brand of sharia to be enforced. Being vicious outfits, they may pressurize the state for additional gains. They seem obsessed with curtailing women's rights, maintaining patriarchal dominance and enforcing religious rituals in accordance with their likings to justify their violent behavior. It is no wonder that the local community is sick and tired of them. 

A policy of appeasement has led to the creation of a new merciless breed, not descended from any particular tribe, but from an assortment of opportunists. Within the rank and file are the 'Gujran', who were largely ordinary deprived hands, joined by educated youth radicalized on narratives glorifying war. The TTP leadership is shrewd, trying to maintain relevance and dominate the territory by the use of methods such as abduction, rape, murder and destruction of state machinery. Unlike before, they are armed with leftover foreign weapons, which they have put on sale as well as made a part of their ideological arsenal.

Swat has witnessed some very alarming violence recently. Encouragingly, instead of being intimidated as in the past, its locals are now furious. Unexpectedly large protests have been held in Dir, Maidan, Bajaur, and other areas. Even though security forces are trying to do their best to contain the threat, violence keeps recurring. The latest is that some errant returnees have been pushed back after soldiers and law enforcers took them head on. Other TTP tiers have quietly crept out. It remains to be seen how lasting and effective the action has been.

The threat of a return to turmoil will remain present. There have been hundreds of killings and explosions across the border. There is a possibility that extremist outfits may act in response to the deaths of Amir Muhammad Kabuli and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Omar Khorasani, as well as Rahimullah Haqqani.  

We cannot afford another prolonged and costly conflict that will extend the hardships of our long-suffering nation. The question is, will we be repeating our past mistakes? Allowing anarchy to take root in the remoter areas of the country and then taking harsh measures to eliminate it is a failed strategy. The timely enforcement of the law is critical in ensuring 'order'. It has been my experience that it is the law that often looks the other way when trouble is brewing; else how dare anyone challenge the state’s writ. 

Just a few days ago, I was at a famous eatery in Peshawar’s fabled Namak Mandi. We were shocked to learn that the restaurant’s owner had been paying the TTP to stay safe, lest grenades were hurled to damage his business. It reminded me of our university days in Karachi, when many of our friends and relatives paid bhatta to an ethnic political party to avoid being bullied or even killed.   

There can be no enforcement of a writ without good governance and the rule of law. The sooner dissent and disagreement are addressed, the better. The act of sparing wrongdoers is immoral and illegal. Creating an artificial leadership and using it to gain ad hoc benefits is a dreadful policy. 

The state can appropriately respond to extremist groups by enhancing its interaction with the affected communities, which have risen strongly against the TTP in Swat’s case. There is a need to revive the apex committees and execute old policies to nip the root causes of terrorism and militancy in the bud. It is time that the police, as the first responders, and the chief secretary, as the head of the province, oversee counterterrorism policy, or at least be fairly represented in it. Taking an inclusive approach to this distressing issue is essential.

- The writer holds a doctorate in politics and international relations and has served as a federal secretary and inspector-general of police. He tweets @KaleemImam. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view