Do Taliban threaten the region?

By K.N. Pandita

Will Taliban terror proliferate eastward after the US drawdown in 2014? Strategists vigorously debate the proposition. Only the Indian and not the foreign print media have given it near hype importance.

What actually stimulates the Indian press to cry wolf? It is not Talban intrepidity: it is the split personality and inconsistency of ordinary Kashmiris serving as stimulants, thanks to their euphoric response to Pakistan’s charade.  

Who are the ‘Taliban’ we are talking about? We have two of them; the Afghan Taliban based in Afghanistan, and the TTP meaning Tehreek-i-Taliban-e Pakistan based in Pakistan. Both are essentially motivated by religious conservatism. But there are other specificities.

Taliban of Afghanistan sprang from the corpus of disbanded mujahideen soon after the Soviets exited and power passed into their hands in Kabul. When threat to national sovereignty receded, the country fell into a state of anarchy. Afghan commanders and their legions took to loot and rapine.

Realising that lawlessness of disbanded mujahideen could pose serious threat to its influence, Pakistani ISI, after taking the US on board, launched the Taliban movement in Southern Afghanistan through the instrument of senior Taliban leaders, mostly the alumni of Karachi Sunni Wahhabi religious seminaries.

Afghan Taliban primarily battle for expulsion of foreign troops (read US-NATO) from Afghan soil. Thereafter they intend announcing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in which the chief executive (Emir) will not be an elected but a selected entity based on his qualification as a warrior of distinction and his orthodox Islamic credentials for promulgating Islamic law, meaning the sharia.

On the other hand, the TTP are essentially a concoction of anti-India, anti-US, and anti-democracy posse sprung from Pakistan’s Punjabi seminaries. They are not essentially commissioned to fight outsiders. Their agenda embraces not just the Islamic Emirate but Islamic Caliphate of Jamaat-e-Islami premise, in which entire South Asian region plus Xinjiang province of China (Uighuristan/Turkistan), and Tibet fall inside the Caliphate Arc. Kashmir is central to it. Their field of activity is wider and India with the second largest Muslim population (ruled by al kuffar) is crucial to their scheme of things.

As such, if there is a threat of Taliban making inroads into India or her northern State it is from TTP and not Afghan Taliban. It will take the Afghans decades to set their home in order after the Americans stage withdrawal partially or fully by the end of 2014.

TTP is a conglomerate of many fanatical and fascist groups. LeT, JM, HuM and many als and hizbs. etc. are its components. Two perceptions bind these groups together. One is the perceived threat from the west whose scientific and technological advancement shatters the Islamic belief in scriptural finality. The second is the self-reassuring belief in Islam’s spiritual and physical domination of the entire world at the “end of the time”. According to the mentors of jihadis the end of the time has come. Hence the belief becomes the engine of jihadism. 9/11 is seen in the same spirit.  However, in making a show of adherence to these two concepts, the Islamists have exposed themselves to the anger and spite of the western world and global democracies.

The question is how far are the TTP poised to embark on the Caliphate adventure? That also answers the question of their armed adventure in Kashmir. The bombast of LeT or JM or HuM and other outfits ensconcing take over of Kashmir is not a new thing. This is their avowed agenda. They have revived the Alamut story. The question is will TTP shift the goalpost from taking on the Pakistan army and administration to broader armed intervention in Kashmir? For creating the Islamic Caliphate the first step has to be of demolishing the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif is elected Prime Minister and not selected Emir.

The struggle for radical take over of Pakistan State is neither easy nor imminent. It is a long drawn process. The fight of TTP ultimately boils down to prolonged armed confrontation between the feudal- General combine on one hand and Theo-fascists posing as fidayeen on the other. To force a dent into this camaraderie, the strategy employed by the TTP is to indoctrinate vulnerable sections among the Other Ranks of Pakistan Army and younger official cadres with seminarian orientation.   They expect deep internal discord in Pakistan army leading to conditions akin to mutiny by men in olive green. To counter this, the Army may have to abandon its Kashmir mantra which has been steadily slipping out of its hands in the aftermath of Arab Spring.

But TTP intensifying challenge to the elected government in Islamabad means opening another front. Is the TTP tactically prepared for that? It knows that the collapse of Army, with sturdy clout in the Pentagon, also means collapse of civil administration.  Appointment of pro-Nawaz Army Chief could mean a subtle attempt of the elected government to offer olive branch to the TTP.  It is yet premature to anticipate its result.

To divert the threat posed to Islamabad regime and the army, both Pakistan army and the hawks in Islamabad would very much like the home-grown Islamic fascists deciding to head towards Kashmir in larger numbers, and in the process, get decimated in prolonged conflict with the Indian regulars. The question is whether that suicidal strategy serves the grandiose ambition of Islamic Caliphate extending from the Dardanelles to the Straits of Malacca as envisaged by the TTP.

This is a long drawn process and nothing can happen overnight. In other words there is no immediate possibility of disengagement of TTP from its agenda of first fomenting rebellion in Pakistan army, slashing its strike power and then taking on the hegemonic feudal lords. Once they have fulfilled that agenda, they would be free to move to Kashmir conundrum.

We do not find any warm response from the Afghan Taliban to TTP who had offered to fight for them in Afghanistan. Taliban are engaged in bi-polar negotiations with the US and the regime in Kabul. Islamabad will give no leverage to the TTP as negotiations with Taliban proceed. Even any peace deal between the Army and the TTP will be limited to suspension of hostility in some sectors of Waziristan only.

In conclusion we find that the TTP is beset with a host of serious internal problems.  These hardly leave them space for extended incursions eastward. However, sporadic border skirmishes are not ruled out.

Distinction has to be made between Taliban and TTP, the abbreviation of Tehreek-i-Taliban-e Pakistan. The former are based in Afghanistan and predominantly comprise Pashtuns of Sunni faith. The latter, based in Punjab province of Pakistan, comprise mostly the Punjabi Sunni Wahhabis.

There are more distinctive features for each group. Afghan Taliban took into its fold the Al Qaeda activists after the US-NATO forces bombarded Tora Bora mountain hideout of Osama bin Laden to flesh him out. Taliban gave shelter to him and his legions in the mountain fastnesses of Waziristan. It should be clear that since Pushtun tribesmen live on both sides of the Durand Line, Osama, the fugitive, and his gunmen had no difficulty in positing themselves in Waziristan across the Pak-Afghan border traditionally called NWFP during the British Raj
Before the Afghan fighters took the new nomenclature of Taliban, definitely on the bidding and machinations of General Nasrullah Babar, the Interior Minister under Benazir Bhutto, they were very familiarly known and eulogized by the western world as mujahideen. After the ouster of Soviets from Afghanistan, the mujahideen established sway over Kabul and worked for the consolidation of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. However, the well armed mujahideen were not to be controlled by any authority in Kabul and set out on loot and rampage of people in Afghanistan. A state of chaos and anarchy ensued in Afghanistan.

Feeling rather uneasy with battle-hardened Afghan armed legions roaming the Afghan land freely and aggressively, Pakistan, under the compulsion of preventive strategy, found the opportunity ripe to convert this extraordinary manpower into religious legions guided by Islamic puritanical motivation.  In its early days of formation, the Taliban were asked to introduce Islamic sharia and law and order across Afghanistan. Looting and vandalizing of caravans carrying merchandise across the highways or pillaging private houses was declared un-Islamic.

The early Taliban responded to the call for new formulation without argument because most of its leadership had been trained in the Sunni Wahhabi religious seminaries in Karachi and other cities of Pakistan. They had been sufficiently indoctrinated with socio-political philosophy of puritanical Islam. The Americans saw some merit in this enterprise of the ISI and thus let things happen.

On he other had, religious seminaries in Pakistan, Punjab, NWFP and Sindh (Karachi in particular) had long back begun to churn out diehard fanatics indoctrinated with.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India): E-mail:

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