So, I have two questions.
Asking questions is always good.
Number one, who the hell is financing the Taliban now? Is it just the drug crops? Does Bin Ladin have some money cached somewhere that he can use to buy weapons and explosives? Or is someone making donations to this jihad? Cut off the money, the resistance cannot continue.
First, one must realize that there are a number of militant Islamist terrorist networks involved in the northwest region of South Asia (the area of and around Afghanistan) and in Central Asia (although now much less than before the liberation of Afghanistan). The Tālibān and al-Qā’idah are not the only ones involved. We much pay attention to the word “networks”: there are many such networks throughout South Asia and, indeed, even throughout the world, all of which play some role in enabling themselves or others to carry out their operations.
These networks get support from a wide variety of sources. Smuggling, drugs, and other criminal activities are obviously involved. But other significant sources of support, materiel, and funds come from donations (directly or indirectly) by people and organizations, from governments, from organizations that act as fronts, and from foreign states. Russia and China, for example, are well-known for donating arms and ammunition and weapons to militant Islamist terrorist networks in that region. To be quite frank, it’s not possible to stop these sources of support, especially what people and states donate.
For example, there is one militant Islamist terrorist network that trains people to fight, and sends them into Afghanistan and Kashmir. But they are also involved in social uplift. After the earthquake that hit the north of South Asia, this organization–a terrorist organization, remember–was at the forefront of helping the victims. By generating such goodwill, the organization is able to deflect criticism (“how can it be a terrorist organization when it does so much good?” – much like Hamas and Hezbollah and Fatah and the Muslim Brotherhood), gain moral support, gain donors, and win the government’s begrudging acceptance. This organization was known by another name and was allied with a well-known terrorist group. When Pakistan was under pressure to ban the well-known terrorist group, this organization changed its name and renounced its alliance. In reality, just the name changed. Everything else remained the same. When it was pointed out that the banned group’s ally still existed, albeit under a new name, the Pakistani government refused to ban the group because the group didn’t do anything bad under its new name. Plus, it had won significant support.
So, banning groups is impossible. Russia and China will not stop donating arms and weapons, et center, unless militarily challenged. Support for these groups continue to grow, thanks to their allies’ propaganda throughout the world.
Now, as far as the Tālibān are concerned, the above apply. But there is an added complication: the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency). The ISI supported the Tālibān from the creation of the Tālibān (indeed, some claim the ISI invented the Tālibān) and continues to support it. Although officially it no longer supports it, rogue elements within the ISI do support the Tālibān with weapons, funds, and other necessities. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has publicly and openly admitted as much (which was a really stupid thing to do; but then these rogue elements have been trying to assassinate Musharraf, so there is no reason for him to promote their image).
As far as Usāmah bin Lādin is concerned, he has been effectively neutralized. The Tālibān are resurgent; al-Qā’idah, insofar as one is referring to foreigners with worldwide connections, is also resurgent; but the most significant development is the resurgence of the Tālibān (more about which I will write in answering the second question).
Number two, what’s with Pakistan backing off from these provinces? If you’re following along with current events, the best place to do so that I’ve seen is Bill Roggio’s blog, The Fourth Rail. Is Pakistan distancing itself from a NATO push through the mountains into Peshawar and Quetta? Or is Pakistan on the side of the Taliban and enabling things to get worse?
Very good observations.
NATO will not cross the border into Pakistan. NATO forces recently attacked a madrassah in Pakistan that was training terrorist fighters for Afghanistan; aircraft from the Pakistani air force shortly thereafter went over the area and fired a few shots; the Pakistani military and government then claimed that the Pakistani military destroyed the madrassah because if the Pakistani people knew that NATO had attacked, there would be riots throughout the country over this violation of their border against fellow Muslim fighters. Indeed, there were riots anyway as terrorist sympathizers claimed everything from the CIA killing schoolchildren to the Pakistani military slaughtering schoolchildren or taking the side of infidels against Muslim fighters.
As one can see, Pakistan is stuck in a very uncomfortable situation. The Pakistani government knows very well that it is practically the hub of global militant Islamist terrorist networks, but it can’t do anything about it. Foreign states are supporting these groups. Pakistan’s people are supporting these groups. Foreign donors are supporting these groups. There are too many people involved for the Pakistani government to do anything, really, without sparking a civil war (with whatever international repurcussions may come from destroying other states’ proxies). Furthermore, terrorist sympathizers have the attention, heart, and mind of the Pakistani people. Just how insidious and ubiquitous these groups are, very few people are even close to being aware.
Along with the whole religion aspect, there is the ethnic aspect. The Tālibān are made up primarily of Pashtūns. The Pashtūns live in eastern Afghanistan, in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, and in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the NWFP. In Afghanistan, there are a number of ethnicities that make up the population: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pashtūns, Turkmens, and so on. When allied forces drove out the Tālibān, forces loyal to the Northern Alliance took the place of Tālibān officials. The problem was that the Northern Alliance was made up of ethnicities other than Pashtūn. Facing political impotence, the Pashtūns have turned to the Tālibān, and the Tālibān help their fellow Pashtūns.
When the Tālibān are run out of Afghanistan, they simply cross the border into Pakistan to seek sanctuary from their ethnic brethren. (We must remember that according to the Pashtūnwālī, the code of laws, practices, rules, and customs of the Pashtūns, hospitality (melmastia) and offering asylum (pannah warkawel) are primary values, the fulfillment of which also involves a primary element: honor.) Whereas the Pakistani government has some clout in the NWFP (whose capital is Peshāwar), the Pakistani government has had no clout whatsoever in FATA. Actually, no government or military force, including the British, has been able to control that region. It is de facto autonomous. But when the Tālibān went into FATA, the Pakistani government set aside the traditional arrangement with FATA’s tribal leaders: the Pakistani military went in. What resulted was a small civil war in the region, a civil war in which the Pakistani military was sustaining heavy casualties. As it became clear that the Pakistani government and military could not prevail over the tribes of FATA, who refused to hand over the Tālibān, the Pakistani government and military decided to sign an agreement and withdraw. That FATA’s tribal leaders would be unwilling and unable to abide by the agreement was moot. Pakistan wanted out of there. The agreement was only so that the Pakistani government and military could save face before the rest of the world.
What also played a role was stiff domestic resistance to the Pakistani military’s involvement in FATA. The Pakistani people did not like it one bit, and the government and military were under constant criticism and under constant demand to withdraw. The Pakistani people saw this as Pakistan’s government and military unjustly killing many innocent people on orders of anti-Islamic infidel forces in Afghanistan. Of course, the Pakistani government and military played a role to foster such opposition: from the beginning, the Pakistani government and military have insisted that Pakistan would not play an active role against the Tālibān, nor would it permit allied forces (whoever they may be) to operate within or across Pakistan’s borders. In the people’s mind, their sovereignty and integrity would be maintained. When it became clear this would not be so, they became upset.
Quetta is in Balochistan; Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, to the southwest of the country and bordering Iran. Various elements in Balochistan have been revolting against the Pakistani government and military (and, for what it’s worth, the Irani government and military) to secure autonomy, control of its natural resources, and perhaps even independence. They say this is a result of the Pakistani government’s continual neglect to build up Balochistan’s infrastructure despite the fact that Balochistan’s natural resources help the country to survive and even thrive, but in reality this is a continuation of a very old conflict. This conflict was brutally and bloodily suppressed by Zia-ul-Haq and has only recently resurged. Balochi terrorist groups give sanctuary and support to other militant Islamist terrorist networks. This is part of the Balochi rebels’ efforts to destabilize the region, especially destabilizing Pakistan’s government. The strange part is that the Pakistani people have come to support the Balochi rebels, especially after the Pakistani military killed a prominent terrorist tribal leader. (The Balochis stirred up the people’s emotions against the Pakistani government.)
So while Pakistan, per se, is not directly enabling things to get worse, the Pakistani government and military’s unwillingness to do what it takes to completely crush these terrorist networks indirectly enables them to operate with impunity. Furthermore, certain sectors of Pakistan (and, indeed, with the ISI, even the Pakistani government and military) are directly contributing to the resurgence of terrorists.
Whatever the answer to the above, what I really want to know is: Have we learned anything from history?
Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of terrorist networks in South Asia is to pressure governments to crack down on them, pressure other states to stop supporting such networks, and to kill as many key terrorists as possible. Furthermore, these groups need to be delegitimized. It absolutely astounds me that people would support terrorists and condemn the Pakistani government and military.
As to what we can do, I really don’t know. The rhetoric from our politicians tells the world we don’t have the spine or patience to finish our fights. Our inactivity against Russia and China tells the world that we’re stupid and let others run over us. Our restraint tells the world we’re weak. We have nukes, gosh darn it! We can do something to end these threats! (I’m not saying we should use nukes: I’m just saying that we have so much at our disposal but we’re not even trying to look threatening.)