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memri
April 1, 2009 No.
508

Re-emerging Alliance between Pakistani Military and Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Introduction

In the recent months, an old-new alliance has been re-emerging between the Taliban and Pakistan, aimed at countering the efforts of the U.S. and NATO troops against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities recently signed two agreements with the Taliban – known as the "Shari'a for Peace deals" – which give the movement full authority to enforce the Shari'a law in the Swat Valley and broader Malakand region of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Taliban's part of the deal amounts to no more than an unwritten – and largely unfulfilled – promise to stop fighting the government forces in the area.

The deals come in the wake of three operations carried out by the Pakistani military against the Taliban in the last three years – operations in which the military conspicuously refrained from causing the movement significant harm or from killing its leaders.

The apparent capitulation of the Pakistani authorities to the demands of the Taliban is actually a part of a long-standing alliance between them. The Pakistani military – which actually formed the Taliban in the 1990s – has long been using this movement to control Afghanistan and as a tool in its confrontation with the West. The Taliban, for its part, uses the support and protection of Pakistan to consolidate its strength and gain control over increasingly large areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Taliban Takeover of the Swat Valley

The Taliban's enforcement of the Shari'a law in the Swat Valley district did not begin with the signing of the Shari'a for Peace agreements. As a matter of fact, the Taliban in the district, under the command of Maulana Fazlullah,[1] has been consolidating its control and authority over the region for several years and gradually enforcing the Islamic law there. Using violence and intimidation, the movement has bombed girls’ schools, banned women from entering markets, forbidden barbers to shave men's beards, and enforced a ban on music and other forms of art and entertainment.

The Taliban's most far-reaching move came on December 24, 2008, when it issued a complete ban on girls' education in the Swat Valley district. Shah Dauran, the Taliban's second-in-command in the Swat district, announced on the movement's illegal radio station that, effective January 15, 2009, all government and private educational institutions would be forbidden to register girls.[2] The decision meant that 84,000 girls enrolled in government schools and 40,000 girls enrolled in private schools would be prevented from continuing their education.[3] In response to criticism from circles inside and outside Pakistan – including some Islamists groups, which pronounced the decision over-extreme – Fazlullah moderated the prohibition slightly, permitting girls to attend school up to the fourth grade.[4] Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan warned that schools that failed to comply with the new regulations would be bombed, and the threat was indeed carried out against several educational institutions.

Pakistani Military Operations against the Taliban in the Swat Valley District

The Taliban's takeover of the Swat Valley district has met with some resistance on the part of the Pakistani military. In November 2007, the military launched an operation lasting several weeks against the Taliban militants in the region, and managed to recapture most of the territory, driving the Taliban into the mountains. However, with the retreat of the army, the Taliban quickly returned and renewed its violent activities. In 2008, over 200 girls' schools were bombed and nearly 100 activists of the secular Awami National Party (ANP) were killed.[5]

The second military operation, in October 2008, was even less successful, for the Taliban had the upper hand. In the course of the confrontation, it recaptured territory it had previously lost and consolidated its control over the district.

The third operation was launched January 26, 2009 in response to the Taliban's ban on female education, which caused Pakistan to come under international pressure. According to press reports, a key tactic used by the military in this offensive was to announce its attacks in advance by loudspeaker – ostensibly in order to warn the civilian population – thus allowing the Taliban militants to escape. The operation ended abruptly on February 16, 2009, only three weeks after it began, when the NWFP government signed the first Shari’a for Peace deal with the Taliban.

The "Shari'a for Peace" Deals

The first Shari'a for Peace deal was signed February 16, 2009 between the Pakistani authorities and the Taliban "moderates" led by Maulana Fazlullah's father-in-law, Sufi Muhammad.[6] The latter had been incarcerated in a Pakistani prison, but was released in April 2008 precisely for the purpose of facilitating a deal between the authorities and the Taliban.[7]

The agreement abolishes all non-Shari'a laws in the Swat-Malakand region, and decrees that legal matters will henceforth be decided by a Shari'a court, as reflected in the following key passage:

"With regard to the court system in the Malakand Division… the provincial government has decided that, as of today, all non-Shari’a laws, i.e. those [laws] that contravene the Koran and hadith, are null and void…"[8]

It should be noted that Pakistani President Asif Zardari has not yet ratified the agreement, but Sufi Muhammad has stressed that his consent is not necessary.

In intra-Taliban talks after the signing of the agreement, the movement formulated four more demands, to which the government agreed – namely that all Taliban prisoners be released and all outstanding cases against Taliban militants be closed, that the government compensate all those harmed in the course of the Pakistani operations against the Taliban, and that the Pakistani security forces withdraw from the Swat Valley district.[9]

On March 5, 2009, the Pakistani authorities signed a second agreement with the Taliban, giving it even more power to regulate day-to-day life in the Swat Valley district. The second deal included the following clauses:[10]

  • Steps will be taken to end "obscenity" and "vulgarity."
  • Music centers and shops selling "obscene CDs" will be closed.
  • Shops and markets will be closed during prayer times.
  • A campaign will be launched to raise public awareness to "social evils."
  • Arrangements will be made for teaching Koran in prisons and for prison reforms.[11]

As a further concession to the Taliban, the Pakistani military vacated Maulana Fazlullah's headquarters, which they had occupied, and handed it over to Sufi Muhammad.[12] Furthermore, the NWFP government has agreed to upgrade the Imam Dehri madrassa, supervised by Fazlullah, and turn it into an Islamic university equal in importance to Al-Azhar in Cairo. The university will be built at a cost of one billion Pakistani Rupees, and Sufi Muhammad will be its chancellor.[13] It can be safely assumed that the Pakistani authorities will have no say in determining its curriculum.

It should be noted that the truce between the Taliban and the Pakistani authorities is not limited to the NWFP. On February 23, 2009, the Taliban in Bajaur Agency – one of the seven federally-administered tribal areas (FATAs) along the Afghan border – suddenly declared a unilateral ceasefire with the government forces,[14] and the latter accepted the truce on the following day.[15]

The Taliban's Continued Violence against the Pakistani Forces in the Swat Valley District

It is noteworthy that both the February 16 agreement and the March 5 agreement are unilateral in that they specify what the Taliban gets in the deal (namely a free hand to impose Shari'a law in the Swat-Malakand region), but do not explicitly obligate this movement to maintain the peace. In return for the February 16 deal, the Taliban did no more than give an unwritten promise that "the Taliban [forces] in Swat will be disarmed within a week," as Sufi Muhammad stated on February 17, 2009.[16]

As a matter of fact, while the Pakistani army has been removing checkpoints in the Swat Valley in compliance with the Taliban demand, the Taliban itself has continued its violent activities against the government forces and officials in the region. On February 22, 2009, a few days after the signing of the February 16 deal, it kidnapped a top government official and his six body guards, who were subsequently released in exchange for two Taliban detainees.[17] Then, two days prior to the signing of the March 5 deal, the Taliban killed two Pakistani soldiers in the Swat Valley. The movement has also continued to attack army convoys carrying supplies to the Pakistani troops. The NWFP government has been reduced to pleading with the Taliban militants to refrain from moving about with their weapons slung over their shoulders, in full view.

In explaining the Taliban's continued violence, Maulana Fazlullah stated: "We have taken up arms to implement the Shari'a. Democracy is a system of the infidels."[18]

The Cooperation between the Taliban and the Pakistani Military

The apparent capitulation of the Pakistani authorities to the Taliban demands is due – at least partially – to a long-standing strategic alliance between the Taliban and the Pakistani military. This alliance benefits the Taliban by allowing it to gradually realize its goal of asserting its control and imposing the Shari'a law in expanding areas of Pakistan. This goal has often been articulated by Taliban leaders. Two weeks after his release from prison, Sufi Muhammad vowed that, after the enforcement of the Shari’a in the Swat-Malakand region, Shari’a law would be enforced throughout Pakistan.[19] On March 23, 2009, he repeated this assertion, saying, "If people help me, I will work to enforce the Islamic Shari’a in every part of [the country]." In fact, some Pakistani officials seem to share the Taliban's goal. On February 24, 2009, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani proposed to extend the Islamic Shari’a law to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs) along the Afghan border.[20]

Pakistan, for its part, regards the Taliban and other jihad organizations as a useful ally in establishing its influence in Afghanistan and in confronting its rivals, including not only the West but also India. An example of the cooperation between them is the recent decision to launch a joint government-Taliban campaign against Indian intelligence agents in the Swat Valley.[21] The daily Rozmana Jang reported February 17, 2009 that "The [NWFP] administration and Maulana Sufi Muhammad will immediately take steps to clear the [district] of elements and criminals belonging to the Research and Analysis Wing [i.e., India's foreign intelligence agency], for the government has enough evidence of India’s involvement in the current lawlessness in Swat."[22]

Moreover, the cooperation of the Pakistani military is not only with the Pakistani Taliban, but with the Taliban as a whole, i.e., also with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is evident from the recent interactions between the Taliban in Pakistan and Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In the beginning of 2009, three Taliban groups in Pakistan's Waziristan district formed a joint organization called Shura Ittihad Al-Mujahideen, under the command of three key figures in Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, namely Baitullah Mehsud, Maulvi Nazir and Maulvi Hafiz Gul Bahadur (the latter two are considered "pro-government").[23] The significant point is that, upon its establishment, the group pledged its allegiance to Mullah Omar, stating: "We regard Mullah Omar as our Amir-ul-Mumineen [i.e., Leader of the Faithful]."[24] This refutes the opinion, often expressed by political analysis, that Mullah Omar does not represent the Taliban in Pakistan. Moreover, in a recent letter to the leaders of the Taliban in Waziristan, Mullah Omar ordered them not to attack the Pakistani security forces, because fighting Muslims could not be considered jihad. He added that the attacks on the Pakistani military were harming the Taliban movement, and that, if the Taliban fighters wanted to wage jihad, they should come to Afghanistan.[25] As a matter of fact, the Afghan website www.taand.com reports that the Taliban and its "supporters" – meaning the Pakistani authorities – have reorganized their forces and are intensifying their attacks in Afghanistan. [26]

The interaction between Mullah Omar and the Taliban in Pakistan belies the distinction sometimes made between Taliban-Pakistan and Taliban-Afghanistan. It implies that they constitute a single movement led by Mullah Omar – a movement which is currently inclined to cooperate with the Pakistani authorities.

The re-emergence of the Pakistan-Taliban alliance at this time may be linked to the advent of the Obama administration and to the changing strategic situation in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. Realizing that Obama means to step up the U.S. campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the Pakistani military has recalibrated its strategic position and brought the Taliban into its fold, to serve as its proxy in a confrontation with the U.S. forces.

Indian and Afghan Reactions to the Shari'a-for-Peace Deals

India and Afghanistan have expressed considerable concern about the re-emerging Pakistan- Taliban alliance. Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee described the Taliban as a terrorist organization and the deal as danger to civilization,[27] while his deputy, Anand Sharma, warned that the Swat Valley Shari’a-for-Peace deal could threaten India’s security.[28]

In Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen and political affairs expert Waheed Mazda described the deal as a threat to peace in the region,[29] and the Afghani daily Kabul Times warned that, with the deal in place, the Pakistani Taliban would be a source of "new threats" to Afghanistan.[30] An article in the weekly of the Afghani Shi'ite party Eqtedar-e-Melli stated: "The concern felt by Afghanistan [and] by the international community over the [Shari'a for Peace] deal is based on our past experience. In the past – and even in the last seven years, during which Pakistan has officially been supporting Afghanistan’s cause in the war against terrorism and the Taliban – [Pakistan's] policy has remained ambiguous, unfriendly and pro-Taliban... Every time a domestic crisis has befallen it, Pakistan has sought to export [its] problems to Afghanistan."[31] Said Fazlullah Wahidi, governor of Afghanistan’s Konar province, which borders Pakistan's Bajaur Agency, warned that the ceasefire in Bajaur would undermine the security of Afghanistan, where the Western forces are battling the Taliban.[32]

* Tufail Ahmad is the director of MEMRI's Urdu-Pashtu Media Project.

Endnotes:

[1] Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, nicknamed "Radio Mullah", is the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), one of the militant groups that make up the Taliban in Pakistan. He is the son-in-law of the group's founder, Sufi Muhammad.

[2] The News (Pakistan), December 25, 2008.

[3] The News (Pakistan), December 16, 2008.

[4] Roznama Express (Pakistan), December 30, 2008.

[5] Wrazparna Wahdat (Pakistan), March 2, 2009.

[6] The Signatories to the deal on behalf of the NWFP government were Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Finance Minister Humayun Khan, Health Minister Syed Tahir Ali Shah, Livestock and Dairy Development Minister Haji Hidayatullah Khan, Interior Department Secretary Faiyaz Khan Toro and Justice Department Secretary Muhammad Farooq Sarwar. The Signatories on behalf of the Taliban were TNSM Deputy Emir Maulana Muhammad Alam, TNSM Spokesman Amir Izzat Khan; and Shura Council member Badshah Sarwar Khan.

[7] Roznama Express (Pakistan), April 22, 2008.

[8] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 17, 2009.

[9] The Statesman (Pakistan), February 20, 2009.

[10] Wrazparna Wahdat (Pakistan), March 5, 2009.

[11] Some other articles in the agreement are the following:

  • Action will be taken against drug peddlers;
  • Pimps and women involved in immoral activities will be expelled from Malakand;
  • Action will be taken against profiteers;
  • Public complaints will be handled speedily;
  • Rehabilitation centers for drug addicts will be established;
  • Religious scholars from all schools of thought will be urged to discourage sectarianism (strife between Sunnis and Shi’ites);
  • Steps will be taken to restore the people’s trust in the police;
  • All corrupt police officials will be removed from the Malakand Division;
  • A campaign will be launched against bribery;
  • Complaint boxes will be installed outside government offices;
  • Rights of employees and employers will protected;
  • Women will be given the right to inherit property.

[12] The News (Pakistan), March 5, 2009.

[13] The News (Pakistan), February 28, 2009.

[14] Wrazparna Wahdat (Pakistan), February 24, 2009

[15] Wrazparna Wahdat (Pakistan), February 25, 2009

[16] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), February 19, 2009.

[17] Roznama Khabrain (Pakistan), February 23, 2009.

[18] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 25, 2009.

[19] Roznama Mashriq (Pakistan), May 16, 2008.

[20] The Post (Pakistan), February 25, 2009.

[21] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 17, 2009.

[22] Roznama Jang, Pakistan, February 17, 2009.

[23] The News (Pakistan), February 23, 2009.

[24] Roznama Khabrain (Pakistan), February 24, 2009.

[25] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 24, 2009.

[26] www.taand.com, February 25, 2009.

[27] Roznama Hindustan Express (India), February 20, 2009.

[28] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 23, 2009.

[29] www.taand.com, February 17, 2009.

[30] The Kabul Times (Afghanistan), March 4, 2009.

[31] www.eqmweekly.com.af, March 4, 2009.

[32] Wrazpanra Khabroona (Pakistan), February 25, 2009.