However, a new type of tango has evolved in the Af-Pak region with three dancers in a deadly embrace, the Americans, the Pakistanis and the Taliban.
Now, the Taliban are not monolithic and are composed of at least two groups, the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban. The latter, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, have two sub-groups, the 'good' and the 'bad' Taliban. The 'good' and 'bad' divisions are convenient creations of Pakistani Establishment to pursue their enduring concept of 'strategic depth'. See this for details. Since the Laal Masjid episode, almost all the Deobandi terrorist tanzeems in Pakistan have identified themselves with the 'bad Taliban', thereby making it the most powerful component of TTP. The 'bad Taliban' could have easily taken on the 'good Taliban' but tribal equations, and sane counsel probably prevailed upon them from starting a war of attrition that could not have helped the larger cause of AQAM.
Even assuming that there exists 'good' and 'bad' Taliban with different objectives and worldviews, the former fighting a jihad to regain their land from foreign occupation forces and the latter an evil force to perpetuate Al Qaeda's ideologies in Pakistan, we need to investigate the latest developments in the last few weeks.
Developments are taking place on two fronts, the Afghan Taliban front and the Pakistani Taliban front. The US, Pakistan and the Taliban are involved in both the fronts. While the US is the prime mover in the US-Afghan Taliban-Pakistan tango, it is Pakistan whih is the prime mover in the Pakistan-Pakistani Taliban-US tango.
Just, what are the objectives of these three players ?
The US wants to have an honourable exit from Af-Pak without much blood loss to retreating troops as the pullout of men and material begins. The US would also like to retain some presence in Afhanistan to oversee transition from the incumbent Karzai government to whatever new power-sharing agreement is arrived at for the post-2014 scenario. The US would like to ensure, for some time to come at least, that the new dispensation that comes to power in Kabul does not become a threat to US and Western interests. A base in Afghanistan would also help geostrategically in a region where American interests are huge such as in nearby Pakisran, Iran or Central Asian Republics (CAR) or even Russia.
For the Pakistanis, the requirement is simple: a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul that would allow Pakistan to re-establish its concept of strategic-depth and remove Indian influence which had alarmingly resurfaced in the last six years in Afghanistan. Other objectives such as bottling-up Pashtun nationalism that could pose a threat to its Durand Line border with Afghanistan come next and way below in terms of immediate priority.
The Taliban also want to regain control of Afghanistan but on their own terms. They want to be seen as victorious in the end of a decade-long battle without surrendering their ideological beliefs. They want the Americans and the Western forces to be seen as vanquished in Afghanistan, and would want to reinforce their usual claim of Afghanistan being country which has the reputation of being a place where no foreign invader has been able to rule the natives, They would therefore like to see no foreign troop on their soil post the American withdrawal in c. 2014. More than anything else, they would like to trumpet two things: the only remaining superpower has been defeated through jihad and that Islam (of Osama's variety) has won.
Let us therefore interpret the recent developments with the above paradigm in mind.
For Pakistan, nothing is more important than seeing the back of the Americans and seeing the re-installation of the Kandahari Taliban in power in Kabul. They would like a smooth transition without the debilitating internecine war that accompanied the transition of power in c. 1989. At times, in the early years of the 1990s, Pakistan came close to losing Afghanistan as some of its plans came a cropper, until the Taliban force was created which had no participation of the powerful but warring mujahideen leaders, Pakistan cannot afford to go through a similar exercise yet another time, what with its own precarious internal conditions. It must have also received strong advice from China, its all-weather friend, that instability must be avoided at all costs since such a situation would lead to civil war for many years. Apart from Pakistan, and to some extent China, no other player in the region is interested in seeing a re-emergence of the Taliban. Afghanistan's neighbours such as Iran or CAR (Central Asian Republics) are against Talibani control of Afghanistan. Other regional players such as India and Russia are equally disinclined towards such a development. It is only the US (some of its allies like the UK) and Pakistan who, for different reasons, prefer the Taliban.
The Pakistani Army cultivated the 'good Taliban', had 'peace deals' with them which were followed scrupulously. This helped the Pakistani Army a relief of pressure to that extent. But, times are changing now. The small component of 'good Taliban' has clearly outlived its utility though they might be close to Mullah Omar. It will be the larger 'bad Taliban' that alone can ensure peace both internally and in FATA and beyond. So long as division existed within TTP, the Pakistani efforts may be derailed and there may be a constant threat to itself. This is what Gen. Kayani meant recently which was wrongly interpreted in India as recognition at last by the Pakistani Army that threats to its existence came from within and not without. Pakistan now wants to effectively turn this 'threat within' to tackle the 'threat without'. The TTP has also been speaking the Pakistan Army's language of avenging the 1971 defeat. At the same time of offering an olive branch to the Pakistani Establishment, the TTP is also showing its ruthless face by assassinating the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister, Bashir Ahmed Bilour followed a few days later by the cold blooded murder of the 22 captured Levies soldiers who happened to be Shi'a. The latest Quetta massacre of the Hazara Shi'as is also by the same group. All these incidents sent multiple messages - that TTP would not go soft on its targets just because talks are initiated, that it will keep the pressure on the Establishment, and that TTP is sectarian with a very narrow extremist Sunni agenda that sees Shi'a as murtad,
The Pakistan Army has been unable to take on the TTP and their associates in the last eight years since they launched the operation against them. They have conceded ground to them and the writ of the state has shrunk in large areas of Pakistan where the Taliban have successfully established their rule. Places like FATA, Swat, Peshawar, Quetta, Southern Punjab, parts of Karachi etc come to mind immediately. They have successfully carried out violent attacks against the armed forces including at locations where nuclear weapons are stored, at the General Head Quarters (GHQ), airforce, navy and army bases with little counter attack by the Pakistani armed forces. The Taliban are beginning to considerably establish their sway in Karachi. At a political level, they have the overt support of all Islamist political parties and parties like Imran Khan's Pakistan-Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) which completely sympathizes with their demands and actions. A nationalist party like the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa based Awami National Party (ANP) has been literally bludgeoned into submission especially after the recent killing of Bilour. At a societal level, large scale conversions to Deobandism are taking place or are being attempted all over Pakistan. People who profess the Deobandi interpretation of Islam will provide overt and covert support to the TTP. At an international level, the peace talks between the US and Afghan Taliban have raised the question as to why Pakistan cannot have a similar dialogue with the TTP who after all are all Pakistanis. The US President has, during the joint press conference with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday (Jan 11, 2013) said options other than military hold the key for peace in Af-Pak.
The Pakistani Army, the main component of the Establishment, is therefore forced to adjust itself to the emerging situation. At the same time, it realizes that increased trade and contacts between the people of India and Pakistan, which Pakistan grudgingly allowed under pressure from the US, might, in the long run, undermine its strategic objective, that of comprehensively defeating India and destroying it if possible. Even if it may not be able to defeat India, it would be happy to see anarchy, violence and terrorism in India in the same scale as it exists in Pakistan.
Pakistan operates on cues. The green signal given by the US to play a prominent role in Afghanistan once again, the US green signal for pursuing options other than military in dealing with terrorists in Pakistan, the arrival of John Kerry as Foreign Secretary in the US, the politically-besieged, clueless and impotent Indian ruling coterie, the imminent withdrawal of the US from Af-Pak, the start of flow of funds and armaments once again from the US and above all the likely re-installation of the Taliban in power in Kabul and Kandahar will all embolden Pakistan to start another misadventure with India. The prelude to that has started along the Line of Control (LoC) already.