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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

TTP and Pakistan

As the situation in Afghanistan moves relentlessly towards a denouement, a flurry of activities has been set into motion by various actors involved in the Af-Pak theatre. Two of them who merit attention for Pakistani watchers are the ‘Establishment’ of Pakistan and the so-called ‘bad Taliban’ or the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Why do these two entities merit our attention suddenly ? It is not any ‘sudden’ attention that Pakistani watchers are focusing on these two entities for they have been always under the scanner; but, some new developments are taking place suddenly between these two that we need pay attention to.
But, who are the ‘Establishment’ and the ‘bad Taliban’ ?
The ‘Establishment’ has two permanent members, the very top commanders of the military forces of Pakistan (particularly the Army) and some powerful members of the bureaucracy. Whenever the President of the country was an Army General, he was naturally the head of the Establishment. Otherwise, it has been the Chief-of-Army-Staff (COAS). The overwhelming power and influence within the Establishment lies with the top Army generals and the Chiefs of the Intelligence agencies. At various times, the political classes may be co-opted into the Establishment for a limited period and purpose depending upon the exigencies of the situation. The Establishment operates with the sole and permanent motive of avenging the 1971 defeat and, if possible, destroying India. In the course of pursuing this goal, the members of the Establishment enrich themselves personally, a fact borne out by various scandals. For sustaining themselves at the pinnacle, they effectively use the cards of 'Islam-in-danger' and 'national interest and security'. The Establishment had generally had excellent relationship with its Masters, the US administration, with the result that the latter were able to considerably influence Pakistan’s policies. The Establishment members were severally and collectively rewarded by the numerous administrations of the US for their services. The Chinese have similarly developed a deep influence over the Establishment but, for various reasons, personal benefits may not accrue much to the members of the Establishment from the Chinese. Nevertheless, their hold over the Establishment is considerable and natural when Pakistan depends entirely on them for strategic weapons and their delivery arsenal.
Who are the ‘bad Taliban’ ? This is a figment of the Establishment’s fabrication solely to preserve its core concept of ‘strategic depth’. In spite of being four decades old, the Establishment is steadfastly refusing to give up this core concept. In a recent video interview, the incumbent Emir of TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud, accepted what has been putative otherwise, namely that the ‘good Taliban’, ‘bad Taliban’ and the Al Qaeda were all one and the same. Why did this division come about then ? During the time period between c. 2004 and 2012, the US and its allies were pursuing a two-tier strategy against the terrorists in the Af-Pak region. The first tier was the most important and that was to eliminate all leaders of Al Qaeda and scatter and degrade them in such a way that they would not be of any direct threat to the US and Western interests in the medium term. For this, they needed the whole-hearted support of Pakistan and they received it through various threats and inducements. Yet, the Pakistani ‘Establishment’ added a sting in the tail by safekeeping the trump card, Osama bin Laden, away from American harm for as long as possible. The second and a less important tier of the NATO/ISAF approach had been to go after the Afghan Taliban who ‘accommodated’ and facilitated the Al Qaeda on the soil of the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan'. This goal, again needed Pakistani Establishment’s support. By this time, Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, warlords in the Af-Pak borderlands and various Pakistani terrorist tanzeems of the Deobandi variety had coalesced to fight the twin common enemies of the US and its subservient Pakistani state. Though Gen. Musharraf quoted the ‘Treaty of Hudabayah’ to describe his incipient engagement with the US, the enraged AQAM (Al-Qaeda and Allied Movements), as the new coalition was called,  was unwilling to accept the General’s nuances. Pakistan’s capitulation to US demands after 9/11 so angered the AQAM that they decided to pursue their own two-tier approach, that of fighting the Americans and allies in Afghanistan and attacking the ‘Establishment’ in Pakistan that was supporting the US. The former task was undertaken by the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan warlords, particularly Haqqani and his shura now safely ensconced in North Waziristan of FATA. The latter task was handed over to the new outfit, the TTP,  that was formally created in c. 2007, after the Laal Masjid incident in Islamabad.
Though there were uncoordinated attacks earlier too on the ‘Establishment’ by various outfits owing allegiance to Osama bin Laden, it was the creation of the TTP that lent it a vicious gruesomeness. Naturally, the Establishment wanted to isolate and deal with those who were attacking them; but, at the same time, they could not afford to antagonize the Afghan Taliban in whom they had invested heavily since c. 1994. The Establishment wanted to preserve the Afghan Taliban because they wanted to ensure that Afghanistan came back under their pre-2002 sphere of influence after the US and allies eventually left. The Establishment cannot tolerate any Indian influence in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban were the surest bet for ensuring that. So, the Establishment protected Mullah Omar and dozens of his shura members at various ISI safehouses in Quetta and Karachi. The Establishment cited one reason or another for several years not to take on the Haqqani shura though they went after the TTP in the nearby South Waziristan. The US-Pakistan relationship came close to break-point a couple of times during this period but the Establishment weathered those storms. The US administration, completely at the mercy of Pakistan, blew hot and cold but to no avail. The Establishment created the canard and compartmentalization of the Taliban into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for its own narrow strategic needs. The Establishment’s definition of the ‘bad Taliban’ includes the Pashtuns on the Pakistani side of Durand Line (excluding some sarkari Taliban commanders like Maulvi Nazir Ahmed of South Waziristan or Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan) along with jihadi groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihadi-Islami (HuJI, the original Punjabi Taliban), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (or LeJ), Jandullah (created by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who plotted 9/11), Tanzeem-ul-Ikhwan, the Zafar Group,  and Brigade 313 (the group formed by Ilyas Kashmiri killed in c. 2011) among others. All these groups have at one time or another enjoyed the full patronage of the Establishment right upto the highest level.
What is America’s position on the Taliban, good and bad? The Americans had extensively dealt with the ‘good’ Afghan Taliban before 9/11 and they had no particular problem with them except for some of their women-related issues or extreme fundamentalism. They have always treated the issue of the Taliban as an internal matter of Afghanistan. Even after 9/11, their emissary to the Taliban, the discredited ISI Chief  Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed, was asked to convey only the handing over of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders for the Taliban rulers to be left alone. They would therefore have no compunctions in handing power back to them under a paper guarantee that they would abide by the Constitution of Afghanistan. For their part, the Afghan Taliban, the ‘good’ variety, have rejected the existing Constitution and demanded an Islamic one, again, something the Americans can have no particular issue with. Thus, the stage is set for greater role of the 'good' Taliban in the Afghan peace talks and the task of turning the Taliban around for peace talks is left in the capable hands of Pakistan, which simply means in the hands of the Establishment. As for the ‘bad Taliban’, the Americans attacked them whenever the Pakistanis felt particularly overwhelmed by them. The American drones took out Nek Mohammed, Baitullah Mehsud, Ilyas Kashmiri and other ‘inconvenient’ commanders, thus relieving pressure on the Establishment.
The Establishment, which until recently, had a tumultuous relationship with the US (variously referred to as the fifth period of divorce) sees a thaw in that and wants to seize the opportunity. This see-saw US-Pakistan relationship has been a constant feature ever since the US President Gen. Eisenhower made that fateful decision to have close military and political relationship with Pakistan in c. 1954. The Establishment knew that the US would eventually come around and therefore held on tenaciously, even if precariously, until it happened. The ‘road map’ of Afghan denouement, which was released recently, gives primacy to Pakistan in peace efforts and the resolution of power-sharing among various groups come c. 2014. The Establishment is elated that, if it plays its cards meticulously, it will re-establish its strategic depth in Afghanistan. Unlike in c. 1989, this time, the Chinese friends of the Establishment are also interested in these developments because they want to have access to the rich resources of Afghanistan and beyond. The Trans-Karakoram railway line that is being built can be put to good use too to cart away the riches. They may also have a strategic need to be present in Af-Pak to contain the Uyghur separatism radiating from these areas into XUAR (Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region).  The People's Liberation Army of China (PLA) is already in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and would not feel averse extending that, if necessary, to Af-Pak border or into Afghanistan.
Consistent with these developments, new alliances have to take place and the TTP and the Establishment have taken a lead. Seemingly out of nowhere, the TTP offered last week to have talks with the Pakistani Government and the latter have responded ‘cautiously’ too. Of course, TTP has laid down important conditions for talks such as
  1. TTP willing to have a ceasefire but no surrender of arms.
  2. TTP would not forsake its friends and allies such as the Uzbeks, Chechens, Uyghurs and Arabs at any cost.
  3. The TTP reserves for itself the right to kill anyone whom it considers as infidel.
Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has already welcomed the talks provided the TTP 'quit its violence'. For a good measure, he has also said that "action would be taken if the TTP continued on its path of violence.". We can immediately recognize the smokescreen being created by Rehman Malik. Already, one expects the talks to have begun between the Establishment and the TTP. The much battered (by TTP) Awami National Party (or, ANP) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has also welcomed the talks. They are in a particularly difficult situation for they would lose either way. They probably felt it prudent to welcome the talks and avoid more battering from the TTP. The whole lot of Islamist parties such as Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) or the factions of Jama'at-Ulema-e-Islami (JUI) have always advocated talks with the TTP and no military action against them. The Prime Minister in waiting (or, is he ?), Imran Khan, has been a strong sympathizer of the TTP though he is no longer in their good books currently.

The TTP have excellent advisors guiding them. Even as they extend an olive branch, they have set conditions from which they would not reconcile. Thus, it is the establishment which has to make concessions. Going by past experience, the Pakistan Army had always done so and this time would be no exception either. The Sararogha Peace Agreement of c. 2004 in which the Peshawar Corps Commander shared the platform with Nek Mohammed, hugged him and handed over to him USD ½ Million and agreed to humiliating conditions is a pointer to what can happen now as well. In that public ceremony, Nek Mohammed openly declared that “Pakistan's authority has become a thing of the past; now the Taliban will rule”. The Lt. Gen. did not refute the contention. The peace deal did not even survive a couple of weeks and the Taliban only consolidated their position and the Pakistani Army only formalized the loss of territories through the deal. The many Peace deals that subsequently followed met with the same fate. The Mother of all Peace Deals that the Establishment is about to sign with the TTP now will hand over Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Quetta, pockets of South Punjab and Karachi to effective TTP control. From here, the evil Emirate will radiate all over Pakistan in quick time. 

However, the Establishment is delighted that the TTP is talking the Establishment's words. The TTP has said that it was time to avenge India for the defeat of 1971 and for the hanging of Kasab. The Establishment is once again proving its time-tested tactical brilliance (if the impending deal can even be called brilliant) and strategic stupidity. In an earlier avtar of the Establishment, it similarly encouraged the Ahl-e-Hadees group of Professor Hafeez Saeed, the UNSC sanctioned terrorist chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba (or, LeT), to inculcate Islamism in the Pakistani armed forces and we now know where those efforts have taken the Pakistani forces to. The TTP are a particularly vicious amalgam of Deobandi, Wahhabi, Salafi and Takfiri brands of Islam imported from Saudi Arabia. Already, a grand effort to convert the majority berelvis into Deobandis is afoot within the Pakistani society. The close nexus that would develop between the TTP and the Pakistani armed forces as a result of the new peace deal will give an entirely new violent meaning to the Pakistani Army's motto of  'jihad fi sabilillah'.

Why is the Establishment so keen in forging a peace deal with the TTP which has pummelled the Pakistani armed forces hard in the last five years ? That takes us back to the scenario in c. 1989. One of the multiple reasons for which Pakistan supported the American 'Bear Trap' project was to let loose the remnant jihadi groups on India after the Afghan operations were over. The Establishment wanted to replicate aspects of the Afghan jihad in Pakistan's eastern border. At that time, Pakistan had not thought through the consequences of its mindless actions. Though there was some initial success, in the long run, Pakistan has been weakened considerably and India has emerged much stronger. This time around, Pakistan has to perforce find alternate employment for the TTP non-state actors because the denouement process will soon make them jobless. Or, at least, that is what the Establishment thinks. The Establishment feels that it can reap double benefits by deflecting them on India and thereby avoiding further blowback to itself.

Thus, the French proverb, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more it changes, the more it remains the same) fits Pakistan once again.


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