Sunday, May 4, 2008

Talking to the Taliban (Part 5)

Via The Globe & Mail:

Despite a long history of using Pakistan as a safe haven, Taliban on the front lines of the insurgency say they have no loyalty to their neighbouring country. A survey of 42 insurgents in Kandahar found most were critical about Pakistan, where they are reported to have headquarters and supply lines, and most were critical of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, often using the harshest language to describe him.

Some insurgents claimed they want to fight for the seizure of vast swaths of Pakistan’s territory in the name of expanding Afghanistan to include the major cities of Quetta and Peshawar. Every fighter asked said those two cities belong inside Afghanistan, and all of them rejected the existing border as a legitimate boundary between the countries.

The Globe and Mail’s modest sample of Taliban opinion may only reflect an effort by the insurgents to hide their sources of support in Pakistan, analysts say, or it may point to something more troubling: the growing indications that parts of the insurgency are no longer controlled by anybody. “If they are supported by ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency], why are they attacking Pakistan?” said Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, after reviewing The Globe’s raw video footage. “Why would the ISI want these kinds of activities in Pakistan? It’s out of control. Nobody is able to control it.” “This is Afghan government propaganda, about the Pakistan government controlling the Taliban.”

Few historians dispute that Pakistan’s intelligence services played a decisive role in establishing the Taliban movement in 1994, and Islamabad appeared to retain a strong influence over the regime that seized Kabul two years later. President Musharraf formally cut ties with the Taliban in 2001, but in recent years a growing number of observers have accused Pakistan’s agents, or former agents, of continuing their assistance for the radical movement. “With the collaboration of elements within one of Pakistan’s ... intelligence services, the ISI, the Pashtun borderlands have become a safe haven for the Taliban,” write Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, of the Naval Postgraduate School in California, in a coming issue of the journal International Security. The Afghan government strongly endorses that view, often helping journalists arrange interviews with captured insurgents who tell stories of training centres in Pakistan.

During one such interview session last year at the Kandahar Governor’s Palace, an Afghan intelligence official paraded out a group of prisoners who described themselves as Pakistanis persuaded to wage jihad against foreign troops in Afghanistan after attending madrassas in Pakistan. They gave details of an informal training camp in Chaman, Pakistan, that suggested the insurgents were making little effort to hide their activities from local authorities. If the Taliban are creatures of Pakistan, however, The Globe and Mail’s survey suggests they are not a particularly obedient creation. Some parts of the Taliban in particular, such as the recently created Pakistani Taliban group led by Baitullah Mehsud, have proven themselves more of a threat within Pakistan than anywhere else.

“The Islamist extremist Frankenstein is no longer confined to the whims of political power games,” wrote Irm Haleem, a South Asian expert who teaches at New York’s Seton Hall University, in an article this month that devoted itself to the comparison between the Taliban and Mary Shelley’s mythical creature. Every insurgent asked by The Globe researcher said huge parts of Pakistan belong to Afghanistan, but they offered varying ideas about how much territory should be claimed and how it is historically justified. One fighter said that only half of Pakistan’s provinces, Sindh and Punjab, rightfully belong in the country. “Those areas of Pakistan were small,” the fighter said. “In the time of Zahir Shah or someone else, then they made this line [the new border]....