Why Talibanization Grew in Pakistan?

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja  

Some of the reasons that have given rise to religious extremism in Pakistan are as follows:

Early demise of Quaid-e-Azam resulted in leadership crisis, which persists to this day.

Uneven development of provinces and growth of regionalism gave rise to fissiparous tendencies and strengthened centrifugal forces in smaller provinces.

Insensitivity and callous attitude of the elites towards the deprived class bred resentment.

Selective accountability and pro-rich judicial system added to the frustration of the have-nots.

Corruption in all government, judicial and police departments eroded moral turpitude and scruples.

Unresolved Kashmir dispute and State terrorism of India against Kashmiris heightened Jihadi tendencies.

Western hatred towards Muslims and hounding and persecution of religious elements dubbed as terrorists intensified anti-US feelings.

Promotion of western values and demeaning of Islam by liberals/ seculars sharpened secular/Islamists divide.

Propagation of modernism and liberalism under the garb of enlightened moderation resulted in spread of obscenity and vulgarity and corresponding increase in religious extremism.

Divisive education system provided unequal opportunities for social growth.

Reasons behind Growth of Talibanization in Pakistan

Abandonment of Jihadists by the US after the achievement of its objectives in 1989 opened the doors for anti-Americanism, religious fanaticism and militarism.

Pakistan suffered throughout the Afghan war and continues to suffer to this day on account of the debris left behind by Soviet forces and proxy war. By the time last Soviet soldier left Afghan soil, Pakistani society had got radicalized owing to free flow of weapons and drugs from Afghanistan.

Onset of armed uprising in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) further militarized the society and gave birth to large number of Jihadi outfits, making AJK the operational base for Jihad in IOK.

Pakistan’s efforts to tackle the fallout effects of the war got seriously hampered because of harsh sanctions imposed by USA under Pressler Amendment in October 1989 and political instability throughout the democratic era from 1988 to 1999.

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Iran and Saudi Arabia started fuelling sectarianism in Pakistan throughout 1990s in a big way. Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan and Majlis-e-Wahadat ul Hashmeen were funded by Iran and Sipah-e-Sahabha Pakistan, now named as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (Sunni Deobandi) were supported by Saudi Arabia, which gave rise to religious extremism and intolerance and sharpened Shia-Sunni divide. 

Unseating of democratically elected heavy mandate of Nawaz Sharif led government by Gen Musharraf and the latter opting to ditch Taliban regime and to fight global war on terror at the behest of USA energized anti-Americanism, religious extremism and led to creation of Mutahida Majlis Ammal, which formed governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. MMA on the quiet nurtured extremist religious groups that were also funded by foreign powers.

After 9/11, while the US declared al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban as terrorists because of their suspected role in terrorist attacks, Pakistan not only ditched Taliban and aligned itself with USA; it changed the status of tribesmen of FATA from defenders of western border and strategic assets into terrorists and started gunning them.

Loyal tribesmen turned hostile and picked up arms against the State in reaction to induction of Army in South Waziristan (SW), Pakistan’s alignment with USA and handing over of al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to US for reward money.

Militancy gathered pace after the drone attack on a religious seminary in Bajaur in October 2006 killing 80 students. It activated militants under Maulvi Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur.

Spate of suicide attacks surged after the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa incident in July 2007, keying up militants in Mehmand Agency, Dir, Malakand and Swat and transferring terrorism to urban centres. Jundal Hafsa was established by Asmatullah Muawia in end 2007 to avenge the deaths of inmates of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.

US led ISAF as well Pak security forces preferred force over addressing the root causes of terrorism or supplementing military prong with socio-politico-economic prong to redress grievances.

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Emergence of TTP in Pakistan

Tehrik-Taliban-Pakistan comprising an alliance of five militant groups, nicknamed TTP emerged on Pakistan’s landscape in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud belonging to Shabi Khel tribe, which is not among the main tribes of Mehsuds. It took the TTP five years to establish itself starting 2002 with its sub-commands in five tribal agencies of FATA and main HQ at Srarogha in SW. Subsequently it spread its tentacles into settled areas of KP called PATA including Swat, Malakand and Dara Adam Khel. Linkage with Punjabi Taliban under Asmatullah Muawia extended TTP’s reach to Punjab as well. Alignment with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Kashmir related Jihadi groups that were banned in 2002/03 spread the sphere of influence of the TTP to every part of Pakistan.

Today it has 54 groups under its wings including a dozen foreign groups. Maulvi Nazir group in SW and Hafiz Gul Bahadar group in North Waziristan have remained independent.

Peace Deals with Militants

Between 2004 and 2008 when Gen Musharraf was at the helms of affairs, eight peace deals were signed with militant outfits. Only two deals struck with Maulvi Nazir and with Hafiz Gul Bahadur have survived. During this period, the Pakistani Taliban with the help of foreign support had gained an upper edge. 18 administrative units were under their control. Large numbers of soldiers were in the custody of TTP and morale of lower ranks in Army and Frontier Corps (FC) was low. Peace deals enabled the militants to regain breath, regroup and get their prisoners released.

Peace deal with Maulana Fazlullah and Maulana Sufi signed in Swat in February 2009 was dishonored in April 2009 when the militants after agreeing to renounce violence in return for enforcement of Nizam-e-Adal in Malakand Division violated the treaty by intervening into Lower Dir and Buner. It evoked a nationwide condemnation.

Reasons Behind Under Performance of Security Forces. Some of the reasons behind under performance of security forces were:-

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The troops had been launched to fight guerrilla war without acclimatization, training, motivation and financial security.

A significant percentage of troops particularly the Pashtuns were convinced that the Taliban were on the right to demand Shariah.

The FC was ill-equipped and not trained to fight guerrilla war.

Above all, intelligence dissemination was controlled by CIA and ISI had taken a backseat.

Troops had to remain mindful of collateral damage and to bear the brunt of negative propaganda of foreign and home media.

Unlike ISAF, own troops seldom got air or helicopter support when in distress.

Shortfalls Rectified. These shortfalls to a large extent were rectified by Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani when he took over in November 2007 by depoliticizing the Army, starting low intensity conflict training and awarding a highly attractive welfare package to lower ranks. ISI under Lt Gen Shuja Pasha made concerted efforts to recover the lost intelligence ground.

Army Wrested Initiative in 2009

When the Army backed by PAF and ISI/MI launched a major military operation in Buner, Dir, Swat and Shangla in end April 2009, it was a different Army and it took the militants by complete surprise. If the militants daringly put their lives at stake so did the soldiers. Both matched in boldness and chivalry, but the Army had an edge because of better discipline, fighting techniques, mobility, firepower and above all superior cause. Junior officers led from the front while senior officers closely supervised the operations.

As a consequence, Operation Rah-e-Rast was a complete success, although heavy casualties occurred due to tough resistance put up by the well dug in militants and suicide bombers. Fazlullah and his followers retreated and fled to Afghanistan. The FC threw out the militants from Bajaur. Mother of all battles was won by the Army in SW in end 2009 which broke the back of TTP and disarrayed it. It regrouped with the help of its foreign patrons.

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