Archive for March 12th, 2009

Pakistan :: The Heaven of Talibans :: Hell of Others ::

March 12, 2009

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The rise & rise of Talibans in Pakistan

11 Mar 2009, 0155 hrs IST, Subodh Varma, TNN

In the spring of 1994, a new military force appeared in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires. Legend has it that its first public action was in Kandahar. A local warlord had abducted two girls
for serving his troops. One night, a group of young, bearded Pashtuns, wearing black turbans emerged from the darkness, stormed the base, rescued the girls and hanged the warlord from the turret of a tank.

They were called the Taliban, and soon they stormed Kabul and established one of the most brutal regimes in the world, based on a narrow fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

Their origins lay in the western border areas of Pakistan, where thousands of Afghans, mainly Pashtuns, had fled during the decade-long jihad against the Soviet army. A whole generation of boys grew up in refugee camps in tribal areas, learning the ideology of hate and revenge. The camps and seminaries were organised by the Pakistani government, with funds received covertly from the US (for fighting communism) and openly from Saudi Arabian armchair jihadists who wanted to spread Islam. Because of their origins in madrassas, these fighters were called the “Taliban”, or students.

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 with a bloody nose and the Najib government in Kabul fell in 1992, the Taliban continued to operate from refugee camps in Pakistan, bidding their time, as a vicious civil war raged in Afghanistan. Following a series of bold moves, which increased their popularity and gave them access to much-needed arms, the Taliban moved in and captured Kabul in 1999, declaring their motherland the “Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan”.

Over the next few years, this fundamentalist brand of Islam grew, not just in Afghanistan but also in areas bordering it. Drawing upon public anger against the US, and Pakistan government’s inefficient and corrupt collusion, Taliban-like organisations spread in Pakistan: among them, Jamaat-e-Islami and its associated organisations like Hizbul Mujahideen, Deobandi organisations like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and Wahaabi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, all of whom subscribe to the global-jihad ideology.

Today, Pakistani people are being held to ransom by extremist groups, ranging from global jihadists like the remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban to the various “lashkars” (armies) and mujahideen that operate throughout the country. Last year, 1,201 people died in 598 bombings. This year, in just two months, 106 bombings have taken place. As summer approaches, and the war in Afghanistan escalates, extremist violence may well intensify in Pakistan.

These groups seek to establish in their strongholds and eventually across the world, the same vicious regime as Taliban had established in Afghanistan until they were thrown out by invading US and NATO forces after 9/11.

The Taliban had ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist. It conducted medieval practices like public flogging and stoning, prohibited education for women, scorned modern systems like democracy and plural politics. They stamped out all divergent ideas — political, social or religious, including those within Islam.

Meanwhile, as the US continued its global war on terror with Iraq and Afghanistan as the two frontlines, and Pakistan as its key ally, the Taliban went back into hiding in villages on both sides of the Durand line, which marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mullah Umar, who headed the Taliban government in Kabul is most likely functioning from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province in Pakistan.

Since 2003-04, the Taliban started regrouping and making increasingly daring attacks on the occupying US/NATO forces in the difficult terrain of Afghanistan, and retreating to safe havens

on the Pakistani side when under pressure. Gen Musharraf, acting under pressure and inducement from US, launched ineffective military campaigns against the growing clout of fundamentalists in the border areas the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Here the local warlords and tribal chiefs either became assimilated into the fundamentalist fold or were systematically eliminated. In 2007, several fundamentalist groups made a joint front called the “Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan” (TTP) led by Baitullah Mehsud, and supported by such local warlords as Maulana Fazlullah of Swat.

Under the garb of fighting terror, and to get more dollars out of US, Musharraf targeted several fundamentalist groups pushing them further into extremist arms. These include Sunni groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami, the Jundullah, and Shia groups such as the Sipah-e-Muhammad.

Many of these groups function on sectarian or ethnic lines. Thus the TTP is largely a Pashtun, or “Pathan” (as they are called in Pakistan) organisation. Pathans make up 15% of the population and belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. Shias, the other major branch, comprise about 20% of the population.

While these groups have their differences on ideological and tactical issues, they have several commonalties. All are products of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. They were nurtured by General Zia-ul-Haq, and received funding from Saudi and covert western sources in the early days. Various governments in Pakistan used them for political gains, including fighting for Kashmir.

All these groups strive for a more rigid interpretation of Islam, opposing the more flexible South Asian way of Muslim life.

Courtesy : The Times of India.