Sitting with fingers crossed

By K.N. Pandita

A question of increasing disquietude, not only for the administration – civilian and military – but also for the entire nation is what will be the security scenario of the region lying beyond our north-western border once the US-led NATO troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.

NATO withdrawal will begin in a situation in which remnants of Afghan Taliban-al Qaeda combine are still potently capable of reassembling. Anti-American Pakistani Taliban (TTP), besides other known radical Islamist groups in Pakistan, is making common cause with them.  

Afghan Taliban militants are forging stronger bonds with TTP.  Sectarian outfits in Pakistan essay for better bargaining chips to negotiate in Afghanistan.

The contention or the lurking expectation that US-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be in vacuum is very frail keeping in mind the new reality obtaining from two decades-old religion based militancy in the region.

The new perception or reality is that Swati Taliban, the Mehsuds of Waziristan, the Asmatullah Muawiya of Punjab and the Afghan Taliban share objectives and goals: they want to carve out a territory in Afghanistan-Pakistan-Swat region where they can practice their version of Islam and Islamic dispensation.

Kashmir, physically contiguous to this geographical entity, and her people already Wahhabized – thanks to the ISI brain and Saudi petro dollar booty – becomes the most coveted prize that would crown the efforts of the Taliban Confederates.

Once disengaged from their two decades old horn-lock with the US-NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban Confederates will turn their attention to the consolidation of the new region from which radical Islamists would take inspiration.

Pakistan was closely watching developments in TTP camp after the previous chief Hakimulllah Mahsud was fatally targeted by a drone attack in Waziristan. All minds were focused on who would be his successor.

Among a couple of prospective candidates, the name of Fazlullah  was proposed by the Taliban supremo Mulla Omar on the basis that Swati militants had fought alongside Afghan Taliban in the first Afghan war and, later, as civil war raged in Afghanistan, in the 1990s, they provided their Afghan counterparts recruits and eventually became their junior partners in Pakistan. In these operations Fazlullah had a role, apart from the tyranny he had unleashed in Swat. The Malakand and Mohmand factions also lent their support to Fazlullah.

Maulana Fazlullah is against any negotiations with Pakistan/USA. He called Islamabad government a “puppet of the US”. Most importantly, with Fazlullah in  driver’s seat, Taliban militants are projecting the image that TTP is not FATA-centric and has support in the urban areas of Pakistan, too. Perhaps, it is flexing muscles to expand its violent campaign in the populous, economically prosperous Punjab to cause maximum casualties and inflict financial losses, to reduce Punjab to a client mini- City State.

The statement of Taliban spokesperson that “we will target security forces, government installations, political leaders and police,” speaks volumes about this strategy. According to some observers, TTP might enter into strategic alliances with militants in Punjab to carry out a spate of bombings and militant activities.

In a recent article published in the Dawn of Karachi, Islamabad government was advised to allow TTP full administrative control of AFPak-Swat region with sharia as dispensing law.

The ambitions of Pakistani Taliban’s new chief that TTP center of power may well shift from Waziristan to the so-called settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa once again raise the prospect of pitched battles between Pakistan Army and the militants. The disadvantage of Pakistan Army in such a prospect will be the deep inroads made by radicals in its cadres as well as internal subversion engineered by the radicals in her super intelligence organization.

The Taliban Confederation, to which allusion has been made, could, by way of enticement, offer Kashmir region the prototype of dispensation Pakistan had previously offered to Swat. The princely state of Swat acceded to Pakistan in 1947, but retained internal autonomy, with its own laws, its own system of justice, army, police and administration. On the other hand, India handed over Kashmir from one known “autocrat” to an unknown “democrat”. However integration of Swat in 1969, and introduction of regular institutional structures reduced the influence of local elite. That is precisely the opposite of Kashmir where the elite grabbed power through money and muscle and by whipping up communal frenzy in the process. Acquiescing to the pressure of the local landed classes, Swat was granted the status of Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), which was a mix of old autocratic system and modern political institutions. Is Kashmir anything different?

Taliban Confederates would certainly allow concessions to Kashmiris not after Westminster type democracy but in conformity with the tribal traditions.  When Fazlullah’s writ ran in Swat, he, apart from perpetrating mass killings, had established a parallel criminal justice system – apparently modeled on Islamic sharia but extremely savage in its tone and tenor. To stop bloodshed in Swat, in 2008, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reached an agreement with Fazalullah. The agreement, dubbed Nizam-e-Adl (the system of justice) granted the Taliban virtual control over Swat to implement their interpretation of sharia law. This would be precisely repeated in a scenario of Taliban Confederation becoming a reality.

The question arises how India would react to this situation. The Taliban Confederation is motivated to wrest Kashmir from the hands of all the three claimants, India, Pakistan and Kashmiri elite. Don’t think that they would treat it as an appendage.  Kashmir will provide strategic depth to the Confederation. It will assuage the shattered trust of Kashmiris in the existing dispensation and the new statehood would be a great relief to the hurt sensibilities of the PoK/K Diaspora in UK and in other European countries.

Maybe, in case Indian statesmanship shows signs of farsightedness, a deal could be struck with the Taliban Confederation. Chances of such a deal are bright in the background of Punjabi assertion and belligerence getting destroyed by the TTP and India exerting influence through the conduit of traditional Pukhtun leadership of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa.  The other alternative is war but war against whom?

For the policy framers in New Delhi, it is not the time to sit with fingers crossed. It is the time to reckon permutation and combination of political forces.

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