Friday, April 25, 2008

The Taliban: how many incarnations are there? And how will they affect the negotiations?

[addendum to this June 14, 08: Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos is a major addition to the list below.]

Ismael Khan and Carlotta Gall are reporting that Pakistan is close to making a deal with the Islamist insurgents in the tribal territories [NYT 4/25/08]. The question is with which Islamists? And who will enforce the deal? We have known all along that there were various kinds of Islamist insurgents, but now it appears that the “Pakistani Taliban” are the real concern, and the object of the negotiations. We need to distinguish the various incarnations of the Taliban, as the new variants may now be the key players in the negotiations.

Original Taliban and their associates:

The first incarnation emerged out of Kandahar and were then joined by various other groups with somewhat different perspectives. This period of the Taliban has been well described in several works (in chronological order): William Malley, ed. 1998. Fundamentalism Reborn?: Afghanistan and the Taliban. New York: NYU; Peter Marsden. 1998. The Taliban: War, Religion and the New Order in Afghanistan; Ahmad Rashid. 2000. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University; Neamoatollah Nojumi. 2002. The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization, Civil War, and the Future of the Region. New York: Palgrave.


The second incarnation of the Taliban has developed in the last few years, becoming a serious menace to the stability of Afghanistan in the last year or so, although the reconstitution of the group began soon after its near-destruction in 2002. This incarnation is described in the new work: Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi. 2008. The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan. Boston: Harvard University.

Pakistani Taliban

But from the NeoTaliban has appeared a new variant that now looks eastward. Rather than posed against the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the new Pakistani Taliban are posed against Islamabad, especially that is, the Pakistan army. This is blowback with a vengeance, for the Pakistanis have been protecting and nourishing various mujahedin groups (see Taliq Ali, “the Colour Khaki,” New Left Review, and Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift to Extremism) in order to have recruits ready for any potential conflict with India. Two authors have written about this group in the very recent past: Nocholas Schmidle. 2008. “Next-Gen Taliban.” New York Times, January 6; Jayshree Bajoria. 2008. Pakistan’s New Generation of Terrorists. [Council on Foreign Relations.] The Pakistani Taliban are Pushtuns like the others but they have been attacked on their own ground by the army and so have come to regard the government not merely as an alien force but a surrogate for the “infidel” American government. Bajoria says “they have begun to organize themselves around a Taliban-style Islamic ideology pursuing an agenda much similar to that of the Afghan Taliban,” only now it is against their own government. They are even against their own tribal system, having killed as many as 200 tribal elders, according to Hassan Abbas [Schmidle’s source, p 9, says the number killed was 150.]. They have “effectively established themselves as an alternative to the traditional tribal elders,” taking the name “Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
[Pakistan Taliban Movement] for themselves.

But these mujahedin are, as Bajoria say, “fiercer, younger and impatient for results.” Bajoria quotes Steve Coll: They “are a younger generation of more violent radical leaders who are in a hurry and have no patience with compromise with the state.” They are “hard-core breakaway children militias” who define “the law” in their own terms, considering music, TV, and luxuries like massage parlors to be un-Islamic. These Islamists are having a powerful impact on the situation in tribal territory. Schmidle’s interviews with the leaders of the Jamat-e Ulema-e Islami, an Islamist political party that was swept into power by the election of 2002, reveal what the appearance of these young militants has done. They have created fear even among other Islamists. A leader of the party said plainly “Everyone is afraid.” “These mujahedeen don’t respect anyone anymore.” The head of the party, Maulana Fazlur Rehmen, said “we are now afraid of the young men fighting.” Rehmen has at other times played up his connections with Islamists such as the Taliban but he has been sobered by, for instance, an intense clash between the new Pakistan Taliban and the military at the Red Mosque in Islamabad last July. “They have gone to the extreme” [p. 6] he said; “They are simply beyond me,” he admitted [p. 5]. Even before the clash someone had pointed out to Schmidle that “[e]verywhere you look, you can see youngsters rejecting the old ones because old people do not like change.” A notable leader of this sort was Maulana Fazlullah, leader of a militia in the Swat Valley. His men began taking over police stations in November, 2007, replacing the Pakistani flag with one of their own, and instituting their own version of Islamic law, rejecting leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rehmen as too moderate.

This is the context of the negotiations now taking place in Pakistan. Deals have been made with tribal insurgents in the past and failed, so what is the hope that the deal now being struck with the Pakistani Taliban will hold? Not much. But fear is a powerful force. Could such former radical Islamists like Maulana Fazlur Rehmen now become a help in bringing the Pakistani Taliban to a sustainable agreement?

1 comment:

hannah said...

The irony and chutzpah of the neo Taliban attacking Karzai on Mujahideen Day is incredible.

By the way, I used this post today in my Arabic class for our daily discussion of world events. Explaining this in Arabic was fun, even if my audience was rather bored!