Monday, December 20, 2010

The low-grade war between the Taliban and Pushtun tribal leaders

For a long time many people have pointed out that the drone attacks have fostered resentment among the local populations among whom the drones have been used. It’s easy to understand: who cannot appreciate the bitterness at those who barge in and kill?

But what about the obverse of this scenario? The Taliban have also been doing plenty of killing as well. Not collateral damage, but specific persons within the Pashtun community have been targeted. The Taliban / Al Qaeda fighters have been killing off leaders of the Pashtun tribes whenever they opposed them.

Contrary to what is presumed by some, the Taliban are not tribal; in fact, they are institutionally anti-tribal. They are organized around Islamic concepts; loyalty and influence are framed in religious terms. For years they have clashed with Pushtun tribal leaders even though they are themselves Pushtun. There is a kind of low-grade war between the Taliban and some of the Pushtun tribal leaders –inside both Pakistan and Afghanistan. And when people are killed, are not grudges developing? What about the young men whose fathers have been killed by Taliban? What is happening to that generation?

To indicate the scale of this conflict and the vengeance obligations that may be being generated in this conflict, I provide below a list of some of the notable instances when the Taliban killed Pushtun leaders [from new sources indicated below].

• Jan 7, 2008. “eight tribal leaders involved in efforts to broker a cease-fire between security forces and insurgents in Pakistan's volatile northwest, …. The suspected insurgents killed three of the men in a market in Wana, the region's main town, while the other five were killed in attacks on their homes” [,2933,320548,00.html]
• Sep 24, 2009. “The Pakistani Taliban killed seven tribal leaders who back the government during an attack in the district of Bannu in the Northwest Frontier Province. … The Taliban killed Malik Sultan and six other tribal leaders as they traveled to "mediate a dispute between local people, … Sultan is the tribal leader who raised the local anti-Taliban lashkar, or tribal militia, after the Taliban kidnapped more than 300 students and the staff from a cadet college in Ramzak in neighboring North Waziristan.”
• Aug 14, 2009. A Taliban suicide bomber killed a pro-government tribal leader in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan, and two pro-government tribal leaders were killed in Bajaur.
• Jan 2, 2010. “Tribal elders in a Pakistani village where a suicide car bomber killed nearly 100 people insisted Saturday that residents will keep defying the Taliban, even as the bloodshed laid bare the risks facing the citizens' militias that make up a key piece of Pakistan's arsenal against extremism.”
• Aug 23, 2010. The Taliban targeted pro-government leaders in coordinated attacks today in Pakistan's troubled northwest, killing 25 people in three bombings and suicide attacks. … The largest strike took place at a mosque in the town of Wana in South Waziristan.

So, if local families can resent drone attacks by the Americans can they not also resent attacks by the Taliban that kill their loved ones?

Put it this way: The Taliban/Al Qaeda can have a foothold, “safe havens”, in various parts of Pakistans tribal areas, but are they welcome everywhere? Are their “safe havens” safe because their hosts support their activities and subscribe to their agendas or because they armed to the teeth? Demonstrations against drone attacks are safe in the tribal areas, but does that mean that the local communities are happy to have armed camps of anti-constitutionalist warriors in their midst? What chance is there of demonstrating against the abuses of the Taliban in those places?

This is why the December 15th article in the New York Times by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak on the recent souring of relations between the Taliban and their hosts in Kandahar province was arresting. [] As anyone who follows this part of the world immediately recognizes, that article departed from what virtually every other observer has said about the situation, for it says the local populations of the district are turning away from the Taliban. Is this a sign of authentic feelings rising to the surface or merely a strategic action to keep options open in an uncertain world?

What would the various players in this region want if they were free to expose their genuine preferences? Their situation appears to be overlain with coercive forces of several sorts, various and cross-cutting, so that for them to survive they must make the best of the hand they have been given. Is the scene changing in Kandahar so that people are opting out of their relationship with Taliban because they want to be rid of them? What feelings and preferences lie masked by the demands of war?

What seems fair to surmise is that beneath appearances the Pushtun peoples of the tribal regions are holding grudges that remain to be settled, some of them between the Taliban warriors and their tribal hosts. When the current issues are settled, others may rise to the surface.

1 comment:

Sami said...

Afghan Taliban leadership splintered by intense US military campaign
Locals say insurgent commanders have fled areas they used to control in Kandahar as Nato forces bolster operations
Jon Boone in Kabul
22 December 2010

"most analysts remain highly sceptical about Nato success stories, particularly after similar claims were made earlier in the year about operations in the Helmand town of Marjah that were later shown to be almost completely wrong."

"Many argue that the Taliban are making a tactical retreat or returning to their sanctuaries in Pakistan to wait out the winter – views echoed by Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman for the south."

"Even if Kandahar is only enjoying a temporary drop in Taliban activity, Nato believes it can use the winter months to bolster local security and prevent insurgents returning."