By D Suba Chandran
According to media reports from Pakistan, various factions of the Taliban – from Pakistan and Afghanistan – have come together to form a five-member ‘Shura-e-Murakbah’. What is this new shura? What are it objectives? And why a new Taliban grouping now?
It is believed, that the newly formed five-member shura (in January 2012) include members representing Mullah Omar, the Haqqanis, Hakimullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman and Mulla Nazir. Though all the five factions are primarily comprised of Pashtuns and belong to the Taliban factions, the first two have an Afghan focus, while the last three are FATA-based with a Pakistan focus.
An analysis of the shura is essential to understand whether there are new developments within the various Taliban factions. One major feature of this five-member shura is the non-representation of any al Qaeda groups/factions in the FATA and Afghanistan. From Uzbeks to Arabs, there are numerous al Qaeda factions/units fighting in the FATA and eastern Afghanistan.
However, this should not be read as an exclusive Taliban-Pashtun grouping with a non-al Qaeda focus. If the al Qaeda factions are not included, it should be seen as a tactical move by the moving spirit (believed to be Mullah Omar). It is an open secret in the FATA, especially in Waziristan, that some local tribes do not get along with foreign fighters belonging to the al Qaeda. In fact, there have been armed fights between the local Pashtun Taliban and foreign al Qaeda fighters in recent years.
What then is likely to be the primary objective of this shura? First and foremost, Mullah Omar seems to be preparing for his final military push vis-à-vis the American-led international troops within Afghanistan. With the 2014 deadline fast approaching, and the international troops concentrating more on their exit plan, it is entirely possible that Mullah Omar wants to make their farewell really bloody – to an extent that they never dare to come back to Afghanistan. On the other hand, it may still be possible that Mullah Omar would like to make substantial military gains to have an upper hand in the secret negotiations with the Americans being pursued on a separate track. It is essential for Mullah Omar to have this final push during this year, and make it a bloody one for the international community.
Second, this would also perfectly fit Pakistan’s objectives. According to media reports, Mullah Omar has made it clear that the local Taliban units should concentrate on fighting international troops and not the Pakistani military. In particular, the TTP, led by Hakimullah Mehsud, has been hitting Pakistani targets at will and creating mayhem within Pakistan.
If the Taliban, led by the new five-member shura, has to promise Pakistan that they would not target the military, what would they expect in return? What can Pakistan offer? For the last two months, there has been a separate negotiation between the security forces and the Taliban within Pakistan.
Pakistan is most likely to agree to the Taliban demands of stopping the combing and anti-militancy operations with the FATA and let the various Taliban factions use the region as a staging ground and safe haven for attacking the American-led international troops in Afghanistan.
What does the above mean? It implies four issues.
- First, 2012 would be extremely bloody for the international troops. There will be more raids against them and perhaps even open fight in select places.
- Second, the Afghan government led by Karzai will be more vulnerable than ever before. With the Americans pressurizing him on the one side to make a deal with the ‘moderate’ Taliban, and a violent insurgency on the other, his ability to provide good governance in Afghanistan would decline. Even more importantly, the local population would see the government as incapable.
- Third, if the Taliban factions within Pakistan are to concentrate on Afghanistan, there would be temporary relief. However, much would depend on what the Punjabi fighters who have been fighting along with the TTP do. Will they also follow the Taliban and cross the Durand? Or will they cross the Indus instead and come back into Punjab? If the former happens, it would be deadly for Afghanistan, for the Punjabi fighters carry a sectarian streak within them. If the latter happens, there would be a sectarian war in Punjab and Sindh.
- Fourth, if Pakistan allows the Taliban to use the FATA as a safe haven and a staging post, US-Pakistan relations would further deteriorate. What options does the US have to upset the above? More drone attacks? Or diplomatic pressure? Whatever may be the nature of this pressure, the relationship between the two countries will remain strained.
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS & Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia
email: [email protected]