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Pashtun Taliban Insurgency
Pakistan's Strategy

Pakistan fears an independent Afghan state aligned with India. Pakistani elites would prefer to see Pashtun ambitions externalized, in the pursuit of power in Afghanistan, rather than turned inward, in the pursuit of greater autonomy, or even independence for Pashtunistan.

Pakistan entered into a Faustian bargain with extremist militant groups. Since Zia ul-Haq's days, a great infrastructure that spews out fighters had been built up by the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Army and the bureaucracy, streatching along the border with Afghanistan from Balochistan to the end of the North West Frontier Province. For years, the ISI worked closely with the groups in training Pakistan's own network of militants to protect the country's interests in neighbouring Afghanistan and later to fight the conflict in Kashmir. At little expense, these groups helped provide Pakistan with "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, and then tied down hundreds of thousands of Indian troops in Kashmir.

The jehadi talent developed in the anti-Soviet conflict was redirected to Kashmir (among other places). The departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan and the rise in militancy in Kashmir came in the same year - 1989. Before 1990, the Kashmir Valley was relatively free of violence. When the mujahedeen were victorious in Kabul, yhey were redirected toward Kashmir. Since 1996, after the Taliban takeover in Kabul, militant Islamic groups from Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken over the struggle in Kashmir.

The level and exact nature of Pakistan's continued involvement in Afghanistan since the Soviet defeat is unclear. Many observers claimed that Pakistan continued to provide military support to its favorite mujahideen, especially to longtime ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In 1993 it seemed the change of government in Pakistan that brought Benazir Bhutto to power, perhaps with the encouragementof Washington, led to Pakistan's withdrawal of support to Hekmatyar. The sudden appearance in October 1994 of the Taleban prompted numerous reports that Pakistan was behind that group's striking military success, including victory over the forces of Hekmatyar.

Hizb-i Islami's leader - former anti-Soviet mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - is alleged to have been involved in the Afghan narcotics trade since the 1980s. While the Taliban are loyal predominantly to the Pashtun cause, Gulbuddin Hikmetyar's Hizb-i Islami Gulbuddin movement seems geared less to its purported brand of radical Islam than to simply regaining power for its veteran mujahiddin leader. For both, Al Qaeda is rather less of an ideological brother and more of a cash-rich and well connected support structure, particularly given the antipathy of Afghans towards the Arabs.

Because the Taliban and its leadership in Kandahari was central to Pakistan's strategy in Afghanistan, just as Kashmiri militants are with respect to India, the Government of Pakistan refrained from attacking them in any decisive fashion. Musharraf's decisions in this regard since 2001 reflected the consensus among the senior commanders of the Army and, thus the preferences of the military-dominated state. Islamabad's main concern is indigenous militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Successive Pakistani governments have taken turns fighting them, appeasing them, playing one militant group against the other, or using them to make trouble in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Pakistan would concentrate most of its military forces on the Indian border, not the Afghan border. Despite having approximately 80,000 to 100,000 troops in the FATA, including Army and Frontier Corps (FC) units, the Government of Pakistan's authority in the area continued to be challenged. One of the reasons why al-Qaida was able to find safe haven in northwestern Pakistan after the rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan was that most of Pakistan's military resources were concentrated near the Indian border during the first half of 2002.

Militant groups "went rogue" after President Musharraf threw in his lot in with the Americans post-9/11, and increasingly operate outside the control of Pakistan's intelligence services. The militant groups had derived influence from their affiliations with powerful fundamentalist political parties in Pakistan, but as the militants were driven underground the political parties became less of a brake on their actions.

The Pakistani military - most notably the army - is designed to fight India, the world's second-most-populous nation and Pakistan's neighbor to the east. But large formations of conventionally trained troops are not going to help in the tribal areas. Rather, the Pakistani army learned the hard way that the tribal areas require a classic counterinsurgency campaign.

On 13 January 2002, in an attempt to defuse tensions with neighboring India, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf promised to crack down on militants suspected of committing acts of violence against India. In a nationally televised speech, Musharraf also called on India to begin talks with Pakistan but he warns that any attempt to cross the Pakistani border will be met with "full force." In a widely anticipated speech, General Musharraf, said he will not permit terrorist activities on Pakistani soil. He outlawed two Pakistan-based separatist Kashmiri groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, which India blamed for the December 2001 deadly attack on its parliament. The Pakistani leader said his country's dispute with India over Kashmir should not be used as a pretext by extremists in Pakistan.

In June 2002, hostilities between India and Pakistan escalated, bringing the region close to war. However, American-brokered talks secured agreement by Pakistan to stop militant incursions into India-administered Kashmir. Subsquently, factions fighting Indian forces in Kashmir have become increasingly Islamist, emphasizing religious over nationalist objectives. Levels of violence have declined since the start of peace talks in 2004.

The FATA region is nominally under Pakistani control, but it's administered under the Frontier Criminal Regulation originally put in place by the British. Overall literacy in the region is about 18 percent, with the female literacy rate at 3 percent. With the exception of some countries in Africa, the region has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the world.

In 2002, Pakistan moved regular forces into the tribal areas for the first time. Meanwhile, US and coalition forces were driving the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies out of Afghanistan. The Pakistanis tried to stop the flow of Taliban fighters and also to prevent the displacement of al Qaeda elements from Afghanistan into Pakistan. They were not able to do that. The Pakistani army was regarded as an occupying force in the tribal areas. The effort to maintain order and keep militants out of the tribal areas backfired, and the army became a factor in the increasing violence in the region.

Some analysts in Pakistan and elsewhere maintain that solving the FATA problem requires bringing the tribal areas under the full control of the central Pakistani state, and facilitating major economic development. By 2009 the new government of Asif Zardari appeared to agree.

Pakistan’s army had launched offensives over the years against some groups in parts of the tribal region, but it had not carried out a broad offensive as sought by Afghanistan and the United States. Instead, Washington targeted militants in the region through drone strikes, a policy that has created deep resentment in much of Pakistan. Successive governments in Pakistan often preferred to keep the status quo in FATA instead of taking a chance on uncertain military or political strategies that face steep challenges.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif repeatedly described the militancy originating from FATA as a threat to Pakistan. His administration was reaching out to the Taliban with peace talks in early 2014, but it also has not ruled out a broader military offensive. Prime Minister Sharif’s peace initiative drew criticism from within and outside the country because the government refused to discuss its agenda for the talks with the Taliban, or to say how far it was willing to go to negotiate peace. The government defended the peace process, saying they want to try all possible peaceful means before considering a military offensive again Taliban strongholds.

Islamabad began ae counterterrorism operation on 15 June 2014 by bombing suspected targets from the air. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the action after peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban collapsed because of repeated terrorist attacks. Pakistan's military began a ground offensive 30 June 2014 against terrorist hideouts in North Waziristan, following two weeks of aerial bombing and evacuation of civilians from the region. The northwestern tribal territory bordering Afghanistan had long been a source of domestic and international terrorist activities.

The Pakistani army said 29 October 2014 the months-long battle against terrorists in North Waziristan region had been a success, as the militant death toll in the region hit 1,100. The four-month-long military offensive in North Waziristan is going according to plan and its impact is being noticed across the country with a decrease in terrorist attacks, extortion and kidnappings, army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, confirmed. At least 86 Pakistani soldiers also had been killed during the operations since June when the army started its clean-up operations along the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain on January 07, 2015 signed into law legislation allowing creation of military courts to swiftly try civilian terrorism suspects. Parliament approved the measure the previous day. The controversial courts were part of National Action Plan (NAP) that the government took to clamp down on Islamist militancy after Taliban gunmen attacked a Peshawar school and killed 134 children along with 16 staff members in December 2014. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bloodshed and vowed to carry out more such attacks. Prime Minister Sharif reinstated the death penalty two days after the December 16 school attack in Peshawar. Authorities plan to execute around 500 other people sentenced to death.

Supporters of the military courts cite deadly attacks on civilian judges, prosecutors, police officers and flaws in existing laws for low conviction rates in terrorism-related cases in past years. Even staunch critics of the Pakistani military, like Senator Afrasiab Khattak, voted for the army-run courts. “We are at war with terrorism," he said, adding "the situation of the country is such that we required speedy courts that would decide the fate of terrorists in no time."

Pakistan must fight all militant groups that threaten Afghan, Indian and US interests, US Secretary of State John Kerry as said 13 January 2015. Speaking in Islamabad, Kerry mentioned among the terror groups the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan’s foreign adviser Sartaj Aziz said that “action will be taken without discrimination against all groups.” The West has suspected Pakistan of fighting some militants while supporting those regarded as strategic assets to be used against rivals and neighbors, India and Afghanistan.

In a move described by experts as “paradigm shift” in its security policy, Pakistan planned to ban 12 terror groups, including notorious Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Haqqani network, which Islamabad has long been reluctant to clamp down on. The decision to ban the organizations is to be formally announced in the “coming days,” The Express Tribune reported 15 January 2015, citing senior officials. The news comes soon after the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Islamabad and Washington’s move to declare the fugitive chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Mullah Fazlullah as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” With the new ban, the number of outlawed groups in Pakistan would reach 72.

Additionally, as part of a crackdown on banned outfits working under new names, more than two thousand suspected extremists across the country have been detained and around five thousand people have been placed on a new terrorist watch list.

By January 2015 officials had reported killing around two thousand militants in and around the Waziristan region since the Pakistani Army launched a broad offensive in June. Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have been displaced by the operations, which saw the army seize control of areas long held by militant groups.

In the wake of the July 2015 announcement of long-time Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death in 2013 and Mullah Mansour’s attempt to consolidate the movement behind his leadership, Afghan, Pakistani, and other interlocutors continue to emphasize the importance of political reconciliation. However, the Taliban’s resilience throughout the second half of 2015 demonstrated their resolve to continue fighting.

Despite increased bilateral dialogue with Pakistan early in 2015, a number of events over the last six months, including several high-profile attacks in Kabul in August and a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on a Pakistani Air Force Base in Peshawar in September 2015, challenged Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation. Nevertheless, Afghanistan and Pakistan relations remained essential to progress against terrorist and militant groups on both sides of their shared border. A return to more frequent high-level political and military-to-military engagements such as those that occurred earlier in 2015 would be an important signal of the direction of bilateral cooperation.

By the end of 2016 around 200,000 Pakistani troops were engaged in major operations against local and foreign terrorist groups to secure its 2,600-kilometer porous frontier with Afghanistan. The groups are blamed for deadly attacks in both the countries.

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Page last modified: 25-11-2016 12:01:31 ZULU