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Ahmed Rashid: Civil war if Taliban make further inroads

Taliban supporters march in Swat Valley, Pakistan

Taliban supporters march in Swat Valley, Pakistan Photo: AP

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


If the Taliban encroach any further into Punjab and Karachi, there will be bloody civil war on account of existing ethnic and sectarian fault-lines, journalist and scholar Ahmed Rashid said on Monday.

He was delivering a lecture titled “Pakistan and Afghanistan: quest for peace or recipe for war?” at the Mohatta Palace. Rashid said that the Swat deal was made by the Awami National Party (ANP) government out of “desperation”, and had proved disastrous in terms of “expansion” of the Taliban, abrogating the Constitution, the reluctance of army to go there. It has also compounded the refugee crisis because the number of displaced persons has increased to one million.

There was no “Sharia” in Swat; it was, in fact, “Taliban law”, which was anti-women and anti-education, Rashid maintained. He said the Taliban now had a large pool of suicide bombers whose age was 15 years and they could turn potential extremists into suicide bombers within “four days”. Earlier, he said, it took them at least three months to groom a suicide bomber.

Talking from his personal research in Kohat, Rashid said that now the Taliban provided a package deal, containing Rs20,000 per month, a motorcycle and mobile phone to potential terrorists. He said that despite much talk of Madressah reforms during the Musharraf era, the number of seminaries had increased from 12,000 in 2001 to 18,000 now and many of these new religious schools were being run by Jihadi organisations.

He said in contrast to Afghanistan where the Taliban comprised mainly Pakhtoons, the Pakistan Taliban were emerging as a “multi-ethnic group”, having links in Punjab, Sindh, and other areas.

He said with the aligning of Kashmiri and Punjabi groups, which were anti-India and turned against Gen. (retd) Musharraf in 2006 when he made peace moves towards New Delhi, Tehrik-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now comprised 40 militant groups. He said this movement had now developed its own agenda of imposing Shariah. Massive donations from charitable organisations inside the country and from the Gulf countries and drugs were the three major sources of funding for the Taliban.

Rashid termed the failure of the Pakistani state to protect lives of 300 Maliks (tribal heads) in FATA who were slaughtered by Taliban the biggest mistake. As a result, the government not only lost goodwill there but also support of the “tribal structure.” Rashid believed all problems emanated from lack of comprehensive policy of the Bush administration about Afghanistan, which diverted its focus on Iraq. Its main focus was to capture Osama bin Laden and similarly, Pakistan also ignored Taliban for its own reasons. Gen. Musharraf also did not touch Taliban and kept them in reserve in case US left Afghanistan alone and focus its attention on capturing Al-Qaeda leaders only. Elements in the army and the Intelligence agencies also remained in touch with them to preserve “Jihadi nexus” against India. He opined the Obama administration’s “regional strategy” was likely to put pressure on Pakistan, Iran and India and Central Asian States to resolve their disputes and rivalries and focus on the “terrorism” issue. He said as 80pc of US aid during the Musharraf regime went to the army, which was used against India, the Obama administration had now focused on civil programmes with conditionalties that may be difficult for Pakistan to meet. It is because of this reason that President Asif Zardari’s visit to USA would be critical.

He claimed the US government would not back a military coup in Pakistan because of perceived resistance by the “left wing” among the Democrats. Besides it would provide an excuse to the Republicans to say that there was no different between Obama and Bush.

About the Balochistan insurgency, he said it was for the first time that the Baloch elite were expressing their frustration, which, he added, could still have a solution. He said Pakistan needed to redefine its national security as India was focusing on its economy. —IA (The News)

Taliban take over Mingora

* Army officer, soldier killed in Taliban attacks
* Troops ‘exercising restraint to honour peace agreement’
* Taliban blow up school

MINGORA/RAWALPINDI: The Swat peace agreement crumbled on Monday as Taliban took over Mingora, the district headquarters, taking positions atop government and private buildings and patrolling the deserted streets.

“The city is in complete control of the Taliban, who say they are taking positions to guard the local population,” Mingora residents said. But the Taliban did not elaborate who they were protecting the city against.

Business centres and shops remained closed.

Local residents said both the security forces and the Taliban set up checkposts on roads leading to Mingora and soldiers were seen on high alert in Kabal.

Military authorities had announced curfew in the city from 7pm to 6am and had warned the violators of stern action.

Officer, soldier killed: In Rawalpindi, the Inter-Services Public Relations said the Taliban had killed another soldier and an officer in various incidents of violence.

“The security forces are still exercising restraint to honour the peace agreement,” it said. The army officer was killed when the Taliban attacked a security convoy in Barrikot early on Monday. Two soldiers were injured in the ensuing gunfight.

A soldier was killed when the Taliban raided a checkpost in Shangla. They also demolished a vacant police checkpost in Yakhtangi in Shangla, and burnt three private trucks in Biladram and Chamtalai. Three Taliban were reported killed in a clash with troops in Maidan.

DSP’s house: The Taliban burnt the house of a police deputy superintendent in Kumber, and robbed the house of the Maidan Union Council nazim in Lower Dir. They abducted a number of civilians from Kot Haya Sarai in Maidan. The Taliban also blew up a government high school building in Tandoodhag area. Sources in Shangla said the Taliban had told a jirga they had entered Shangla to stop the security forces from entering Swat and Buner.

Meanwhile, intermediate exams at nine centres in Buner were cancelled, and the Swat DCO told a private TV channel that curfew had been imposed in Swat for an indefinite period. staff report/ daily times monitor

US options in Pakistan limited

LAHORE/ WASHINGTON: In briefings last week, senior US officials told US President Barack Obama and his National Security Council that neither a Taliban takeover nor a military coup was imminent and that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal was safe, the Washington Post has reported. For the longer term, however, the intelligence was far from reassuring. Security was deteriorating and there were signs that groups sympathetic to the Taliban were working in Punjab. The political leadership was mired in bickering; the army remained ill-equipped and unwilling to fight the insurgency. But Obama has only limited options for dealing with the threat(s). The anti-American feeling is high, and a US combat presence prohibited. The US has to fight Pakistan’s Taliban through an army over which it has little control. The tools at hand are money, weapons, and a mentoring relationship that alternates between advice and criticism. Meanwhile, according to AFP, in his talks with President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai this week, President Obama will raise concerns about nuclear proliferation and resurgent extremism. daily times monitor/afp (Daily Times)