Posts Tagged ‘ Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan ’

Pakistani Taliban Splintering Into Factions

By Kathy Gannon for The Associated Press

Battered by Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, the once-formidable Pakistani Taliban has splintered into more than 100 smaller factions, weakened and running short of cash, according to security officials, analysts and tribesmen from the insurgent heartland.

The group, allied with al Qaeda and based in northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border, has been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan over the last 4½ years. Known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, the Taliban want to oust the U.S.-backed government and install a hard-line Islamist regime. They also have international ambitions and trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010.

“Today, the command structure of the TTP is splintered, weak and divided, and they are running out of money,” said Mansur Mahsud, a senior researcher at the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) Research Center. “In the bigger picture, this helps the army and the government because the Taliban are now divided.”

The first signs of cracks within the Pakistani Taliban appeared after its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike in August 2009, Mr. Mahsud said. Since then, the group has deteriorated steadily.

Set up in 2007, the Pakistani Taliban is an umbrella organization created to represent roughly 40 insurgent groups in the tribal belt plus al-Qaeda-linked groups headquartered in Pakistan‘s eastern Punjab province.

“In the different areas, leaders are making their own peace talks with the government,” Mr. Mahsud added. “It could help the Pakistani government and military separate more leaders from the TTP and more foot soldiers from their commanders.”

The two biggest factors hammering away at the Taliban’s unity are U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani army operations in the tribal region.

Turf wars have flared as militants fleeing the Pakistani military operations have moved into territory controlled by other militants, sometimes sparking clashes between groups. And as leaders have been killed either by drones or the Pakistani army, lieutenants have fought among themselves over who will replace them.

“The disintegration … has accelerated with the Pakistan military operation in South Waziristan and the drone attacks by the United States in North Waziristan,” Mr. Mahsud said, referring to the two tribal agencies that are the heartland of the Pakistani Taliban.

Another factor is the divide-and-conquer strategy that Pakistan‘s military long has employed in its dealings with militants. Commanders have broken away from the TTP and set up their own factions, weakening the organization. Battles have broken out among the breakaway factions, and in one particularly remote tribal region the TTP was thrown out. These growing signs of fissures among the disparate groups that make up the Pakistani Taliban indicate the military’s strategy could be paying off.

That would explain the mixed signals this month coming out of the tribal belt, where some militants are mulling the idea of peace talks with the government, others are offering to stop fighting, and still others are disavowing both peace and a cease-fire. It might also explain a steady decline in suicide attacks in Pakistan, according to the privately run Pak Institute for Peace Studies.

The U.S. is eager to see some benefits in neighboring Afghanistan, where its troops have come under attack from militants based across the border in Pakistan. NATO forces in Afghanistan are trying to break the back of the Afghan insurgency before the end of the U.S.-led coalition’s combat mission in 2014.

There is no evidence so far that fissures within the militant structure in Pakistan are helping NATO and U.S. forces.

The deadly Haqqani network, which has bases both in Pakistan and Afghanistan and is affiliated with al Qaeda, is one of the most lethal threats to coalition troops. It long has found safe haven in Pakistan‘s tribal belt and has used the Pakistani Taliban as a source of recruits. Senior U.S. officials say the Haqqanis also receive support from Pakistan‘s army and intelligence agency, a charge Islamabad denies.

Analysts predict that over time, however, the internecine feuding in the Pakistani Taliban will take a toll on militants fighting in Afghanistan, making it increasingly difficult for them to find recruits and restricting territory available to them.

Pakistan‘s military has rebuffed appeals from Washington to take on all of the insurgent groups in the tribal region, saying it has neither the men nor the weapons to do so. Instead, Islamabad has pushed its divide-and-conquer approach, which is gaining some traction in the United States, according to two Western officials in the region.

The officials say the success of this approach will be measured in Washington by its ability to curb Haqqani network attacks in Afghanistan. The officials requested to remain anonymous in order to speak candidly.

Cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan suffered a serious setback a week ago when NATO aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts. The Nov. 26 incident seems certain to blunt any prospect of Pakistan taking direct steps to curb the Haqqani network, analysts say.

In the wake of the attack, intelligence sharing has stopped, military-to-military contact has been suspended, routes supplying nonlethal goods to NATO in Afghanistan have been shut, and Pakistan has withdrawn its offer to bring Taliban and representatives of the Haqqani network to the negotiating table.

Pakistan also announced it will boycott next month’s conference in Bonn, Germany, to find ways to stabilize Afghanistan.

There is no independent figure on how many Taliban fighters operate in the tribal regions, but it is estimated to be in the thousands. Upward of 130 groups are in the area, Mr. Mahsud said, some of them small, violent offshoots of larger groups.

They have varying loyalties to a handful of key commanders such as Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Popular support dwindled for Mr. Mehsud after his group was driven out of South Waziristan by the military and relocated to North Waziristan, according to tribesmen in the area. They spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals from militants.

The Pakistani army has brokered agreements with some Taliban factions, according to a senior Pakistani security official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic. But there are no peace talks under way with Mr. Mehsud, who has declared war on Pakistan, the official said.

A brash and heavy-handed insurgent, Mr. Mehsud has killed former allies, defied orders from the Haqqani network’s chief and developed close links with criminal gangs who kidnap, extort and exploit the local population.

He also has made enemies of former lieutenants in other parts of the tribal region, such as neighboring Kurram Agency, where a deputy, Fazl Saeed Haqqani, split with Mr. Mehsud three months ago and formed his own Islami-Tehrik-e-Taliban group.

In yet another tribal region of Orakzai, where Mr. Mehsud once held sway, members of feuding groups are now killing one another.

How to Win Back Pakistan

By Michael O’Hanlon for Foreign Policy

Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, the United States should have a clear idea of Pakistan’s interests there. It’s time to take these lessons to heart — and start applying the right incentives. As recent intelligence findings reported in late October confirm, Pakistan remains at the heart of the U.S.-led coalition’s problems in Afghanistan — where the war is hardly lost, yet hardly headed for clear victory either. Indeed, Pakistan arguably remains the most complex ally the United States has ever had in wartime, making President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s challenges in dealing with Stalin (a far worse leader, but at least one who knew the outcome he wanted) seem simple by comparison.

Nine years into the campaign, we still can’t clearly answer the question of whether Pakistan is with us or against us. America needs bold new policy measures to help Islamabad — in all its many dimensions and factions — make up its mind.

The crux of the problem is this: Despite allowing massive NATO logistics operations through its territory and helping the United States pursue al Qaeda operatives, Pakistan tolerates sanctuaries on its soil for the major insurgencies fighting in Afghanistan. These include the Afghan Taliban (otherwise known as the Quetta Shura Taliban because its principle base remains in Quetta in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan) as well as the Haqqani and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) networks. The Haqqanis straddle the border between the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika as well as North Waziristan and other tribal areas within Pakistan; HiG is further north, operating in and around the Khyber Pass connecting Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan with Peshawar and points east in Pakistan. Thus, all three major Afghan insurgent groups have home bases in Pakistan, and despite the occasional drone strike are generally beyond NATO’s reach as a result.

Pakistan has done some worthy things against extremists in its remote northern and western areas in recent years. Specifically, it has recognized the so-called Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) as a mortal threat to the Pakistani state and responded accordingly. After suffering hundreds of bombings and assassination attacks by the TTP, including the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and several thousand casualties a year to its troops and citizens since roughly that time, it has responded in force, particularly over the last year and a half or so. It has swung about 100,000 troops previously guarding the border with Pakistan’s nemesis India to the northwestern tribal regions and cleared several major areas including South Waziristan, Bajaur, and the Swat Valley. This is all to the good.

Pakistanis argue, however, that limited numbers of ground troops combined with the past year’s admittedly devastating floods prevent them from doing more. Quetta, North Waziristan, and other key places remain dens of iniquity, havens for extremists who continue to attack NATO and Afghan troops across the border and then return home for rest, regrouping, and fresh recruiting. Major command-and-control hubs are permanently located within Pakistan as well, and key insurgent leaders like Mullah Omar (to say nothing of Osama bin Laden) probably remain safely ensconced on Pakistani territory where U.S. forces cannot get at them.

But even if limited Pakistani capacity is part of the problem, there’s more at stake. Pakistan worries that President Barack Obama’s promise to start reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan come July will lead to anarchy and civil conflict next door, and it is retaining proxies that it can use to ensure that its top goal in Afghanistan — keeping India out — can be accomplished come what may. Pakistan would rather have the Taliban and the Haqqanis back in power, especially in the country’s south and east, than any group like the former Northern Alliance, which it views as too close to New Delhi. It is this strategic calculation, more than constrained Pakistani resources, that constitutes Obama’s main challenge in Afghanistan. And it could cost him the war.

Under these circumstances, part of the right policy is to keep doing more of what the Obama administration has been doing with Pakistan — building trust, as with last month’s strategic dialogue in Washington; increasing aid incrementally, as with the new five-year $2 billion aid package announced during that dialogue; and coordinating militarily across the border region. But Obama also needs to think bigger.

First, he needs to make clear America’s commitment to South Asia, to wean Pakistan away from its current hedging strategy. Obama has frequently used general language to try to reassure listeners in the region that there will be no precipitous U.S. withdrawal next summer. But few fully believe him. Hearing stories like Bob Woodward’s accounts of how the vice president and White House advisors have generally opposed a robust counterinsurgency strategy in favor of a counterterrorism-oriented operation with far fewer U.S. troops, they worry that next summer’s withdrawal will be fast. Obama needs to explain that he will not revert to such a minimalist “Plan B” approach under any imaginable circumstances. More appropriate would be a “Plan A-minus” that involves a gradual NATO troop drawdown as Afghan forces grow in number and capability, without necessarily first stabilizing the entire south and east, should the current strategy not turn around the violence by next summer or so. This would represent a modification to the current plan rather than a radical departure. The president can find a way to signal that this is in fact his own thinking, sooner rather than later — ideally before the year is out.

Second, Obama should offer Islamabad a much more expansive U.S.-Pakistani relationship if it helps win this war. Two major incentives would have particular appeal to Pakistan. One is a civilian nuclear energy deal like that being provided to India; Pakistan’s progress on export controls in the wake of the A.Q. Khan debacle has been good enough so far to allow a provisional approval of such a deal if other things fall into place as well. Second is a free trade accord. Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point.

But the key point is this: Pakistan should be told that these deals will only be possible if the United States and its allies prevail in Afghanistan. Small gestures of greater helpfulness are not adequate; bottom-line results are what count and what are needed. If Afghanistan turns around in a year or two, the deals can be set in motion and implemented over a longer period that will allow the United States to continually monitor subsequent Pakistani cooperation in the war.

It may seem harsh to Pakistan that America would put things in such stark terms — but in fact, it is not realistic that any U.S. president or Congress would carry out such deals if the United States loses the war in Afghanistan partly due to Pakistani perfidy. As such, these terms are really just common sense, and they are based on political realism about America’s domestic politics as well as its strategic interests.

America’s current strategy for the war in Afghanistan is much improved. But it is not yet sound enough to point clearly toward victory. The most crucial problem is the role of Pakistan in the war, and so far, the Obama administration is not thinking creatively enough about how to fix it.

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