Malik Siraj Akbar is a SAF Group Scholarship student from Pakistan, class of 2006 at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai, India. He writes While it is difficult to say who is or is not a Talib, one thing is clear: Quetta and other areas are swarming with people who are rabidly anti-US.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly accused Pakistan of being a source of shelter and support for the revived Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. But in an interview with Newsweek on 2nd October, Karzai took his accusations one step further by saying that Mullah Omar was in Quetta “for sure” and that President Pervez Musharraf knew this. In fact, according to Karzai, Afghanistan had given Musharraf the GPS numbers of Omar’s house as well as the telephone number.
The Taliban enjoy the overwhelming moral support of some sections of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal, the second largest partner in the Balochistan government. “The MMA has been a vocal opponent of government raids against the suspected Taliban,” said an observer.
|Maulana Noor Mohammad, provincial chief of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), has been one of the biggest opponents of operations against suspected Taliban in Quetta. When the government arrested around 200 Taliban suspects in July this year, he organised a large public rally in Quetta to condemn these raids against those he called, “our Muslim brothers”. “The government is only pleasing its western masters,” Noor said.
In fact, critics of Musharraf’s Taliban policy say that the biggest problem with it is that Musharraf is careful not to crack down too heavily on powerful Islamist radicals – a mix of clerics, army generals and spies – who have retained their Taliban links. “There seems to be a twin-track policy, even if it sometimes moves in opposite directions,” one western official says. “This means that officials turn a blind eye to Taliban in centres such as Quetta.”
This year, law enforcement agencies in Quetta conducted what they claim to be several successful raids against the suspected Taliban at religious schools and private hospitals. Such raids take place about once a month. Earlier in July this year, Quetta police rounded up about 100 Afghan nationals who they said were all Taliban operatives. The arrested persons also included a Taliban commander, Hamdullah. Following the tip-off provided by Hamdullah, the police conducted another raid the same week and arrested a hundred Taliban suspects from a madrassah.
“Who can say with any amount of certainty that the arrested men were actually Taliban,” points one observer.
On August 15, the police rounded up around 29 Taliban suspects following a successful raid on a private hospital in Quetta. The suspected Taliban were reportedly under-treatment in Quetta when the police nabbed them. Then, on September 14, Quetta police claimed to have arrested another 14 Taliban in a similar raid on another private hospital.
While the US-led hunt for the Taliban continues relentlessly in Afghanistan, sources say finding the insurgents is a far easier task in neighbouring Pakistan: you just stroll down to the shops in Quetta where you find posters of Osama bin Laden brandishing a Kalashnikov and cassettes with recordings of speeches and poems calling young men to join the jihad or mourning martyrs. Gory covers match the themes – crossed swords dripping with infidel blood, battlewagons loaded with black-turbaned fighters, and beatific images of bearded militants now detained in Guant�namo Bay.
According to a British newspaper, the men sitting cross-legged behind the counter call themselves staunch Taliban supporters. “We will not go home until there is an Islamic government in Afghanistan,” says shop owner, Muhammad Gul. Others go much further: “I am a mujahid and I will fight to the end of my life,” says Yar Muhammad, a 22-year-old Talib who says he has just completed guerrilla operations in Afghanistan.
Later, in the car, he describes the insurgent’s life of training to fire rockets and planting roadside bombs; conducting night-time attacks against Americans and then escaping under the nose of three armies. “We change our clothes and take off the turban to disguise ourselves. Some Taliban even shave,” he says.
Sources say many like Muhammad have now come to Quetta’s religious seminaries from where they will go back to the battle. “The terrain [in Balochistan] is very favourable to the insurgents,” says Shoukat Haider Changezi, director general of the Levies, a rural police force. “The state would need a phenomenal amount of resources to be effective.”
Pak-Afghan relations have, at this point, hit an all-time low. There is now talk of holding jirgas with tribal elders to empower them and move them away from supporting the Taliban. With all else having failed, it is difficult to say how far this plan will go to stabilise the region and help cut down on insurgent raids.