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Pakistan Army’s ‘Good Taliban’ Policy Unlikely to Change

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One year after Pakistan’s most prized “Good Taliban” asset, the former Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, ‘escaped’ from the military’s custody, the Pakistan Army spokesman declared before correspondents of foreign media that all efforts are being made to re-arrest him but the security forces weren’t aware of his whereabouts. Actually Pakistan Army made similar statements about Osama Bin Laden and we all know how that played out – the most wanted terrorist in the world was living a stone’s throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy and yet no one knew anything about his whereabouts. Therefore, no one would easily buy into the claims of the ISPR chief regarding Ehsanullah Ehsan. The reason is simple: the Pakistan Army has still not given up making a distinction between “good Taliban”(those who follow instructions and orders of the military) and “bad Taliban” (those who are recalcitrant and try to forge an autonomous, even independent path). In other words, Pakistan doesn’t have a problem with Taliban; it only has a problem with Taliban who don’t take their lead from the Pakistan Army.

The same policy extends also to the Afghan Taliban. In the February press conference, the DG ISPR indulged in typical Pakistani obfuscation aimed at assuring, but actually misleading Western policy makers. According to Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar, “It is impossible for the Taliban to recapture Kabul and that Pakistan would support them. It isn’t going to happen.” This is clear deception. Even in the 1990s the Pakistanis played this game. Back then they fully backed the Taliban offensive, even deputing officers and Non-Commissioned Officers to guide Taliban military operations. But for international consumption, the Pakistanis made a show of indulging in frenetic diplomatic activity aimed at finding a negotiated solution to the civil war. The same playbook is being used today. The Pakistanis know that their proxies – Afghan Taliban – are not only likely to capture Kabul, but will do so with ‘unstinting’ Pakistani support. In fact, Pakistan would like nothing better than to see the Taliban Emirate restored in Kabul. That is precisely what Pakistan has worked towards over the last 20 years, since 9/11. Having invested so much in the Taliban, there is no way that the Pakistanis are going to change their strategy when they are so close to achieving the objective for which they have dared even the sole superpower for two decades now.

But it is not only the Afghan Taliban which Pakistan sees as the “good Taliban”. Even among the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani Establishment distinguishes between the “Good and Bad Taliban” on the basis of who does Pakistan’s bidding. During the worst days of TTP violence between 2007-15, even when the Taliban were attacking civilians and security forces daily, there was a calibrated approach that the Pakistan Army followed in curbing the activities of the Islamist jihadists. The Pakistan Army went out of its way to sign peace deals, sometimes agreeing to humiliating conditions, to appease the Pakistani Taliban. There was a conviction among the top military leadership that the Taliban were their strategic assets; the only play that Pakistan had in the Great Game that was taking place in the Af-Pak region. As a result, these jihadists had to be nurtured, protected, and when they stepped out of line, nudged back into line. This reining in was done through the many ‘operations’ – almost all of them piecemeal – that were carried out in one part or the other of the Pashtun tribal belt straddling the border with Afghanistan.

It was only when things really spiralled out of control, that the Pakistanis were forced to move against the Taliban, at which time they became the “bad Taliban”. For instance, in Swat, the Taliban depredations had continued right under the nose of the Pakistan Army. The killings, kidnappings, extortion, Islamic diktats, the FM radio stations delivering blood curdling sermons were all happening taking place in the face of the Pak Army. There were innumerable instances where army and Taliban checkposts were separated by just a few meters. But it was only after an international hue and cry – Taliban are just 60 miles away from Islamabad – that the Army was forced to launch a major operation. But every operation was carried out selectively. The Army pretended the operation was indiscriminate, but on the sly it would give free and safe passage to Taliban elements who stayed on the right side of the military. For instance, when the Operation Rah-e-Nijat was launched in South Waziristan, the Taliban under Mullah Nazir were left unmolested. When the much vaunted Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in North Waziristan, both Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the Haqqani Network were given adequate warning. In fact, the Haqqani Network was facilitated in its move to safe areas and settle there just before the operation. Even after the operation, the Pakistan Army allowed every “Bad Taliban” a chance to turn into “Good Taliban”. Many of them were given amnesty and allowed to go back into business. For instance the head of the Punjabi Taliban – Asmatullah Muaviya – was quietly won over and his energies redirected to reigniting the Jihad in Kashmir. From bad Jihad (against Pakistan) to good Jihad (against India) the “Bad Taliban” were overnight transformed into “Good Taliban”.

One of the primary reasons why Pakistan will never let go of the specious distinction it makes between the “good and bad Taliban” is because Pakistan being an Islamic State believes that Islamism is the best antidote and counter to ethnic nationalism. The Taliban being Islamists are therefore seen as an asset against the ethnic nationalists in places like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh. Thus, the Lashkar-e-Taiba is promoted in Sindh to counter Sindhi nationalism; the TTP in tribal districts (former FATA) to counter the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM); and the Sunni death squads of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi led by people like Shafiq Mengal to counter Baloch freedom fighters. The PTM in particular has been agitating against terrorism and has accused the Pakistan Army of bringing back the Taliban in the erstwhile FATA region to intimidate the PTM supporters.

The recent spate of violence – target killings in particular, including those of PTM cadres – is being blamed on the “good or reformed Taliban”. Even the border fence that it being constructed along with Durand Line is a bit of an eyewash because it isn’t so much to prevent Taliban from crossing over as it is to incentivise the “good Taliban”and facilitate their exfiltration while preventing the “bad or recalcitrant Taliban” from infiltrating. The incentivisation is also being done through smuggling joint ventures run by Pakistan’s Frontier Corps which helps to raise the resources for both Afghan as well as Pakistani Taliban. Among other contraband, the smuggling includes narcotics. It also involves facilitating third-parties that are then ‘taxed’ by the Taliban, a part of the proceeds being shared with FC officials.

Pakistan has had to pay a heavy price in the past because of its “good Taliban – bad Taliban” policy because it doesn’t take much for the “good”Taliban to become “bad”. In the 1990s for instance, the Pakistanis backed the Afghan Taliban to the hilt, but the moment they came to power, they refused to endorse the Durand Line. Nor did Mullah Omar’s Taliban curb the activities of Sunni terrorists of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who were wanted by Pakistan. On a host of other issues, the Taliban showed themselves to be autonomous of Pakistan. The situation was similar with the Pakistani Taliban. Of course, Pakistan believes it has learnt its lessons and next time will ensure that the “good Taliban” stay good. One way in which this is sought to be achieved is by ensuring that pro-Pakistan elements like the Haqqani Network occupy a pivotal position in the Taliban ranks and decision making matrix. The Pakistanis have also resorted to target killing of some Taliban commanders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to send home the message that anyone who crosses the Pakistani Establishment will pay a heavy price. In addition, Pakistan has maintained its stranglehold over the Taliban leadership by keeping their families hostage inside Pakistan. How long Pakistan can continue to play this game is not clear. Perhaps once the Taliban come into their own, they will certainly try to get into a position where they can cut the strings that make them vulnerable to Pakistan.

If Pakistan is really sincere about restoring peace in Afghanistan and ushering in an era of development in the region then it has to rubbish all notion of making a distinction between “good and bad” Taliban. This distinction is as meaningless as that other great fiction that Pakistan tried to sell during the Bonn Process after 9/11 – “moderate Taliban”. Apart from being an oxymoron, “moderate Taliban” is a beast that is even more elusive than the Yeti. Pakistan has continued its efforts to make a case for the Taliban; clearly indicating that Islamabad is not ready to either give up on the Taliban or reform its policy towards the region. Apparently, for Pakistan it is a lesson still not learnt.

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Defense

Mobilization Won’t Save Russia from the Quagmire

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photo:© Vitaly Nevar/TASS

When Moscow waged war against Ukraine in February, few expected Russia to end up in a quagmire.  The Russian military failed to achieve its goals, while the Ukrainians fought bravely to defend their nation.  The recent pushback in the Kharkiv region further proved that Russia could not achieve its military goals under the current situation. 

The Russian government takes a new procedure.  President Putin has called for partial mobilization, commissioning the reserved forces and those previously served.  Meanwhile, the Russian government has decided to launch referendums for the occupied areas to join Russia.  Any attacks on those territories in the future could be considered total war and potentially trigger nuclear weapon use.  

It is vital to notice this is only a partial mobilization, only recalling reservists.  However, many Russian politicians and nationalists have called for total mobilization.  Yet, a mobilization, whether partial or complete, is not a prescription to improve Moscow’s performance on the battlefield.  The mobilization, in reality, could further drag Russia into a quagmire. 

Russia does not have the political leverage it had before, home and abroad.  Total mobilization will not change Russia’s diplomatic stalemate.  The war united European countries quickly.  While Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to join NATO, Finland and Sweden have applied to become NATO members, bringing NATO close to Saint Petersburg.  A total mobilization is unlikely to threaten Europe and forces it to change its policy.  Instead, it will further push the European countries to unite in facing Russian aggression.

Even the countries with which Russia has a closer relationship have different opinions.  Indian prime minister Modi has told President Putin to take the path of peace and stop the war in a recent meeting.  India has a close relationship with Russia, and Modi’s criticism is a significant blow to Putin.  Even Central Asia countries have also expressed no interest in Putin’s aggression.  Kazakhstan has clearly stated that it will neither send its military to fight in Ukraine nor recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. A total mobilization and an escalation of the war will further alienate Russia and its allies. 

Domestically, a mobilization could further drag Putin down with his popularity.  Chechnyan president Kadyrov, one of Putin’s close allies, has criticized the war’s progress, reflecting the contrary opinions among Russian elites.  On the everyday citizen level, Putin has also become unpopular.  Immediately after the mobilization was introduced, Russian anti-war groups called for national protests

Militarily, the Russian war machine is not the Soviet Union military that the world trembles.  The Russian army has needed a significant upgrade since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis has dramatically weakened the Russian armed forces.  The failure in the two Chechnyan Wars is the most obvious evidence.  Putin managed to upgrade a portion of the military equipment and provided a better salary to the personnel.  The Russian military still performed decently during its operation in Syria. 

Yet, the scale of upgrade it needs is far from what Kremlin has offered, and the war further dragged the Russian military capacity.  Before the war, Russia chose not to produce and deploy the most advanced tanks because of the lack of money, and the T-14 tank ended up being a showpiece in the military parade.  The corruption within the Russian military is still a problem, leading to the lack of resources directed for military upgrades. 

That’s why Russia still uses the Soviet military legacy in combat.  The Russian armored forces now have to use T-64 tanks from their storage because of the significant loss at the initial stage of the war.  The recruits this summer were only trained for a month before being sent to the frontline.  As for the newly mobilized forces, despite the previously served reservists, it still takes time and equipment to prepare them for operation.  Russia has neither of those, let alone the conscripts are also a part of the reserved forces, making them even more ineffective on the battlefield. 

Moscow’s financial situation to sustain a mobilization remains a big question.  Despite the excellent performance of the Russian Ruble in the currency market, Russia’s economy will still face severe challenges.  Teachers are now required to donate to the war effort, a sign that the war effort is far from successful.  As the announcement of mobilization comes, Moscow’s stock index drops dramatically.  While the sanctions did not work as expected, the Russian economy suffered from the effects.  The banks also reported significant losses in the year’s first half. 

The international price of natural gas and oil has also come down from its peak since European countries finished stacking up their supply earlier.  Meanwhile, UAE and Kuwait are planning to expand their production capacity of natural gas and oil.  Russia’s source of income is far from stable as prices drop and exports and production decline for Russia.

War is a costly activity.  In previous operations in Syria, Russia’s daily cost is around 2.4 to 4 million US dollars.  That was a minor operation with mainly air force participation.  With all forces in action and the war dragging on for more than 200 days, the expenses mounted.  It is believed that the first week of war alone cost Russia 7 billion dollars.  The Kremlin’s decree says that the newly assembled forces will be paid corresponding to the existing personnel.  With that high expense, how will Russia be able to pay for the new troops?  How will Russia be able to replace the equipment and supply its forces?


Moscow believed that by sheer force and lightning warfare, Kyiv would bow down to Moscow.  However, this dream ended with a valiant effort from the Ukrainians to defend the country.  Further mobilization may provide the short-term manpower that Russia needs, but it will not save Russia from the predicament.  The bleak reality in politics, the military, and the economy has made mobilization anything but a save.  

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Rise in mercenary forces trigger ‘rampant’ human rights violations

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Human rights violations committed by mercenaries and private security companies create grave challenges for victims seeking justice and redress, UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Tuesday.

Presenting its new report to the Human Rights Council 51st session, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries said that this was due to the particularity of the perpetrators and the way they operate.

They also noted that the proliferation of mercenaries, contractors operating as soldiers for hire and private security companies in conflict, post-conflict and peacetime settings, has increased the number of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

“Deplorable gaps in accountability, access to justice, and remedies for victims of violations perpetrated by such actors are rampant,” said Sorcha MacLeod, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group, who presented the report to the Council.

‘Victim-centred approach’

The experts explained that, in the contexts in which they operate, the impacts of their actions are of grave concern.

Persons in vulnerable situations, women, children, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, LGBTI+ persons, older persons, minorities, human rights defenders and journalists, are experiencing particularly negative impacts, the experts highlighted.

“Given this bleak situation, a holistic and victim-centred approach is imperative to ensure victims’ effective access to justice and remedy,” Ms. MacLeod said.

Investigate and punish offenders

The report highlights a lack of accountability and the common challenges faced by victims in accessing justice and effective remedies to overcome the damage mercenaries leave in their wake.

It drew specific attention to the secrecy and opacity surrounding the activities of mercenaries, military contractors hired to kill, and private security companies; their complex business and corporate structures, issues related to jurisdiction; and gaps in national and international regulation.

States have obligations under international human rights law to prevent, investigate, and punish violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and to provide effective remedies and reparation to victims of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies,” the experts said.

They concluded by urging States to adopt national legislation to “regulate the activities of these actors, punish perpetrators, and provide redress for victims are part of these implementation efforts”.

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A New Strategic Shifts and A New Strategic Concept of NATO

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, in Madrid at the end of last June, was not just an ordinary summit resembling its predecessors. It looked so different that it might be thought that it might constitute an important turning point in the path of the Alliance.

This summit was held four months after the start of the war that Russia launched against Ukraine. And because it is a war that posed an unprecedented challenge to NATO, due to the exposure of one of the European states nominated for its membership to a direct Russian military invasion, for the first time since the end of World War II, and therefore in the history of the alliance, it is natural that any summit held after that will turn into something like a thermometer that does not only measure the degree of the alliance’s cohesion in facing a challenge of this magnitude, but also the extent of its readiness to respond to it, and to all similar and potential challenges in the future.

Its contract coincided with a time when the Alliance had to issue a new document outlining its strategic concept for the next ten years. Because the last document of this type was issued in 2010, it was assumed that 2020 would be the date of the issuance of the document covering the third era of the twenty-first century, which did not happen due to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, which disrupted the convening of the summit during 2020 and 2021. Thus, fate decided that the date of a summit with the task of formulating a new strategic vision for the alliance coincided with the outbreak of a major crisis, some of whom do not rule out that it would be the starting point in a third world war, which added to the ‘strategic concept’ document signed by NATO leaders on June 29 the past for the period up to 2030 is doubly important and exceptional.

The 2022 document, which is 11 pages in length, includes 49 items distributed on three axes: objectives and principles, the strategic environment, and the main tasks of the alliance (deterrence and defense, prevention and crisis management, cooperative security) a vision that clearly emphasizes that the strategic concept of NATO has undergone fundamental changes, especially if compared to the concept contained in the document issued in 2010. This is from multiple angles: it reflects, first, a clear change in the alliance’s vision of the sources of threats to its security, because the previous document issued in 2010, which reflected the strategic concept of the alliance for the period up to 2020, Terrorism was placed at the top of the list of sources of threat to peace and security at various levels, while this source took steps backward in the 2022 document, and is no longer seen as the main source of threat to the security and stability of the Alliance.

The Russian Federation advanced to occupy the top position on this list. This document spoke of the Russian Federation as ‘the biggest and most direct threat to the security of the Alliance and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region… because it aims to destabilize the countries of our east and south, in the far north.’

Here, it notes the extent of the direct impact of the war in Ukraine on changing the alliance’s vision to the sources of threats to its security and stability. It is also noted that the alliance no longer views Russia as a potential or indirect threat, but rather as a direct military threat. ‘The Russian Federation’s ability to disrupt Allied reinforcements and freedom of navigation across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to it, and Moscow’s military buildup, including in the Baltic, Black Sea, and Mediterranean regions, along with its military integration with Belarus, challenges our security and interests,’ the document says.

On the other hand, it is noted that the 2010 document avoided looking at China as a source of threat to the alliance, only referring to it as an ambitious competitor seeking to enhance its position at the regional and global levels by increasing its economic, scientific, and technological capabilities. As for the 2022 document, it is not only looking at China as an honorable competitor but as a source of threat no less dangerous than Russia. It is true that it does not see China as a direct military threat to the alliance, as is the case with Russia, but it sees, at the same time, that ‘the declared ambitions of the People’s Republic of China, and its adoption of a wide range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global presence and demonstrate strength, and its use of malicious methods it aims to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, strategic materials, and supply chains, and use its economic influence to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence, etc., which constitute a direct threat to the interests, security, and values ​​of the Alliance.

The most interesting point is that this document considers that ‘the deepening of the strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutual attempts to undermine the rules-based international order is incompatible with our values ​​and interests,’ and therefore should be confronted with due firmness.

Secondly, it reflects a clear change in the Alliance’s vision of how to confront sources of threats to its security and stability. After the Alliance, in its previous documents, focused on ‘cooperation, building partnerships, and networking with others,’ as effective means of confronting various sources of threat, we find it focusing on the current document focuses on ‘building our own capabilities, mobilizing resources, and increasing military expenditures.’ It is true that the document clearly stressed that the alliance ‘does not seek to confront Russia, and does not want to be a source of threat to it,’ but at the same time, it was keen to highlight ‘the alliance’s determination to strengthen the deterrent and defensive capabilities of all its members and that it will respond to threats in a unified and responsible manner.’ And it will keep it’s channels of communication open with the Russians to prevent escalation.

On the other hand, it is noted that the document did not recognize any role of the NATO states or the ruling regime in Ukraine in provoking Russia, and pushing it to use force in Ukraine, under the pretext of ensuring the protection of citizens of Russian origin, nor did it refer, from near or far, to feelings of concern. President Putin, after Ukraine, signed a strategic partnership agreement with the United States on November 10, nor to the demands contained in his message to NATO member states, in response to this agreement, which included: A pledge that Ukraine would not join the alliance NATO, not placing offensive weapons on Russia’s borders, and withdrawing NATO forces from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, demands that the United States refused to even discuss, which eventually led to the outbreak of war. Instead, the document proceeded to affirm the right of all countries in the region, especially Eastern European countries, to determine their fate and future, including joining NATO and the European Union and rejecting any interference by the Russian Federation in the internal affairs of these countries.

If we link what was stated in this document and the path taken by the ongoing war in the Ukrainian arena, we will reach a set of conclusions: The first, regarding how to slip into the currently raging military confrontation in the Ukrainian arena, it is not at all unlikely that the United States, through Its organs and institutions that express the thought and orientations of the deep state, have deliberately lured Russia into a confrontation on the Ukrainian arena, and it has been seriously preparing for this confrontation since Russia occupied the Crimea in 2014.

The second: Relates to the essence of the current conflict in this arena. All the parties involved in it realize that its main goal revolves around putting an end to the unilateral Western hegemony over the current world order and establishing a multi-polar world order or, at least, a tri-polar system in which Russia and China participate, which is rejected by the West led by the United States, and explains the return of NATO cohesion After he was threatened with collapse, he explains, at the same time, the West’s insistence on inflicting a military defeat on Russia in the Ukrainian arena, because its victory means, immediately, the collapse of the unipolar international system.

The third: Is related to the tools used in this conflict, as Western countries realize that Russia is the first nuclear power in the world, forcing it not to engage directly in the ongoing conflict with it in the Ukrainian arena, and then to limit itself to the weapon of comprehensive sanctions against Russia, on the one hand, and to submit The maximum possible military, political and economic support for Ukraine, to enable it to win the war, on the other hand.

Fourth: Concerning the future of this conflict. The path taken indicates, on the one hand, that the economic sanctions have not yielded the desired results, and that Russia may be on its way to winning this round of conflict, but it indicates, on the other hand, that the support provided to Ukraine It not only enabled it to hold out and prevent Russia from achieving a quick and decisive victory, but also to recover the many lands it had lost, and to begin to liberate what remained of them, including Crimea. Because it is impossible to imagine that a nuclear Russia would accept a military defeat in Ukraine, escalation and the use of tactical nuclear weapons are no longer excluded, especially since the events of recent months have proven that the United States has harnessed all its technological and intelligence capabilities in the service of Ukraine, which Moscow may interpret as direct American involvement in the conflict.

So I think the whole world may be about to go into a dark tunnel in the next few months. Unless all of its leaders realize that all of humanity, not just Russia or NATO, faces many sources of threat, not the least of which are climatic changes and infectious diseases, and therefore is in dire need of a new world order that confronts all sources of threats to its common security, it will not be able to Anyone surviving the specter of nuclear war is slowly getting closer.

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