Thursday, August 27, 2009

We should exploit the Taliban split

Daily Times

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Editorial: We should exploit the Taliban split


The post-Baitullah confusion in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has cleared up a little with commander Waliur Rehman Mehsud accepting the upper hand of commander Hakimullah Mehsud. This means the TTP is now in the hands of the latter, a Mehsud of South Waziristan. The only "shift" is from the family of the old dead leader to another clan, from the town of Makin to Sararogha.

Confusion and disorganisation are not expected to go away soon. There are matters to be cleared up, especially in regard to the armed manpower and the funds. What has apparently happened is that the commander who had control over a larger territory outside South Waziristan has won the day. That is significant for reasons of outreach, but other elements are important too.

Hakimullah may control the tribal agencies, but he has fewer people under arms than Baitullah had. The question to be resolved next is what happens to the 30,000 men on the payroll of Baitullah who ruled on the basis, not of charisma, of which he had little, but on the ironclad guarantee of payments — both salaries and compensation for "martyrdom". It is being said that Waliur Rehman will be the vice-chief of Hakimullah and will retain control over South Waziristan.

This arrangement seems untenable. Presumably there is money enough with Waliur Rehman to sustain the large army. But where is that money? If it has been found, has it been agreed that it will cover the increased expenses of Hakimullah as the leader of the TTP? Will he take over the 30,000 who served Baitullah or will he run the TTP with his 8,000? Waliur Rehman presumably has no right to retain the funds meant for an all-Pakistan movement.

How can Pakistan exploit this situation? The initial opinion seems to be divided between those who recommend a forward policy and those who "caution against too much interference in the fiercely independent tribal areas". If the fear is that going into South Waziristan will trigger some kind of tribal reaction that Pakistan cannot deal with, why not think of moving in areas outside South Waziristan, placing a wedge between Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah?

It is not correct to say that the Pakistan Army has not yet gone into the "fiercely" independent areas. It has gone into Bajaur and Malakand and has achieved remarkable success against elements entrenched there for years. In fact, its ability to strike elsewhere has increased on the basis of the experience gained in these two highly populated regions. Instead of waiting for the Wali-Hakim arrangement to consolidate itself, Pakistan should mount a carefully planned operation.

In the days to come the two Mehsud leaders will have to resolve their contradictions. While they are thus engaged, Pakistan can take in hand the long-awaited operation along a string of "military-strategic" cities — Bannu, Kohat, Hangu, Parachinar — where Hakimullah and his allies have virtually replaced the local administration. In other words, it is the power of Hakimullah, the leader of the TTP, that has to be challenged at this point.

There are two sources of power for the TTP which will seek to prevent it from collapsing: Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab. In Punjab, the supportive hinterland of the TTP is vast but it cannot afford to have a high-profile leader. Its terrorist and clerical power is many times more than the TTP but its survival depends on unity among the two Mehsud leaders. The clerics of Pakistan will lend a hand to Al Qaeda in the consolidation of the post-Baitullah TTP.

Pakistan is politically unstable as usual but the army can think on more permanent basis. Unless the TTP is defeated and the tribal areas brought under control, democracy in Islamabad is virtually of no use. Democracy needs the writ of the state to function at all. If it doesn't have that it is the weakest system with which to confront an insurgency of the TTP variety. Therefore the time to take stock of the TTP fissures is now; to evolve a strategy to exploit its current weakness without providing it the pretext to unite again. *




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