Pakistan and Afghanistan:how do al Qaeda and the Taliban respond?

December 7, 2009

peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

“Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption – even now, after eight years of war – that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive,” he writes.  

“This is nonsense – and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans – not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic.”

So how will al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist groups respond?

As discussed before in openDemocracy, and highlighted on this blog more than a year ago, the Taliban has been pretty good at studying the lessons of history, including taking inspiration from the Vietnamese war commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, who successfully employed guerrilla tactics against the French before crushing them in the battle of Dien Bien Phu  in 1954.

It is reasonable to assume they have also studied the spillover of the U.S. war in Vietnam into Cambodia where the United States, reluctant to send in its ground troops, resorted to special ops and bombing campaigns to choke off the Vietcong’s supply routes  – rather as Pakistan now fears the Afghan campaign will spill into its territory as Washington tries to eradicate Afghan Taliban leaders and bases there. The ensuing chaos paved the way for the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.

british soldier It would be a step too far to suggest that the Afghan Taliban and their allies are set on taking over Pakistan. As it is, there is still a fierce debate on how far they  are primarily Afghan nationalists who would settle for a return to power in Afghanistan and how far they have bought into al Qaeda’s global Islamist agenda.

But it is still worth asking whether Afghanistan or Pakistan are the real targets of Islamist militants.  And in that context, wehther they will try to provoke a crisis in Pakistan. Will they, as discussed in this analysis, try to start a war between India and Pakistan to so destabilise the country that they would have a chance of seizing power and the nuclear weapons?

For now we don’t know. Unlike Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan discussed ad nauseum in the media, the gameplan of the Islamist militants is much more obscure.  They will be studying both the strategy and the lessons of history and may not choose the obvious options. About the best you can say, is that they are likely to surprise us.

(Postscript:  The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies has put up a summary of its Track Two talks in Bangkok in October (pdf document).  A useful read for anyone interested in the details of the India-Pakistan relationship.)

(Photos: bombing in Peshawar; British soldier in Afghanistan)

8 comments

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Folks… Just read the article:

http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?age =2009\128\story_8-12-2009_pg3_5

This is how Pakistanis are taught to hate Indians from a very early age!!

No wonder they are in a mess… as they cannot even identify their true enemy (Read: Taliban)…..

Posted by tushar0123 | Report as abusive

“Unlike Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan discussed ad nauseum in the media, the gameplan of the Islamist militants is much more obscure.”

Isn;t this how it should be. You don’t need to make your war plans public knowledge. The Taliban has all the knowledge it needs to plan its strategy including the time span it needs to cover in the short term. Very similar to all the time they had to prepare for the recent Pakistan Army’s much publicised offensive. Isn’t there a lesson here.

Even so, I am almost certain that the US war planners do not take the Taliban as lightly as the media. It is thoroughly professional and battle experienced. I am not too sure of its intelligence capability though in that region. I think human intelligence in the area is absolutely essential and the Taliban are way ahead of them there. That could make all the difference.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Tushar..

Can we at least stick to the topic in hand please as useuall with our idiot neighours use any forum to defame Pakistan. Let me tell you, indians should be thankful that we Pakistan are buffer zone between India-Afghanistan or else you will be and have been the target of terroprism not one Bombay, infact one veryday as it is in Pakistan now. I can say with confidence most indian deep inside are happy at the situation with bombings in Pakistan another story if they want to admit it or not but by reading the bloggs its very clear.

When we have the same enemy, why cant the other side realise that. Rather than typical Indian rants, terrorist state, sponsors, bankcorupt etc. Well let me tell you all countries use terror, what was USA doing SHOCK N AWE in Baghdad and Israilis in Gaza Indians in Kashmir Serbs in Kosovo and Russians in Chechnya. But on the other hand they say they are beacon of light my foot!

Indians do not need to telll us, whats wrong or right as we are quite capeable of knowing the faults and will try to put it right. If you cant help us and at least keep your noses clean rather than using the pretext of building Afghanistan but you are using it to support anti Pakistan elements quite clearly.

As many Indians say what you sow you reap. I would be carefull what you are doing now cos it might just come back to haunt you. Maybe it will be too late to look at Pakistan for co-operation.

Posted by Magic786 | Report as abusive

@Magic786
“When we have the same enemy, why cant the other side realise that.”—This is not entirely true. LET is an enemy of India, and if it was your enemy you would make sure that there is not a single shed in a certain place in Muridke. Instead pak fauj generals go there to instruct in covert warfare. So you realise that we do not have the same enemy.

“As many Indians say what you sow you reap. I would be carefull what you are doing now cos it might just come back to haunt you”—Yes it might haunt us, or it might not. Iranians play the game with Iraqi shias, US did it with Nicaraguan Contras, and Indians can play that in Baluch and Fata. Indians have already played that game with the Northern Alliance in the 1990s, and unlike Pakistanis, we wont have crazed tajiks and uzbeks running around India with a AK in their hands—in other words, we wont get carried away with our games as Pakistani generals did!

Posted by Sameet | Report as abusive

The question is, does anyone believe that the U.S. really believes in victory in Afghanistan? Even americans don’t believe their president wants victory. Why would the Taliban or Pakistanis feel any different?
http://neoavatara.com/blog/?p=9017

Posted by neoavatara | Report as abusive

i cannot comment since I do not know what is an islamist or an islamic militants?

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Rather than addessing issues in a haphazard manner, there is a need to have a systematic blog raising pertinent question which are relevant to the more bigger picture than asking small questions (which in big picture may be useless). Some of the important questions are (some of these have been addressed, not all and the questions to be asked have to be direct) for a valuable article that serves as the source of good discussion.

It will be useful to ask:
1) why US/NATO/ISAF they came here to fight—the original reason of “smoke-OBL-out” and their hosts Afghan-Taliban of Mullah Omar, mentored by ISI.
2) who were their friends and foes when they came here?
3) Are there any changes in the original goals? If yes, what are the changes and why. Will catching OBL make exit faster and why so?
4) Any counterproductive moves—Iraq is the big one that comes to mind–any other such blunders.
5) Who are the beneficiaries of the this mission: Only West or the region also. Is West more secure and region more stable.
6) Why there is terrorism and insurgency?
7) If it exists because US is here can it go away without US leaving.
8) Can COIN match the determination and unlimited recruitment, unlimited money from “Allah-knows from where”.
9) which are the regional countries that have interests in Afghanistan. Are their interests served now and will they be served after US/NATO/ISAF-exit?
10) How would Pakistan after failed US/NATO/ISAF mission look like, taking into view they created Af-Tal and they are the most reluctant on eliminating this.
11) Will Afghanistan and Afghans benefit from this mission?

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Basically you forget the influence of Pakistani army on Taliban and AL Quaeda. It is the Pakistani army which is on birthday wishing terms with the US army generals and Pentagon. Pakistani army is armed well by USA and has been taught all professional tactics by US army. And thats why there is so much hurt in USA. When the duplicity of Pakistan of being freinds with USA on the one hand and then being a consultants to the taliban at the same time is an outrage.
Taliban and AlQueda cannot survive without active participation of elements in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. All responses and strategies of Taliban/ AL quaeda are made in consultaions with experienced Pakistani supporters and rich Saudi Arabia wahabbi promoters.

Posted by SunilKumar | Report as abusive