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Taliban Successes: A Matter of Concern

Sumita Kumar is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 10, 2006

    Condoleeza Rice's visit to Pakistan on June 27-28, 2006 before she proceeded to Kabul indicated abundant concern on the part of the US government about the increasing strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the expectation that Pakistan would pull its weight to ensure better results in combating terrorism. This was made apparent in her clearly enunciated statement which emphasised the need for increased cooperation between Pakistan and the Afghan government on the one hand, and among the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the other. American unease at the unfolding situation in Afghanistan was evident from the fact that it was considered necessary by the US Secretary of State to make a stopover in Pakistan, less than four months after she was in that country with President Bush for wide-ranging discussions. This visit should be seen in the backdrop of surging violence in Afghanistan much of which is directed at US-led Western forces and is an indicator of the increased strength of the Taliban as well as increasing anti-American sentiment within the country. Questions are being raised about the efficacy of President Karzai's leadership in ensuring the success of reconstruction efforts as his government is plagued by problems related to corruption, a flourishing drug trade, an inadequate army and a weak police force. At the same time, continuing recriminations directed at Pakistan by the Afghan political leadership for providing shelter, military training and logistics to the Taliban and counter charges by Pakistani officials accusing Afghanistan of supporting and sponsoring the insurgency in Balochistan, provided enough reasons for the Rice visit.

    In recent months, the US-led coalition forces have been facing what is perhaps an offensive unmatched in scale since 2001, from the Taliban and assorted rebel groups. The coalition troops have suffered a number of casualties as the Taliban have increasingly relied on suicide bombings and Improvised Explosive Devices to cause damage. The rebel groups, which are considered to be better organized and well equipped, have control over districts in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Helmand provinces. Pakistani media reports allude to the fact that Mullah Dadullah, operating in southern Afghanistan, boasts of commanding a force of 12,000 men with arms. The Taliban are reportedly receiving funds from Islamic groups in Pakistan and private Saudi sources, while weapons seized from Afghan and coalition forces add to their cache. The US Commander in Afghanistan Lt. Gen. Eikenberry, in a recent testimony to US lawmakers, drew attention to the increasing levels of sophistication of the Taliban forces, their growing strength in southern Afghanistan, their display of a better military command and the fact that its leaders had evaded capture. He alluded to the fact that Taliban forces fighting US troops in Afghanistan are directing their operations from Pakistan. It is in the face of the Taliban's expanded fighting capability that a large scale military offensive involving more than 10,000 Afghan and coalition forces called "Operation Mountain Thrust" has been underway in the four provinces mentioned earlier since June 2006. Along with the Afghan and US forces, British, Dutch and Canadian forces are deployed in the southern provinces of Afghanistan. NATO is slated to take over military operations from the US-led coalition in southern Afghanistan from the end of this month. However, it remains to be seen how well NATO troops are able to meet the challenges posed by the escalation of violence by the Taliban as they are supposed to be involved in efforts towards re-construction rather than combat.

    Pakistan's alleged involvement in supporting the Taliban and other rebel groups fomenting trouble has caused ire in Afghanistan as is evident in statements made by Karzai and his Foreign Minister directly accusing Pakistan in May 2006. US officials have intermittently accused the Pakistan government of not doing enough with respect to combating terrorism in Afghanistan. While the Pakistan government has continuously denied such allegations, there is enough evidence of continued Pakistani complicity with the Taliban. The presence of safe havens for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership in the border areas of NWFP and Balochistan is well documented. Reports in the Pakistani media as far back as April 2003 alluded to the presence of mobile training camps set up by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda activists, and those loyal to Hekmatyar in these areas, which give training to the local populace. They apparently moved through various villages providing basic training in arms, maps of US bases as well as ways of attacking them. Cities like Quetta and Chaman are thriving with hordes of Taliban and their political and military infrastructure. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Secretary General of the MMA and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, said at a Press Conference on 7 August 2005, that the military regime in Islamabad was training the extremists in Mansehra camp and allowing them to infiltrate into Afghanistan. Hundreds of madrassas continue to be a breeding ground for extremist ideologies and practices. Recent Pakistani media reports suggest that the "Al Jamia Islamia," one of the largest madrassas in Chaman, continues to provide recruitment for rebels wanting to fight in Afghanistan. The enduring links of such rebel groups with Islamic parties in Pakistan is highlighted by the fact that the cleric Maulana Abdul Ghani who heads the "Al Jamia Islamia" is a senior leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

    Pakistan has been combating militant organisations along its Afghan border, especially in North and South Waziristan, but with little to show in terms of results. The troop deployment in these areas has increased by 10,000 raising the total number to approximately 90,000. This was announced by Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri in a joint press conference with Condoleeza Rice during her visit, in an attempt to mitigate the impression that Pakistan was not doing enough to combat terrorism. It remains to be seen whether the increase in troop levels will translate into effective action against militants. A serious difference of opinion seems to have arisen between the US and Pakistan over policies towards Afghanistan, and despite their strategic alliance and the US endorsement of Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism, there is a strong likelihood that their approach could come into conflict in the future.