Friday, April 3, 2009

Taliban Politics

In early March the Mcclatchy news service informed us of a newly unified Taliban calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen (Council of United Holy Warriors):

It comes after a call by Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban insurgents, to Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home in order to join the battle to "liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces."...The Pakistani Taliban previously was split, with a powerful group led by Baitullah Mehsud at odds with rival warlords Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur. Among the three, they control North and South Waziristan with little interference from the Pakistani state.

This important political counter to Obama's mini-surge now seems to be weakened by the recent attack on a Pakistani police training center, which suggests that the Taliban have in fact not successfully reached internal agreement to attack only the "main (U.S.)" enemy.

Perhaps the new interest in compromise on the part of the U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan is provoking internal Talibani dissent. McClatchy quoted Mullar Omar as saying at the time of the initial agreement:

Attacks on the Pakistani security forces and killing of fellow Muslims by the militants in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan is bringing a bad name to Mujahideen and harming the war against the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Clearly feeling confident after taking credit for assaulting the police training academy a month later, Mehsud threatened a direct attack on the White House, a move no doubt in part a response to the new U.S. $5 million bounty on his head as well as U.S. missile attacks within Pakistan but possibly also intended as much for Mullah Omar's ears as Obama's.

The move to unify the three insurgent groups is ambitious: they have very different goals and contradictory relations with the Pakistani government. It remains unclear whether the alliance will pull Mehsud away from attacks on Pakistan or pull the other two groups into attacks on Pakistan. One point is clear: to make a simple distinction between "moderate" and "extremist" Taliban is delusional. A faction that is "moderate" on one issue may be "extreme" on another.

No comments: