Madhavi Bhasi writes
Matryoshka Doll commonly referred to as Russian nested doll is a set of dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. Matryoshka is derived from the Latin root ‘mater’ meaning mother. As a breeding ground for terrorists and exhibiting different forms of terrorism, Pakistan can undoubtedly be likened to a matryoshka doll of terrorism.
Several national, regional and global developments presented Pakistan with grave challenges as a nation-state. The country was thrown into a state of political pandemonium with martial law, military coups, political assassinations and absence of democratic elections in the first decade. Religious scholars like Sayyid Suleman Nadvi and Prof. Hamidullah were invited to advise the Government on Constitution making, resulting in emergence of the Objectives Resolution 1949. The Resolution provided that future Constitutions of Pakistan would be modeled on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam. Hassan Abbas and Jessica (FRW) Stern in their book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, detail how the influence of Pakistan’s clergy shaped the country’s politics. Pakistan’s ‘religious identity’ came to dominate her foreign policy through the unresolved issue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). India’s charge of “sponsored terrorism” in J&K was refuted by Pakistan as diplomatic, political and moral support to the movement for Kashmiri freedom. Robert G. Wirsing in Kashmir in the Shadow of War, highlights how Pakistan’s fixation on Kashmir was viewed by many as a pan-Islamic geostrategic enterprise.
Extremism in terms of inspiration and manifestation graduated to a new level in Pakistan during the 1980s. Influx of jihadi ideology during the Soviet-Afghanistan war had tremendous fallout on Pakistan. External developments coincided with General Zia ul-Haq’s policies of embedding the Islamic ideology in Pakistan’s polity and society. The defeat of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan made a large mass of the jihadist element available for action in Kashmir. India has been drawing international attention to Pakistan’s terrorist activities in J&K since the late 1980s.
Pakistan’s association with terrorism was re-defined after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. In the global war against terrorism Pakistan emerged as frontline state and pledged to sever ties with the Taliban, while supporting the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. It was expected that as an ally in the global counter-terrorism effort, Pakistan would convincingly clamp down on terrorists operating from its territory. Pakistan sought to demonstrate its willingness in combating terrorism through a variety military offensives ranging from the Lal Masjid action to Operation ‘Zalzala’. But involvement in the global war against terrorism was a phase of ecdysis and terrorism continued to flourish in Pakistan.
In the past few months the nested doll of terrorism has sprung another surprise for the global community. Since the process of revelation is still underway, detailed features of the new form of terrorism are yet to be discerned. Nevertheless, the outlines are perceptible. The extremist elements harboring anti-Pakistan sentiments will be segregated from those combating American forces in Afghanistan and will be treated differently. In short, Pakistan reverts to the policy of co-existing with terrorist forces as long as the latter renounces the use of force against the Pakistani establishment. Indications of such a trend and its rationalizations are reflected in the recent policy choices by the Pakistani Government.
President Zardari’s Government has intensified attempts at making peace deals with militant outfits in the country. In April 2008, the Government secured the release of Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin after finalizing a peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban. The deal also included provision for withdrawal of Pakistani Army from areas of South Waziristan in return of commitment by the militants that government and security forces will not be targeted. While agreeing to make peace with Pakistan, Mehsud emphasized that jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan would continue unabated. This peace deal was preceded by an agreement with TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi ) leading to the release of Sufi Mohammad, arrested in 2001 for sending volunteers to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The TNSM was allowed to peacefully campaign for the implementation of the Sharia on the condition that government establishment will not be attacked.
As a logical progression to the 2008 agreement with TNSM, the government of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) signed the Swat Peace Deal on February 16, 2009. The Swat Accord allows TNSM to implement the Sharia in the valley while ensuring that Maulana Qazi Fazlullah’s faction would renounce the use of force against the Pakistani Government. After the Swat Deal, Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security declared that this model would be replicated in other tribal areas if successful. A week later on February 23, the Taliban in Bajaur declared a unilateral ceasefire and the Government has responded by halting its operation for four days. It’s yet to be seen if this cessation of hostilities leads to another peace deal. Faqir Mohammad, a Taliban leader, explained that the ceasefire was ordered because it was in the ‘interest of Pakistan and the region.’ Meanwhile, three factions of the Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Hfiz Gul Bahadur Group and Mullah Nazir Group, declared the formation an alliance in Waziristan tribal area on February 21. The alliance could be an attempt to enhance the bargaining power of the Taliban in the future peace offers by the Pakistani government. Such developments point the emergence of a new form of terrorism in Pakistan; terrorism which is constrained in its scope and does not victimize its guardian.
This new form of terrorism has emerged from the intersection of two distinct developments. The first development is inspired by the unnoticed yet compelling suggestions on how the U.S. should deal with the extremist elements in Afghanistan. In October 2008, U.S. Army General David Petraeus stated that negotiations could be held with some sections of the Taliban as a strategy to check growing violence in Afghanistan. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed the same approach when he suggested that Washington could reconcile with sections of the Taliban if the Karzai government was willing. Secretary Gates however, categorically ruled out any possibility of negotiations with Al Qaeda. Developments on the ground appeared to follow the suggestions of General Petraeus and Secretary Gates. In late 2008 Afghan officials, including President Karzai’s brother, held talks with the Taliban in a dialogue brokered by Saudi Arabia. Though the negotiations did not yield any positive outcome it set the stage for future dialogue. Abdul Salaam, a former Taliban fighter has been appointed as the District Chief of Musa Qala in January this year. His appointment comes as a reward for defecting from Taliban and assisting the British forces to wrestle Musa Qala from Taliban control. Leaders of the Taliban are thus being rewarding for making peace with NATO forces in Afghanistan. This suggests that the U.S. favors a policy of negotiating with certain elements of Taliban in lieu of peace and stability. The Government of Pakistan is simply implementing a customized version of the U.S. strategy at a faster pace.
The second development contributing to the emergence of a new form of terrorism is the gradual distancing of the Taliban from the al Qaeda. Though rarely realized the Al Qaeda and Taliban are historically and ideologically distinct. The Al Qaeda is inspired by the more extremist Wahabi School of Islam and does not recognize national boundaries. The mission of the Al Qaeda is to establish the rule of pure Islam across the globe. The Taliban are ideologically linked to the Sufi and Deoband Schools of Islam and largely comprise of local fighters from tribal Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban also favor spreading the message of pure Islam but their operational sphere is limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nationalism is a strong sentiment among the Taliban which distinguishes them from the Al Qaeda.
This difference in ideology has become prominent in the past year. In February 2008 there was a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar that his movement wanted to maintain positive and legitimate relations with Afghanistan and its neighbors. Mullah Omar’s contention is the stationing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and not the existence of Afghanistan under non-Taliban rule. In the words of Mullah Salam Zaief, Taliban’s Former Ambassador to Pakistan, “The conflict in Afghanistan doesn’t mean [the Taliban] has to confront the world…Taliban doesn’t want to rule the world.” As early as 2005 Ayman al-Zawahiri had pointed out that the Taliban members had retreated to their tribes and villages after the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan and showed little attachment to the global Islamist struggle. In making peace deals with the Pakistani Government, the Taliban are attempting to regain local orientation and avoid entanglement in a never-ending global jihad.
The Government of Pakistan and the Taliban have thus come under the influence of two distinct developments which has got them to the negotiating table. Both sides are working out means of mutual accommodation. This however, complicates the task for the U.S. Anti-U.S. attacks in Afghanistan will continue to inspire the Taliban even if they stop subscribing to the ideology of global jihad. This new form of terrorism emerging out of Pakistan will not threaten the U.S. homeland but will continue to challenge the American forces in Afghanistan. Since peace and stability in Afghanistan is a critical objective of the global war on terrorism, Pakistan’s peace with Taliban implies mere alteration rather than elimination of the terrorist threat challenging the U.S. The latest form of the matryoshka doll is no less menacing.
Senior Research Fellow at Jadavpur University