Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Reconciliation, And Syria

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Context
The situation of AfPak region is entering a particularly peculiar stage. The continued delay is jumpstarting the reconciliation process has meant that the situation of Middle East may finally be catching up. This was self-evident when reportedly John Kerry could not make it to Pakistan last month because of the dire straits in Syria, which has now been accompanied by the Egyptian quagmire.

The recent statements made by Tehreek-e-Taliban that is has sent fighters to conduct fighting in Syria has amplified the gravity of the situation. The struggle that started with the initiation of the war on terror has now reached a critical stage with societal balance in many of the Islamic nations reaching a tipping point. Moreover, as alluded to in previous articles, the global power struggle has now also fully merged with the fight against terror.

Initially the conservative, religious, and nationalist forces appeared to have acted in unison in turning against the autocrats and liberals, which were mostly supported by the West. The emerging trend in Syria and Egypt indicates that the nationalist forces are now turning against the conservative and religious influences. For example in Syria the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds have now turned their guns towards the AQ linked Jabhat-al-Nusra. In Egypt, the military acted in support of secular forces, to oust the religious and conservative elements represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

How the neighboring Muslim nations reacted to the changes in Middle East has also been intriguing. The Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, fully backed the military takeover in Egypt, while Turkey has criticized the removal of democratically elected Mursi.

It is too early to tell if the situation of Egypt and Syria is indicative of the ultimate coming together of nationalist and liberal elements. What does appear to be increasingly at stake is the nation-state itself, as the forces lined up against it are too strong for it to bear, mold, or manage.

Analysis

TTP In Syria

Conflicting reports emerged last week about Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) setting up a command and control office in Syria. There could be a number of motives behind the development and to discern these, a closer look at the different extremist and militant groups operating in the AfPak region is needed.

Firstly, the distinction between Afghan Taliban and TTP needs to be clarified. Dealing with the complex dynamics of Afghan reconciliation, Afghan Taliban have reiterated their main area of operation has always been Afghanistan. Furthermore, Afghan Taliban has been distancing itself from AQ. This was one of the American preconditions for negotiations to move forward in Doha.

On the other hand, TTP and array of other Islamist groups operating in the region have a different agenda. For example, while TTP has remained focused mainly on helping Afghan Taliban and carrying out its operations in Pakistan and against its military, it is generally not perceived to have global objectives and abilities. From time to time, TTP has made statements about targeting the West or suggesting linkages with other terror attacks, but that appeared mostly to be rhetoric. However, they have worked hand in hand with AQ and other extremist factions in the region.

Then there are groups like Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) etc., which are believed to have a wider regional agenda, especially as it relates to nations like India and Iran. The degree of cooperation between these different organizations has always been of great intrigue to the West. There is evidence to suggest these various groups have collaborated and cross-pollinated their tactics and strategies. Now that Afghan Taliban has begun to concentrate on the reconciliation process, TTP is feeling the pressure to define its reason d’être.

In PoliTact’s previous assessments, we noted that in the future TTP is likely to gravitate more towards AQ and other groups like LeT and LeJ etc. However, recent reports have suggested differences widening between TTP and some of these groups. There may be a deliberate attempt to implant differences amongst these groups, as their unification is obviously perceived as highly dangerous.

The news regarding TTP setting up an office in Syria has more do with reestablishing its credentials, particularly for the period after NATO withdraws from Afghanistan. By presenting itself as having a wider agenda, TTP may also be pressuring the government of Pakistan to take the group seriously for political talks.

On the other hand, Middle East being the core of Islamic faith, opportunity for jihad there is a magnet that none of the Islamist groups can resist. This is the reason PoliTact has consistently maintained that as the situation of the core Arab regions continues to worsen, it will supersede the slow moving dynamics of the AfPak.

Thus, the news about the movement of militants and jihadists from the AfPak region to Syria is believable and has not come as a surprise. Especially when it is being backed with calls for jihad in Syria from Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Asheikh and influential Sheikh Qardawi.

Conclusion

With Afghan reconciliation process facing stalemate once more, Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz’s recent visit to Kabul was observed closely. The trip took place immediately after UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Islamabad, and when John Kerry is slated to arrive in Pakistan towards the end of July.

As noted previously, Karzai perceives the situation as an existential threat; it’s now or never. Towards this end, he is likely to go to any length, including stimulating the nationalist sentiments in Afghanistan towards Pakistan and foreign occupation. In Pakistan, the military represents one force of nationalism and there are nationalist motives of the sort represented in Balochistan.

In the Arab world, as the situation evolves, the challenge for the West is who to align with next. The seculars are loosing ground and represent the force of status quo, when the whole region is in the grip of fast moving change. In war against extremists, the West does not want to loose the religious moderates, and would want to actually strengthen them. However, the events of Egypt have made this very tricky. Then there are nationalist elements that are caught in the middle of these cross winds of change operating beyond its grasp.

The nation-state of the Arab world are gasping for breath and is high time the nations of South and Central Asia start preparing for what that means for them. The glue that held the nation-state together is fast losing its strength, and from what it looks like, affairs are settling along ethnic, religious and tribal lines.

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