Revival of the Taliban
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Two types of Taliban have left their leader Mullah Omar to join with Kabul: first, those organized by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Peshawar soon after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and second, those who were arrested in Afghanistan and subsequently cultivated. Except for a few, all are mullahs.
The vast majority of Taliban commanders retreated to Pakistan or adopted a low-profile private life in Afghan villages pending Mullah Omar finalizing a new guerrilla strategy similar to that adopted by the Iraqi resistance. The results of this are expected to manifest themselves within a few months.
Asia Times Online was the first publication to write about the Taliban’s new strategy (see “Osama Adds Weight to Afghan Resistance,” September 11, 2004, Asia Times Online), which was the brainchild of a few Taliban who were sent to northern Iraq before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Oriented with the Ansarul Islam in northern Iraq by al-Qaeda-linked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they were taught the guerrilla tactics then being successfully applied in various Iraqi cities—and which still are. The group returned to Afghanistan some time ago. One of the members was Mehmood Haq Yar, an expert in guerrilla and urban warfare.
Asia Times Online has learned that this Iraq-style resistance is to be activated in Afghanistan. The central command of the Iraqi resistance has been eliminated and various groups, mostly Islamists, are engaged in guerrilla activity on an independent basis. This decentralization is the guarantee of their security and successful clandestine operations.
An identical tactic has been adopted in Afghanistan. On the advice of Haq Yar, all prominent commanders have withdrawn from the battlefield. The most prominent ones, such as Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, Saifullah Mansoor and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, took refuge in tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the rest were asked to stay with the local population.
This caused a lull in the resistance, which was the aim. A new generation of mujahideen not known in Afghanistan, including Arabs, Pakistanis, Afghans and others, was selected and kept at remote positions. They are all familiar with the latest guerrilla tactics and oriented only for specific missions.
For instance, a small group was assigned to disrupt oil supplies in Spin Boldak. They were specifically launched to hit that target, and when they achieved their goal they scattered to await the next assignment. Similarly, a group were assigned to blow up a helicopter in Ghazni. They were given maps, flight routines etc, and once they achieved their mission, they dispersed.
Thus, unlike in the past, the Taliban movement is now target-oriented rather than reliant on the random attacks it previously adopted. Asia Times Online sources say that there are only a few hundred of these small teams. Their initial targets are Khost, Ghazni, Kandahar and Jalalabad, with June earmarked for attacks in Kabul.
Previously, the Taliban’s unorganized approach and lack of communication and proper planning resulted in heavy casualties, and exposure of its network. Thousands of youths have been killed or captured in the past three and a half years.
The new strategy is much more secure and highly clandestine, and the teams are unknown, thus they have the element of surprise on their side.
Those Taliban who have approached Kabul are mostly those organized by the ISI under the name of Jamiatul Furqan or Jamiatul Khudamul Koran. They include small provincial ministers and mullahs who were pitched in Peshawar as moderate Taliban. Pakistan sought to promote them to regain influence in the country. Initially, the U.S. did not entertain the idea as they were considered an insignificant bunch of mullahs.
However, as U.S. efforts in Afghanistan faltered, with the help of the ISI, Washington accepted the idea and invited the Taliban to Kabul, mindful of their show-case value for the world media as “good” Taliban who could join President Hamid Karzai’s government.
The other batch of Taliban included such people as Mullah Jalil and Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi. Jalil was once the right-hand man of Mullah Omar and was arrested in Pakistan. Rocketi was a powerful commander who was captured in Afghanistan. Apparently, Rocketi is doing his level best to show his moderate face to the U.S. and get an important slot in the government. In the presidential elections last October he was seen in Zabul with bags full of money to woo people to vote for Karzai.
For the mullahs who have “turned,” they probably saw that they had little chance of survival if they did not go along with the ISI and subsequent U.S. plans. Commanders such as Rocketi were captured and also had little option but to play along.
But it is clear that once the Taliban start getting some success in their next phase—primarily aimed at the foreign forces in the country—mass mobilization will be the next step. Past experience suggests that it will start from the Pakistani border town of Chaman, where thousands are already waiting, and very much like the past, those who have been compelled, like Rocketi, to change sides, will be the first new rebels.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
—Asia Times Online, April 9, 2005