The Pakistan Taliban was more a creation of the al-Qaeda than that of the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar

What are the linkages between the two Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan across the Durand Line? Is there a hierarchy or chain of command between these two, or are both two different organisations with different objectives, ideologies and targets? Is there a communication link between the two leaderships in terms of operational activities, or are they more of a rhetoric?

The more one analyses the linkages between the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the more differences one could trace between the two organisations — in terms of history, objectives, ideology and operational targets.

Given the lack of documentational support and evidence, along with interviews with the top leadership on both sides, most of the understanding will have to be conjectures based on an informed guess. A larger debate is needed on this subject.

The 10-year gap

There are adequate writings and historical accounts of the Afghan Taliban; from Ahmed Rashid’s magnum opus on the Taliban, to multiple publications during the last decade, there is a clear historical account of how Mullah Omar from a madrasa in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) ended up becoming the Amir of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban was founded and supported by Pakistan in the 1990s to achieve a particular objective in Kabul. To use Admiral Mike Mullen’s proposition much later, the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s was a veritable arm of Pakistan — both the political leadership and the military establishment. There is adequate literature available today explaining why Pakistan founded and supported the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s. Of course it was not referred to as the “Afghan” Taliban then; it was just the Taliban. The founders of the Taliban would have never expected or even dreamt that there would be a parallel organisation east of the Durand Line within Pakistan.

The TTP, referred to loosely as the Pakistani Taliban, came into being in 2007 with its headquarters in Waziristan. But who founded it and who supported it? More importantly, for what reasons?

The Pakistani Taliban was certainly not founded by the security establishment in Pakistan, which was responsible for the birth of the Afghan Taliban. Ironically, the TTP was founded to fight the Pakistani establishment. This could be seen from a series of attacks that the TTP carried out; from suicide attacks to high profile attacks on military targets in Rawalpindi, Karachi and elsewhere, one could easily conclude that the primary target of the TTP remains Pakistan.

Given the targets and the time span that the TTP is a post-2007 phenomenon, it would be safe to conclude that the Pakistani Taliban was established by the al-Qaeda, rather than Mullah Omar. Though the initial leadership of the TTP, especially Baitullah Mehsud, claimed Mullah Omar as his leader, in operational aspects he was supported by the al-Qaeda network such as the Uzbeks, rather than the Afghan Taliban.

Ever since the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership and base shifted into Pakistan after international troops landed in Afghanistan, there was much pressure on Gen. Musharraf to go against the militants in Pakistan, who were using the FATA as a base to carry out operations against the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). While Gen. Musharraf faced serious pressure and at times even sanctions and threats from the U.S. to do more, there was also equal resistance from his own establishment to going against “their boys.” How can they, for they are seen as their trump card in Afghanistan?

As a result, Pakistan was selective in apprehending and neutralising the militants on its soil. More al-Qaeda leaders were either captured and handed over, or neutralised. Even today, Pakistan is more than willing to sacrifice the al-Qaeda leadership, but not the Afghan Taliban. There is enough literature available on the number of al-Qaeda leaders either captured and handed over to the U.S. silently by Pakistan vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban. The establishment of the TTP should be interpreted in this background; it was more a creation of the al-Qaeda than that of the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar. The U.S. should be aware of this, and is perhaps willing to live with this; it is no coincidence that the drone attacks have targeted more of the al-Qaeda and TTP leadership in Pakistan, but not the Afghan Taliban!

Operational linkages?

There appears a clear divide between the two, in terms of operational areas and targets. The Afghan Taliban — led by the Quetta Shura (of Mullah Omar) and the Haqqani network, in spite of having their bases in Pakistan (in Balochistan and FATA respectively), target primarily the Karzai government and international security forces in Afghanistan. There have been no major operations by these groups against the Pakistani establishment east of the Durand Line. Nor have there been any major statements or threats. Perhaps, that is why the government and military in Pakistan do not see the Afghan Taliban as a threat.

On the other hand, the TTP has been continuously targeting the government, society and military within Pakistan. Except for Mullah Fazlullah’s faction, referred to more as the Swat Taliban, and its earlier avatar — the TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi) established by Sufi Muhammad (Fazlullah’s father-in-law), the Pakistani Taliban, especially those factions under the leadership of the Mehsuds (both Baitullah and Hakimullah) did not fight much in Afghanistan; they always targeted Pakistan and operated within the country.

In terms of links between the leadership, though the Pakistani Taliban claimed Mullah Omar as its leader, it was more rhetoric. In reality, it was led by the Mehsuds in Waziristan aided by a Shura, rather than “commanded” by Mullah Omar. In fact, the Pakistani Taliban is not a monolithic organisation; it has evolved into a franchisee, with the Mehsuds as the core in Waziristan along with the Swat Taliban, Bajaur Taliban and later, even a Punjabi Taliban.

The larger question today would be, are the linkages between the two groups likely to change in 2014, with the withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, and the change in the TTP leadership from the Mehsud tribes in Waziristan to Mullah Fazlullah in Swat? We need a larger debate on and analysis of how the linkages between the two are likely to change in 2014.

(D. Suba Chandran is director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.)

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