By Editor Aug1,2023

The dialogue process was the main component of the end-game, but
not the only component. There was also the rapid construction of
a US base on a mountaintop at the Kunar–Bajaur border crossing,
and many other similar bases in south-east Afghanistan in 2007.
Other agreements with Pakistan permitted the use of Pakistan bases
for drone attacks and gave consent for US security contractors
to operate in Pakistan. On one hand, Western governments were
negotiating with the Taliban, and on the other they were setting up
an agenda to eliminate Al-Qaeda from the Pakistani tribal areas.
Pakistan was very much onboard for this new battle, which was to
be fought in early 2008.
Inside informants had already alerted Al-Qaeda to the realities,
and newspaper reports confirmed that a new game was about to
begin not too long afterwards. Al-Qaeda had only one counter,
and this was to raise the temperature of the war in Swat. The
Taliban in Swat had risen against the Pakistani security forces
soon after the Lal Masjid operations in mid-2007, but had been
beaten back in the first phase of the military operation against
them. Nevertheless the government of Pakistan was ready to strike
a ceasefire deal, and agreed to their demand that Islamic courts be
set up in the Malakand division. But Al-Qaeda had other ideas.
It had already plotted the strategy of soliciting Pakistani tribal
warlords to organize themselves into the TTP. Baitullah Mehsud
was made the chief of the new set-up, with the Swat Taliban
a tentacle of that camp. Then Al-Qaeda persuaded the TTP to
send a team of suicide bombers into the Swat Valley, and one of
its most astute commanders, Qari Hussain Mehsud, followed, as
the war flared up there again. Mehsud was the ruthless Pakistani
Taliban commander who had trained and raised squads of suicide
bombers. His men played havoc with the local administration in
Swat, and all the police stations were destroyed. Mehsud and his
Uzbek allies upped the ante of viciousness by slitting of throats of
their opponents, establishing a brutal reign of terror in the once
peaceful valley.
To establish the TTP on the model of the Afghan Taliban to bring
about an Islamic revolution in Pakistan through franchises was
Al-Qaeda’s long-term plan for gaining control. But now Al-Qaeda

decided to move at an accelerated pace to realize its strategic objec-
tives. On one hand it had to counter the dialogue strategy of the

United States with the Taliban, and on the other it aimed to stir

up open revolt in Pakistan’s cities. In essence this strategy clashed
with Mullah Omar’s agenda because the Taliban were essentially
fighting a war against the Western coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani militants were now required to fight another war,
albeit under Omar’s command. This meant a division of purpose.
Mullah Omar and the Taliban in Afghanistan did not like the idea,

but as long as the TTP pledged their allegiance to him and his resis-
tance against the foreign troops in Afghanistan, he had no moral

grounds to discourage the Pakistani militants from assembling on
this Jihadi front as well. This was seen as a betrayal by Pakistan’s
military establishment which, while it had not actively discouraged
the Taliban in Afghanistan, had not wanted it to spread its tentacles
into Pakistan.
For Al-Qaeda, however, it was another story. There was now
a new dimension to Islamic resistance in the region. It established
the first-ever popular local and fully tribally supported Al-Qaeda
franchise in the world. Thus, if in future the Afghan Taliban and
the Pakistani military establishment were ever to plan reconciliation
with the West, this body of the Neo-Taliban was there to oppose
them and to remind their Afghan comrades that the Jihadi agenda
did not end in Afghanistan, but was set to circle the world. In
the meantime, Al-Qaeda could deploy the TTP to help break any
obstructions erected by Pakistan’s government.
Deploying the TTP in Swat worked well for Al-Qaeda, at
least in the short term. As soon as it was established there,
senior commanders from the Uzbek and Punjabi camps of North
Waziristan and South Waziristan, together with several hundred
fighters, were sent into the Swat Valley. This Jihadi brigade changed
the dynamics of the Swat insurgency. Qari Hussain, a former
leader of the anti-Shiite Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), brought about a
new level of hostilities against the Pakistan army. Along with local
commander Bin Yameen, he slit the throat of captured Pakistan
Army soldiers and released photographs and video footage to the

media. He launched a terror campaign which completely demor-
alized the Taliban’s enemies. He abducted policemen and their

relatives and beheaded them. Anti-Taliban leaders and workers from
the secular Pashtun sub-nationalist ANP were executed in public.
Their houses and even funerals were bombed. The campaign wiped
out the civil administration and the police system in Swat. The

Pakistan Army was helpless without the support of local admin-
istration and the police. As a result, it was incapable of carrying

out an effective military campaign against the militants. By January
2008, the Taliban had succeeded in occupying 90 percent of Swat.
The Pakistan Army was left with a few checkpoints and bases on
In February 2008, the chief of banned Pakistani militant group
Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TSNM), Maulana Sufi
Mohammad, who was also the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah,
negotiated a peace deal with the former NWFP government. In the

same month a peace deal was signed which agreed on the enforce-
ment of Islamic laws and establishment of Islamic courts in Swat.

This was the first surrender of the Pakistani establishment to the
Neo-Taliban. But the agreement to enforce Islamic laws in the
Malakand division was just a face-saving ploy for the Pakistan
Army, which was desperate to withdraw its forces from there. It
was also a face-saving exercise for the Pakistani Taliban, who were
exhausted after their year-and-a-half-long battle.
Paradoxically, the enforcement of Islamic law had never been
the aim of the Neo-Taliban. The Swat battle in 2007 was not
fought because the government had refused to comply with the
Taliban’s demand that it introduce Islamic law. It was a bid to
set up another smokescreen to eradicate the US presence in the
region, and discourage any thoughts of dialogue with the Taliban.
And, with that, Al-Qaeda expanded military operations across
the border. Throughout the military operations no one heard the
Pakistani Taliban make demands for the enforcement of Islamic
law in Malakand to justify the attacks on the military convoys. The
Swat war, in fact, was contrived by Al-Qaeda and the Neo-Taliban
to disengage Pakistan’s armed forces from the Pakistan–Afghanistan
border areas, thus allowing Al-Qaeda more free rein to fight the
war in Afghanistan. During the Pakistan Army’s presence in the
Swat Valley, the Taliban were successful in regrouping in the Khyber
Agency, Orakzai Agency, and Dara Adam Khail.
Al-Qaeda’s war in Swat had always been to phase out the US
master plan of holding Jirgagais (small Jirgas on a regional basis)
and talking to the Afghan Taliban’s regional commanders. In
holding these Jirgagais, the involvement of Pakistan was crucial, but
if it were otherwise engaged in a war against the Taliban, it would
be unable to help the United States and its NATO allies on the other
side of the border.
Back in Afghanistan, the United States had the Saudis invite
former Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami leaders to Saudi Arabia during
Ramadan in 2008. This set up a communication channel between
the Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin and Mullah Omar through
a Taliban official, Tayyab Agha. But talks broke down before the
last Afghan presidential elections, when Mullah Omar categorically
told Muqrin, through Agha, that he was not ready to talk to the
Afghan government.
A new dialogue process was planned after the presidential
elections in 2009, but it remained one-sided. The United States,

through the Afghan government, offered astonishing new incen-
tives to the Taliban. A former Taliban leader, at present a senator

in Afghanistan, Moulvi Arsala Rahmani, told me during the Afghan
presidential elections in 2009 that a few Afghans, including himself,
were given an open mandate by the Afghan government (read
Washington and London) to bargain with the Taliban as a first step
in persuading them to stop attacks on the infrastructure, such as
bridges, buildings, dams, and public places. Rahmani said to me:
If the Taliban comply with this primary demand, then the next
step of facilitating them would begin. For instance, the Taliban
would be allowed to open offices in countries like Turkey, the
UAE, and Saudi Arabia, from where regular rounds of talks
could be held between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
These talks would cover issues like the withdrawal of troops
and the setting-up of a new political government with the
participation of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The Taliban showed no interest. Why should they have? According
to influential UK think tanks they were already ruling 73 percent
of Afghanistan, and the US–NATO forces were in retreat from their
border positions, even from the strategic Nuristan province.

By Editor

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