Another wolf at the door

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Shahab Jafery

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)

Most editorials seem to downplay the Daish development – four TTP commanders pledging allegiance – but it must have got the military thinking. Because even if it has done nothing else, it has definitely complicated strategic calculations. True, it implies more cracks in the Taliban when they are already on the run. Yet a logistical machinery has just gone active – printing presses, Pashto/Dari jihadi pamphlets, training DVDs, etc – and there are always compelling reasons behind such investments. And more often than not, intelligence agencies and foreign militias, which means governments with agendas, are at play. We have played these games for far too long to understand what they might imply.

And this one implies al Qaeda is breaking, both in Af-Pak and the Middle East. The TTP, contrary to popular opinion, never had a working relationship with the Afghan Taliban. And Mullah Omer was never really their amir-ul-momineen. They were the product of a split between Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. Mullah Omer, relying on sanctuary from old friends in the Pakistani deep state, forbade extending the jihad into Pakistan. But the Arabs were more expansionist and funded the multi-party conglomerate that became the TTP. They did not, of course, care much for Omer’s warning.

The Islamic State, which is now attracting TTP commanders, was al Qaeda in Iraq till its recent differences with the al-Nusra front in Syria and the sudden push for Mosul. Its brutality, especially towards the Shi’a and Christians, led even al Zawahiri to expel al Baghdadi’s hordes from al Qaeda proper. So TTP heavyweights breaking off to the IS means more pieces chipping away from al Qaeda.

The Islamic State, which is now attracting TTP commanders, was al Qaeda in Iraq till its recent differences with the al Nusra front in Syria and the sudden push for Mosul. Its brutality, especially towards the Shi’a and Christians, led even al Zawahiri to expel al Baghdadi’s hordes from al Qaeda proper

Pakistani militants have been active in Syria for some time; more since Zarb-e-Azb diminished the Af-Pak appeal. But Shahidullah Shahid and three others don’t intend to travel to the Levant. They will, instead, spearhead the IS franchise here. They are in deep hiding now, but ideologies are not easily defeated, especially in our tribal badlands where the most brutal readings of shari’a have already been experimented with for years. Why not switch to the caliphate and adopt an even more violent outlook, seems the thinking. And if the money starts flowing, there will be more weapons, etc.

And it’s not that Daish has not surprised before, or still ceased to surprise. Since taking Mosul and announcing al Baghdadi’s caliphate, it has upset a Middle East calculus that stood since Sykes-Picot. It’s made the Americans upset with the Saudis – for funding and arming the Syrian opposition that mutated into IS. It has aligned, however momentarily, Tehran and Washington’s interests about controlling its expansion militarily. It has made Turkey’s position very difficult, which first facilitated militants into Syria in the frenzy to unseat Bashar al-Assad and ended with a security threat inside its borders and international condemnation for aiding al Qaeda. It has drawn the Americans back to Iraq. And despite the bombings, it continues to advance. In the latest breaking news, it is using disgruntled air force pilots from the Saddam days to teach jihadists how to flay fighter jets. Those were captured when they overran airbases in Aleppo and Raqqa. They have also erected a supply line for Mosul’s crude oil and vibrant commerce is underway. Would such advances be possible without some sort of institutional help?

Back home, Zarb-e-Azb is going nicely. NW is almost secure, Khyber is underway, and soon the operation will revert to a more intel-intensive posture. But the militants we have just knocked out, or allowed to slip away into Afghanistan, have a long history of fleeing the initial attack and then taking to guerrilla insurgency

As regards international appeal, it has surprised many in the west and the Muslim world by the way foreigners have responded to its jihad call. Even women, from Europe and North America, have gone to Raqqa and Mosul, and there are reports some have had enough and want to return, carrying jihadi babies. Talk of re-establishing the caliphate always resonated well among Muslim countries, and the appeal was not restricted to militant circles. More people are now buying a strategy of mass murder and genocide to achieve this aim, and this trend is worsening in Pakistan. Since our security establishment, along with Saudi and American friends, wrote the book on radicalising societies, it should understand what more appeal for IS means.

But they say Pakistan’s military is far superior to Iraq’s, and the Syrian Arab Army was battered by the combined might of GCC, US, EU, Turkish, and Israeli funds, weapons and proxies by the time it faced Daish. Zarb-e-Azb’s momentum will knock out new entrants to the tribal theatre also. Yet there is another country with an army far stronger than the Islamic State and a strong liking for democracy that is facing similar penetration. Lebanon, right next door to Syria hence directly in the line of fire, is struggling to control IS appeal. It started with wall chalking and pamphlets just like Fata. Then some imams pitched in with Friday sermons in the more radicalised belt around Tripoli. And then kidnappings and beheadings began.

Back home, Zarb-e-Azb is going nicely. NW is almost secure, Khyber is underway, and soon the operation will revert to a more intel-intensive posture. But the militants we have just knocked out, or allowed to slip away into Afghanistan, have a long history of fleeing the initial attack and then taking to guerrilla insurgency. When such a time comes – and attacks on the security apparatus and sectarian minorities have increased – insurgents with the best financing and arms will be the best placed to jab away at the state. TTP diehards abandoning ship may not be good news for the Taliban. But there’s a chance it could hurt the country also.

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