Counter-Terrorism: The Triple Taliban Threat

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October 11, 2006: The Taliban violence this year is part tribal (Pushtun tribes trying to expand their power), part ideological (conservative Islam seeking power) and international organizations, like al Qaeda, looking for a new home. But there are other players as well.
Pakistani government claims that the Taliban is not active in Pakistan are disingenuous at best. They may be for foreign consumption, but no one in the U.S. or Afghanistan is buying the line. Since the resurgence of the Taliban this past spring, the pattern of attacks in Afghanistan very clearly indicates a strong tie to Pakistan. Some 95-percent of violent incidents have occurred in the provinces along the Pakistani frontier, and only about 5-percent in the northern and western provinces, the areas bordering Iran and the Central Asian republics. The Pakistani connection is the same as it always was, with elements in the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment (the ISI) trying to control their neighbor, and the tribal situation along the border, via the Taliban. Before September 11, 2001, Pakistan had things under control via their relationships with the Taliban. The tribal territories have been a mess ever since. Blame it all on nostalgia for the good old days.
Meanwhile, the Taliban are running up against another old enemy in western Afghanistan. Largely Shia Iran has been a long-term enemy of the Sunni-dominated Taliban. In fact, Iran almost went to war with Afghanistan in 1999, when Taliban forces several times raided Iranian frontier posts, possibly in an attempt to retaliate against Iranian support for the Shia minority community in southwestern Afghanistan. Despite strained relations with the U.S., during American operations against the Taliban in late 2001, the Iranians permitted relief supplies to cross their territory, and looked the other way when American aircraft violated their air space. Recently, the Iranians have become concerned about the resurgence of the Taliban. Although there has been little Taliban activity in traditionally Shia regions , the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has begun supporting Iranian charities working in the Shia-inhabited districts of western Afghanistan. The goal seems to be to strengthen the ability of the Shia tribes to resist the Taliban, and, of course, to build influence in the region.
Since it was instituted in May of 2005, approximately 2,500 former Taliban have taken advantage of a reconciliation program that provides amnesty and some financial and occupational assistance. This is equivalent to about a third of the total number of Taliban killed in the same period. Afghani officials connected with the program consider it a great success, and say that fewer than 100 of the people who joined the program subsequently went back to the Taliban. They also believe that the program should be expanded, noting that it is short of personnel and very under funded.

 


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