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Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

VOA News December 18, 2014 
The Pakistani Taliban, formally known as the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, is an umbrella group of militant organizations. Baitullah Mehsud, a leading militant leader from Waziristan in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt, formed a coalition of 13 groups in 2007. At its peak, the group claimed 30 or more groups as members. Since then, the group has divided into several factions, often clashing with each other. The U.S. State Department declared it a foreign terrorist organization in September 2010. 
Pakistan’s government tried negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban in late 2013 and early 2014, but the efforts failed. Pakistan's military then started an operation against the group's stronghold in North Waziristan in June 2014.

Who are the leaders of TTP? 
Baitullah Mehsud, the first head and founder of TTP, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2009. He was succeeded by a member of his Mehsud tribe and another famous militant leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who in turn was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2013. 
The current leader of TTP, Maulana Fazlullah, is not from the Mehsud tribe. Nicknamed “Mullah Radio,” he gained notoriety through his illegal FM channel, whose signal was broadcast through portable transmitters in the Swat Valley of northern Pakistan. Fazlullah used the channel to distribute his firebrand sermons preaching an extremist Islamist ideology. Nobel laureate Malala Yousufzai writes in her book that in the beginning, people, particularly women of Swat, were so moved by his sermons that they donated their jewelry to the cause. 
Slowly, the radio broadcasts became more and more extreme, blaming a devastating earthquake in 2005 on sinful acts like dancing or listening to music. He has routinely ordered attacks on girls’ schools and polio workers. The attack on Yousufzai was also ordered by Fazlullah.

What is their objective? 
According to their own statements, the TTP's objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan "whether through peace or war.” They also want a total withdrawal from Afghanistan by the U.S., NATO and International Security Assistance Force. They consider Pakistan’s military an enemy because it supports U.S. and NATO forces. They want the military to stop its operation against them, and they threaten further violent attacks if that does not happen. 

What is their relationship with the Afghan Taliban? 
The groups have the same ideology and consider Mullah Omar, head of the Afghan Taliban, Ameerul Momineen or Leader of Muslims. 
Before the official formation of TTP, many Pakistani Taliban fought in Afghanistan — first against the Soviets, then to help the Afghan Taliban defeat other militant groups to take over Kabul and form a government,
and finally against the U.S. and NATO forces who ousted the Afghan Taliban after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Many members of Afghan Taliban, fleeingfrom the American military assault, sought shelter across the border with groups that are now with the Pakistani Taliban. The Afghanand Pakistani Taliban also share infrastructure such as safe houses, have joint training exercises and have overlapping members. 
However, the Pakistani Taliban are not the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan, and do not consider Pakistan’s military an enemy. Rather, they have often worked as Pakistan’s strategic allies in Afghanistan. According to independent analysts and U.S. officials, the Afghan Taliban, particularly groups like the Haqqani Network, have long received support and safe havens from Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. However, Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief have both said that the country will not distinguish among different terrorist groups anymore. Army chief Raheel Sharif also assured the U.S. during a visit to Washington in November that the military’s operation in North Waziristan was against all terrorist groups without distinction.

Why is it hard to defeat Pakistani Taliban? 
Pakistani Taliban operate in a complex strategic environment. Their close association and cooperation with other militant and sectarian groups inside Pakistan makes it difficult for the security establishment to isolate them and root them out. 
Pakistan watcher Marvin Weinbaum of the Washington-based Middle East Institute points out that some of the Taliban groups were cultivated as an extension of the state’s foreign policy, to be used against an economically and militarily superior rival — India. State support has allowed these groups over the last several decades to expand their influence, spread their ideology and recruit members to a point that they have now become a formidable challenge for Pakistani government itself. 
This ties in with the issue of capacity within Pakistan’s governing system. The police and courts are not equipped to deal with terrorist outfits efficiently. Many terrorists have been arrested and then freed because of either a lack of evidence or corruption in the system.

What are some of the big attacks blamed on the Pakistani Taliban? 
Pakistani Taliban have either claimed responsibility or have been blamed for hundreds if not thousands of attacks inside Pakistan. Some of the more famous ones: 
— Assassination of Benazir Bhutto, December 2007. The former Pakistani prime minister was killed in a dual gun-and-bomb attack in December 2007. Even though her death is controversial and a U.N. report partially blames both former President Pervez Musharraf and her own husband, Asif Zardari, among others, for not giving her proper protection, the TTP is officially blamed for the assassination. 
— Attack on Pakistan military headquarters GHQ, October 2009. An attack on Pakistan’s most secure military complex and the headquarters of its powerful army dragged on for 18 hours as 10 militants first attacked a checkpost at the base and then infiltrated the buildings. More than 40 military officials were held hostage by terrorists before being rescued by the Special Services Group of the military. 
— Times Square bombing attempt, May 2010. A 30-year-old Pakistani, Faisal Shahzad, who had become a U.S. citizen a year earlier, attempted the failed attack. He told interrogators that he had met members of the Pakistani Taliban who had trained him in bomb making. 
— Attack on Mehran naval base, Karachi, May 2011. Taliban and al-Qaida militants, armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades, held off the Pakistani military for 16 hours, destroying two U.S.-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes in the process and damaging other aircraft. They said this attack was revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy special forces weeks earlier. 
— Attack on Malala Yousufzai, October 2012. The Nobel laureate survived, but the TTP vowed to try again to kill her. They were against her activism for female education and consider her a tool of the West. 
— All Saints Church Peshawar, September 2013. A TTP-linked organization, Jundullah, claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed more than 120 people. TTP denied responsibility. 
— Karachi airport attack, June 2014. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which left at least 28 people dead, including 10 attackers and more than a dozen security personnel. The attack resulted in a five-hour gunbattle between the militants and security forces. 

— Karachi naval dockyard attack, September 2014. Taliban militants said they had inside help for this brazen attack, which lasted several hours. 


Will Helmand turn into Taliban sanctuary after British forces' withdrawal?

by Abdul Haleem , Oct. 27 (Xinhua)

Having served 13 years fighting militants in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, British troops departed for home on Sunday, leaving Afghan national forces to take over the security responsibility alone in the former Taliban stronghold.
However, political experts believe that the forces' withdrawal would encourage Taliban militants to intensify activities in the already volatile Helmand province. "Since the armed oppositions interpret the British forces withdrawal from Helmand as the defeat of occupying troops, they would further speed up their activities, "Atiqullah Omarkhil , a retired army general and political-military analyst, told Xinhua.
Notorious for growing poppies for the drug trade and ongoing militancy, Helmand has been regarded as a Taliban hotbed in militancy-plagued Afghanistan. The British flag was lowered for the last time on Sunday at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, the third largest NATO-led forces military base after Bagram and Kandahar bases housing foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The British contingent as part of the U.S.-led military coalition in the war on terror in Afghanistan was deployed in 2001 and the Bastion Camp, constructed in 2006, had been used to house some 10,000 troops to fight Taliban and al-Qaida operatives. "All the NATO-led forces, including the British troops, have failed to evict Taliban militants from Helmand province over the past 13 years. The Taliban has fought in Helmand and other provinces in the presence of foreign troops and will continue to fight in their absence," the analyst maintained.
Taliban militants launched a massive offensive against the Sangin district of Helmand province last June, which left more than 300 people including civilians dead or injured.
While the sporadic fighting is still going on in the Sangin district, the armed militants unleashed coordinated offensive in the neighboring Naw Zad district a couple of weeks ago and the Afghan security forces have yet to overcome the challenge. The British forces have reportedly lost 453 servicemen in the war since their deployment in Afghanistan in 2001. Britain plans to keep some 400 servicemen in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, to train and advice the Afghan national security forces.
The Afghan government inked the Bilateral Security Agreement ( BSA) with the U.S. and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with NATO allowing the U.S. alliance to keep some 12,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Meanwhile, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi has said that the national security forces are capable enough to fully bear the security responsibility of the country alone after the pullout of foreign forces, a notion doubted by Afghan civilians. The strategically important Helmand province, which borders Pakistan is infamous for poppy cultivation and Taliban-led militancy wherein, according to the provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat, hundreds of Pakistani Taliban are involved in the ongoing militancy there alongside Afghan insurgents.
"Diminishing Taliban insurgents or their eviction from a district is not an easy task, if it were, the NATO-led forces might have already ensured security across the Helmand province," the Omarkhil observed. Nevertheless, observers are of the view that stabilizing security in Helmand in the wake of British forces withdrawal could be a crucial test of the Afghan government's ability to curb militancy or risk seeing it become a Taliban hub.


What Role Can India Play in Defusing Afghanistan's Election Crisis?


The Diplomat September 10, 2014
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Kabul on Wednesday as Afghanistan grapples with a prolonged electoral crisis that began in June. Swaraj’s trip to Kabul comes at a crucial hour and could result in important dividends for New Delhi once the current crisis is resolved.
Beyond Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attendance at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration in May, the governments of India and Afghanistan have not interacted at a high-level since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over in New Delhi. While Swaraj is slated to meet with the outgoing Karzai government, discussing routine matters such as development assistance, Afghan reconstruction, and security cooperation, she will also convey New Delhi’s desire to see the current electoral crisis resolved via negotiation and according to the terms of the U.S.-brokered, U.N.-enforced deal.
India bears the benefit of being perceived positively almost unanimously among mainstream Afghan politicians (this, of course, doesn’t include the Taliban and other extremist groups). Both presidential candidates have a positive understanding of India’s relations with Afghanistan (as does the outgoing government). With her trip to Kabul, Swaraj makes India visible at a crucial juncture in Afghanistan’s political transition. Given her trip’s agenda, it appears unlikely that she will attempt to broker a return to the prior agreement between Ghani and Abdullah (though she will meet with them).
By backing a return to the established agreement’s procedures, Swaraj would join a growing chorus of global voices that have called for composure and negotiation during this crisis. Abdullah’s declaration could have the disastrous effect of polarizing supporters to the extent that the fragile ethnic balance of this election collapses and inter-ethic violence breaks out along political lines. This outcome, naturally, would be a nightmare for India, which wants to see a prosperous and stable Afghanistan.
Although India likely won’t be too activist on the matter of resolving Afghanistan’s political dispute, if it chose to, it might have a unique appeal with both candidate’s supporters. Many Afghans, particularly Abdullah’s supporters, bemoan extensive U.S. involvement in defusing the electoral crisis. In particular, should Abdullah be found to have lost the election (all signs point to this outcome), his supporters will see repeats of the 2009 election, when Abdullah agreed to cede victory to Karzai instead of holding out for a fair and comprehensive recount and audit. India can’t change the results of the audit, but it can encourage the candidates to stick to the unity government deal under which the losing candidate would gain some political authority under a newly manufactured chief executive post within the Afghan government. New Delhi’s status as a regional friend and a decidedly non-Western power could give it some staying power with the candidates.

Militants In Afghanistan, Pakistan Claiming Allegiance To IS

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty September 26, 2014
Amid fears the Islamic State (IS) extremist group could expand to Afghanistan, there are already signs that some militants in the region are eager to claim affiliation with the group.
One sign came this week in a video sent to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that shows three purported Afghan militants, their faces covered, sitting beneath the black IS battle flag.
Speaking in the Ghazni dialect of Pashto, the trio's spokesperson claimed to represent a group called the Islamic Organization of Great Afghanistan and stated his readiness to fight for the IS and its "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The unidentified spokesperson called for all militants in Afghanistan, the Pashtun tribal areas in Pakistan, and in the Baluch areas of Pakistan and Iran to join together under the IS banner.
At times, however, he appeared as much focused on his own nationalistic agenda as the Islamic State's goal of uniting all Muslim lands in a new caliphate. He repeatedly called for attacks on the "Punjabi state" of Pakistan and accused the Afghan Taliban's leaders of working for Islamabad's interests, while praising IS as the only power able to "free" his countrymen.
The video was sent a week after an anonymous caller contacted Radio Free Afghanistan's correspondent in Ghazni Province and claimed to represent the IS militant group in Afghanistan. Although intended to reinforce the caller's claim, the video did not offer any details as to the size or strength of the group behind it.
That makes is impossible to know whether the group in the video has a direct link to the Islamic State's leadership. But its use of IS symbols and the reverence with which the spokesperson refers to the group does offer a measure of how much name recognition IS now has in the region and of its potential for expansion.

'Slightly Outdated Model'
Some intelligence services believe IS is actively seeking new members in Afghanistan. A Russian diplomat in Afghanistan said this week that some of his sources report that IS has already opened an office, though he did not say where.
"We know that about a hundred [IS] members have penetrated there," Zamir Kabulov, special representative in Afghanistan for Russian President Valdimir Putin, told Interfax on September 23.
"As I understand it, [IS] views the Taliban or even Al-Qaeda as a conservative and slightly outdated model," Kabulov said. "They present themselves as a new ideology, which is more offensive, aggressive, and advanced."

If IS does turn eastward, it will likely come into competition with the Taliban, currently the dominant militant movement in the region. The competition could be both for first-time recruits and for seasoned fighters.
A commander in the Hizb-i-Islami group, which fights alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, told the BBC last week that he was "sure" his leadership would announce allegiance to IS. It was not clear whether the commander, named Mirwais, was speaking for himself alone or for others.
Reuters reported last week that a splinter group of Pakistan's Taliban insurgents, Jamat-ul Ahrar, also was ready to consider invitations to join IS.
"IS is an Islamic jihadi organization working for the implementation of the Islamic system and creation of the caliphate," Ehsanullah Ehsan, Jamat-ul Ahrar's leader and a prominent Taliban figure, told Reuters on September 7. "We respect them. If they ask us for help, we will look into it and decide."

Refugee Camp Recruitment
Meanwhile, there are signs some groups already are trying to recruit for IS in refugee camps in Pakistan. A 12-page pamphlet emblazoned with the Islamic State group's black flag and written in both Pashto and Dari was distributed earlier this month in camps near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. The camps house refugees from Afghanistan and from Pakistan's restive tribal regions.
Reuters quotes Sameeulah Hanifi, a prayer leader in Peshawar, as saying the pamphlets were distributed by a little-known local group called Islami Khalifat, an outspoken IS supporter. By moving into South and Central Asia, IS would be following home the many recruits from the region who currently are fighting with the group in Syria and Iraq.
Iran said recently it had arrested Afghan and Pakistani citizens trying to join IS in Syria and Iraq. The BBC quotes Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani as saying on September 8 that the men planned to cross Iran but did not specify their number or where they were arrested.
Similarly, dozens of militants from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are reported to have made the journey through Turkey to Syria to join extremist groups battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Delays, fights marred Afghanistan's election recount

Los Angeles Times, 28 August, 2014
Inside the hot, musty airplane hangar where international officials were supervising Afghanistan’s presidential election recount, the rival camps had sparred for days until the tension finally boiled over.
The Aug. 19 altercation was the most serious of several fights that interrupted the recount effort, which was introduced with fanfare last month by Secretary of State John F. Kerry but has been plagued by delays, mistrust and violence that have frustrated U.S. hopes of a smooth transition of political power in Afghanistan.
Abdullah withdrew his observers from the recount process Wednesday, alleging that the audit of all 8 million ballots from June’s runoff was “built in a one-sided manner” favoring his rival, Ashraf Ghani. U.N. officials then persuaded Ghani’s team to pull out its observers to maintain the appearance of impartiality, saying the review would continue without either team’s representatives present.
The developments have cast doubt on the viability of a national unity government including members of both campaigns, which Obama administration officials believe is crucial to ensuring political stability as the United States withdraws most of its troops from Afghanistan by year's end.
U.S. officials in Kabul held meetings with the candidates and said that both men remained committed to forming a unity government, which envisions the president sharing executive powers with the runner-up.
“Both teams have high-level stakeholders who are out to secure their personal and political interests,” said Abdullah Azada Khenjani, news director at 1TV, a leading private television network in Kabul.
For many Afghans, a government that makes space for both teams seems similar to what they’ve seen before. While both candidates have pledged to stamp out corruption, which has mushroomed during President Hamid Karzai’s 12-year administration, their teams are composed of many of the same power brokers whom Karzai had to appease in order to maintain stability.
Many Afghans have grown disillusioned with an election that began with promise in April, when the first round of voting featured robust turnout and few major accusations of fraud.
International monitors brought in by the U.N. were given only advisory roles, but they constantly faced accusations from the rival camps. One Abdullah observer told a U.N. monitor, “I don’t know how much the Ashraf Ghani team is paying you.”
The U.N. observers were sometimes shocked by the apparent fraud. Looking at the results from one ballot box in the eastern province of Paktika, which showed 594 votes for Ghani and six for Abdullah, a foreign observer said: “This wouldn’t even be possible in the Soviet Union.”
Experts say the messy process could benefit the man being replaced. “If these two do a bad job, if they make the situation worse, Karzai can come back and say: ‘See, I was the only one who could run this country properly,’” Ali said.