Inside the Taliban’s Tactics… in Pakistan

by Joshua Foust on 11/9/2006

With the excitement in Kyrgyzstan, it’s important not to lose sight of the other grand experiement in democracy in Central Asia: Afghanistan. In a rare interview, a 22-year old Taliban commander describes how his unit operates:

But Hilal says he is the co-leader of 200 Taliban fighters who operate across the border in Afghanistan. “Two years ago, we only attacked Afghan officials, but now we have so many Talibs that we can attack Americans,” he boasts.

In a rare interview with a Western reporter, Hilal and three other Afghan Taliban fighters describe how they slip into Afghanistan, attack NATO and Afghan forces, and return to Pakistan to rest.

“Everybody in the neighborhood knows we are Talibs,” says Noman, a 19-year-old fighter with a blue-white block-printed turban. “Paki-stan is a little bit free for us.”

The interview was conducted over two days in a small house made of yellow mud in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. The fighters, who won’t give their real names, say they are here for a refresher course in Taliban ideology in a Pakistani religious school.

Luckily, Musharraf ceded the Balochistan region to the locals, allowing them enough autonomy to act like this: as direct enemies of the U.S. Interestingly, Hilal describes the madrassas as ideology training centers, and not necessarily religious instruction—a key change from how the Taliban traditionally like to portray themselves. In fact, I daresay the Taliban cynically use religion merely as a method of control, rather than some sort of über-pious expression of a mideval faith.

Most of the Talib fighters have Pakistani ID cars, which raises an interesting question: exactly how complicit has Pakistan been in the fighting in southeast Afghanistan? The fighters claim to be native Afghanis who fled during the initial invasion in 2001, and they claim to stash all their weapons inside Afghanistan, and that they only target non-Muslims. This claim, however, doesn’t gel with news that on Wednesday 35 Pakistani soliders—almost certainly Muslims themselves—were killed in a major suicide attack in the Northwest Frontier Province. So while they seem to have the support of the Pakistani government, they also target the Pakistani government.

Lastly, I was fascinated to learn that while the Taliban claim to be in favor of the idea of reconstruction work, they hate what is going on now because they assume it is in the name of Christianity… because the alphabet isn’t taught in a way that promotes jihad. They can’t point to any sort of proseltyzing, though, because there isn’t any happening. I’m assuming they missed that time the new Afghani government sentenced a man to death for converting to Christianity.

Cynicism it is, then. The new Taliban are just as cynical, manipulative, and deadly as any other extremist group, preying upon the gullibility of uneducated peasants to drive an engine of death across the countryside. And we still think we can “solve” the country by simply throwing more troops at it.

That being said, it is entirely possible the Balochi Taliban have overplayed their hand: as their attacks widen to include actual locals and Muslims, it appears their support within Pakistan is slowly easing. How much of a trend this is remains to be seen, however: it is, afterall, in response to one attack, versus dozens against foreigners. Stay tuned, however.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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