Author: From Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich in Islamabad
The following day, in a cemetery of Muslim and Christian graves encircled by
fields of maize, the 26-year-old, who in recent months had pitched himself
against Mr Mehsud, was buried. The militant leader’s funeral was notable for
two things. Firstly the town was filled with checkposts manned by both
Taliban and Pakistani security personnel. Secondly, when the dead man’s
brother, Misabhuddin, vowed to reporters that he would take revenge against
Mr Mehsud, he also let slip something else. “Jihad against America and its
allies in Afghanistan will continue as well,” he said.
The killing last week of Mr Zainuddin, who had been staying in a compound
provided by the country’s ISI security agency, has opened a window on a
complicated, controversial and perilous element of the battle against
militants inside Pakistan. Mr Zainuddin, himself a Taliban leader who
supported al-Qa’ida and jihad against Western troops in Afghanistan, had
recently been recruited by the Pakistani authorities to join their battle to
kill Baitullah Mehsud, who has emerged as the country’s deadliest militant.
In essence, Islamabad is recruiting anti-American fighters to bolster a
joint US-Pakistani operation.
The arrangement underlines the competing strategic priorities in the region
for Pakistan and the US, even as their leaders opt in public for the
language of common interests and shared enemies. “Pakistan just wants to
concentrate on the Pakistani Taliban. They do not want to go after the
Afghan Taliban,” said Giles Dorronosoro, a regional expert at the Carnegie
Endowment. “The US wants to put the Pakistan-Afghanistan border under
control. They have totally different goals. And the issue is not resolvable.”
The Pakistan army continues to regard militants who are not fighting against
it as enduring assets and in recent years a distinction has been made
between “good Taliban” (pro-government) and “bad Taliban” (anti-government).
In most cases, that distinction is between militants who fight in
Afghanistan and those who fight in Pakistan
Indeed, for all his loathing of Mr Mehsud – a lot of which was based on
historic, personal reasons – Mr Zainuddin was scarcely the model of a hero
rising up against the local tyrant. In interviews that catapulted him from
obscurity, Mr Zainuddin pledged fealty to Mullah Omar, the leader of the
Afghan Taliban, declared his fondness for al-Qa’ida, and voiced support for
holy war against US and NATO forces. Part of his quarrel with Mr Mehsud was
a difference over the focus of their militant activities. While Mr Mehsud
and his allies in the Swat Valley were principally fighting against the
Pakistani military, Mr Zainuddin believed that it was wrong to attack fellow
For the administration of Barack Obama, Pakistan’s recruitment of such
individuals poses a pressing dilemma. Since the beginning of the year and
the emergence of Washington’s new Af-Pak policy, a decision has clearly been
taken to try and eliminate Mr Mehsud, a former bodybuilder, and a flurry of
missile strikes have targeted him, most recently this week.
As a result, while the US might think twice before turning away help in the
effort to kill a man on whose head it has placed a $5m bounty, the case of
Mr Zainuddin is a powerful reminder that one’s enemy’s enemy might not
always be a friend. “The forces that have been recruited by Pakistan to
attack Baitullah Mehsud are our enemies,” said Christine Fair, a
Washington-based analyst. “The Pakistanis are looking to use one militant
against another. So you have people such as Zainuddin and Maulvi Nazir
[another militant recruited previously by Islamabad] who are Pakistan’s
allies. But the problem is that they are the US’s enemies because they are
supporting attacks in Afghanistan.”
Mr Zainuddin clearly had his uses for the Pakistani military. The militant
leader hailed from Mr Mehsud’s tribe and came from the same area, around the
town of Makeen in South Waziristan. The Pakistan army has said it needs
local support on the ground to be able to take on such militants like Mr
Mehsud. While his claim of having the support of thousands of fighters may
have been over-inflated, with his backing the army could potentially have
destabilised the Taliban commander on more than one front.
Yet as Ms Fair points out, previous arrangements with “good militants” have
come to ruin. In 2007 when Maulvi Nazir of the rival Ahmedzai Wazir tribe in
South Waziristan took on Uzbek groups aligned to al-Qa’ida and Mr Mehsud,
the Pakistan army backed him. After his men killed 250 Uzbek fighters, the
army entered a non-aggression pact with Mr Nazir and his associate Hafiz Gul
Yet the US continued to see Mr Nazir as an enemy as he was still mounting
attacks across the border. CIA-operated drone attacks showered his base.
Enraged, Mr Nazir and Mr Bahadur shed their differences and formed a new
alliance with Mr Mehsud earlier this year. Indeed, the creation of that
alliance may been a factor in the US deciding to begin targeting Mr Mehsud.
Now, all three groups could be lined-up against the Pakistan army when it
presses ahead with its counter-insurgency operation in South Waziristan.
More publicly, but with comparably damaging results, was Pakistan’s brief
embrace of Sufi Muhammad, the hardline cleric it enlisted to broker peace in
the Swat Valley earlier this year. In late 2001, he led hundreds of young
men to fight in Afghanistan. Jailed upon his return, he was released last
year on the condition he disavow militancy.
Faced with the prospect of Swat falling to fighters led by Maulana Fazlullah,
the cleric’s son-in-law, the government halted its faltering military
operation and sued for peace. Mr Muhammad was tasked with urging his
relative to lay down his arms in return for the government’s implementation
of Islamic law. Within weeks, however, it not only emerged that the Taliban
had no intention of changing their ways, but Mr Muhammad turned from a
supposed pacifier to an active enabler of their activities.
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