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EDITORIAL: Fazlullah in Nuristan?

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The presence and activities of the Swat-fame Maulana Fazlullah in Afghanistan are shrouded in mystery and speculations. There are conflicting reports about Fazlullah leading a force of 300 men to fight the Afghan security forces in the northeastern province of Nuristan bordering Pakistan. The Afghan official sources claim that three policemen and seven Taliban have been killed in clashes between Fazlullah and Afghan security forces. The Afghan Taliban leadership from Nuristan, however, is vehemently denying the report, stating that no such thing can happen without their consent and collaboration. To boot it all, unconfirmed reports are doing the rounds that Fazlullah has been killed in clashes. It is not the first time that the report of Fazlullah’s death has appeared in the media. Following the military operation in Swat last year, the army claimed that Fazlullah had been critically injured. Some media outlets reported his death. He later contacted the media to deny these reports and confirm that he had taken refuge in Afghanistan. Until established beyond a shadow of a doubt, such reports must be taken with a pinch of salt.

What is significant in this whole debate is that it suggests Pakistani militants crossing over into Afghanistan to destabilise the Afghan government. If indeed Maulana Fazlullah is involved in subversive activities in Nuristan province, it is a cause of great alarm. It means that a contingent of the Pakistani Taliban has joined in the active struggle of the Afghan Taliban against the US and NATO forces. What is more alarming is the prospect of the Afghan Taliban deciding to extend such a support to their counterparts fighting against the state here in Pakistan at some point in future after falling out with their mentors. There are no two opinions that the distinction between the good (Afghan) Taliban and bad (Pakistani) Taliban was spurious in the first place and coined perhaps to justify Pakistan’s duality of policy in dealing with the two sets of militants. Is this distinction still valid?

Afghanistan’s south has traditionally been a stronghold of the Taliban, who infiltrate into Pakistan to flee from attacks by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and rehabilitate. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Kayani was on a visit to Afghanistan on the invitation of ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal to discuss security issues precisely at a time when Nuristan clashes were reported, which must have come under discussion between the two generals. The Afghan Taliban have gone so far as to claim that the Afghan government is concocting these stories to embarrass Pakistan. The ground reality, however, indicates that the previously secure north Afghanistan has ceded to the Taliban influence. Since the US and NATO forces withdrew from Nuristan province in October last year after incurring heavy losses in fierce battles with the Taliban, they have expanded their influence in the area, and this province too has now been included in the theatre of battle. Later, inter-factional fight between the Hizb-i-Islami and the Taliban in northern Baghlan province gave out firm signals that the Taliban are alive and kicking in the north. The question arises whether Fazlullah and his men were already inside Afghanistan or did they cross the border just to launch this operation. It is not possible to police the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, prevent militants’ infiltration and their advance and retreat as the flow of battle dictates. Therefore, the nexus between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban should be a cause for reflection and worry on both sides of the border. *

Courtesy: Daily Times