Osama adds weight to Afghan resistanceCHAMAN, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border - Since the disintegration of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001, the Afghan resistance has endured, managing, if nothing else, to keep US-led occupying forces and the Afghan National Army engaged in small pockets.
But much bigger things are planned.
The Taliban are commanded from within Afghanistan by the likes of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Dadullah and Saifullah Mansoor. And significantly, according to Asia Times Online research, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, along with other senior al-Qaeda figures, are no longer in Pakistan but orchestrating the Afghan resistance from within Afghanistan, remote from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It was not exactly "politicking" when Pakistani officials claimed recently that they were close to finding "high-value targets" in the country. Under US pressure, efforts have intensified over the past few months to reel in such people. The most recent operation took place near Shawal, in an area called the Bush Mountains. (This is technically Pakistani territory, although the border is fluid at best. And "Bush" has no US connotations, the mountains have been named so for many years.)
Last Sunday a Pakistan army convoy, along with several gunship helicopters, besieged the residence of the chief of the Shawal tribes, Zarma Jan, who assured the officers of his full cooperation. Contingents of the Pakistani military and paramilitary troops combed the areas of Mangaroti, Darey Nishtar and the Bush Mountains, on land and from the air. After 11 hours, though, they could not find a single foreign militant.
According to sources in the Taliban who spoke to Asia Times Online, the operation came too late - foreign militants and high-value targets had already left for Afghanistan.
Enter one Mullah Mehmood Haq Yar. He was sent by Mullah Omar to northern Iraq to train Ansarul Islam fighters before the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Mehmood returned to Afghanistan only a few months ago and was inducted into a special council of commanders formed by Mullah Omar and assigned the task of shepherding all foreign fighters and high-value targets from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan.
The Taliban sources obviously would not disclose where Mehmood's charges have been taken, but reading between the lines they could be in Paktia province in the care of legendary mujahideen commanders Mansoor and Haqqani.
Mansoor is the son of Nasrullah Mansoor, one of the most respected Afghan guerrilla leaders from the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, who terrorized Soviet troops around Gardez. Saifullah Mansoor's reputation as a chip off the old block was cemented when in April 2002 he led a raid in which 18 US soldiers were killed in a guerrilla attack at Shahi Kot in the Zarmat area.
Haqqani also earned his reputation fighting the Soviets, and defeated Afghan communist forces in 1991 in Khost, the first Afghan city to fall to the mujahideen after the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989.
Neither Mansoor nor Haqqani left Afghanistan - unlike other commanders who sought exile in the chaotic period leading up to and after the Taliban takeover in 1996 - and maintained their field forces. Haqqani's "playground" is Khost and Paktia, but Mullah Omar has empowered him to help devise a military strategy for the whole of Afghanistan.
The latest strategy
Since his return from Iraq, Mehmood has convinced the Taliban leaders that they need to adapt their strategy to take into account limited human and material resources. At present, the Taliban face manifold problems. In particular, they cannot conduct a widespread, coordinated guerrilla movement as their communications have been crippled - all telecommunications are closely monitored by the US.
Mehmood's blueprint includes:
In addition to this, Haqqani and Dadullah will keep up the heat from the outskirts of major cities.
Mehmood's strategy is aimed specifically at destroying administrative systems in key cities and disrupting routine life. As this tactic takes hold, the Taliban will step into the vacuum and expand the war front.
At present, Afghan and Arab fighters fully committed to the resistance number only a few thousand. It is believed, though, that once the spade work is completed, the vast silent majority of the Taliban will rise up, especially from the madrassas (seminaries) of Quetta and Chaman in Pakistan, to join hands with the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they have done in the past,.
On the three-and-a-half-hour journey from Quetta to Chaman in Balochistan province on the Afghan border, one can see dozens of new madrassas built in the past few years, in addition to others that have been expanded to take more students.
And if graffiti are any indication, support for the Taliban and bin Laden is widespread. Many walls sport fresh markings, such as "Amirul Momeneen" (leader of the faithful - Mullah Omar), "Ameerul Mujahideen Osama bin Laden" (commander of the faithful), "Long live the Taliban movement" and "Long live al-Qaeda". This type of graffiti never existed when this correspondent traveled on the same route about a year ago.
Most roadside shops play pro-Taliban Afghan national "songs" (without the music) on tape recorders. Some even have music - songs by Abdullah Makai, a famous Afghan singer, are available, such as "O Kabul, your princes are now beggars in Karachi", and a co-singer (female) adds a curse on those who cut their long beards for US dollars.
From Chaman to Kandahar in Afghanistan, products bearing bin Laden's face are guaranteed to sell well.
"The situation is going from bad to worse," says Malik Nabi, district president, Chaman, of the anti-Taliban Pashtunkho Mili Awami Party. "The numbers of Taliban and their supporters are increasing with every passing day. You take a ride to Chaman and you will find black and white turbans everywhere, a sort of propaganda tactic to show their strength. Just go to a football stadium in the evening and you will find hundreds of black turbans, a hallmark of the Taliban," Malik Nabi adds.
Nowadays, as far as the Taliban are concerned, there are two types of Taliban: those who are on the frontline battlefields, and those who are waiting for a call to become cannon fodder once the word goes out for a mass mobilization.
As far as al-Qaeda is concerned, a new, dispersed, generation of cells are involved in plotting attacks worldwide.
The "old" brigade, meanwhile, including bin Laden and Zawahiri, are concentrating their efforts on the battlefields of Afghanistan.
Syed Saleem Shahzadis bureau chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at [email protected].