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Opinion

January 10, 2015

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A brief history of non-state actors

The west has long pointed an accusing finger at Pakistan’s policy of dealing with terrorists, alleging that: a) the state differentiates between those that directly attack the country, it’s citizens, soldiers and institutions – the bad Taliban – and those that operate across the eastern border in Afghanistan, and westwards in Occupied Kashmir and beyond – the good Taliban; and b) that the Deep State actively supports the former. This accusation has come to be known as Pakistan’s good and bad Taliban policy.
However, not too long ago, there were no good and bad Taliban. In fact, there were no Taliban – there were mujahideen. And go a little further back, there were no mujahids either, only lashkars: groups of civilians banding (or banded) together for a common, overt or covert, cause. Over the course of history, numerous countries across the globe, Pakistan included, have nurtured and used civilians to either supplement certain requirements of the state or act in a certain manner on the state’s behest.
These are known as non-state actors.
It all started back in 1947/48, with the fate of the princely state of Kashmir hanging in a fine balance. A motley crew of tribal fighters from across Fata and the then North West Frontier Province (NWFP), coupled with state irregulars, moved towards the state on the pretext of suppressing a rebellion but soon turned their focus towards Srinagar. That’s when Hari Singh solicited the help of our neighbours, who agreed to help, with the caveat of Singh signing off on the accession to India.
The rallying cry for the 1947 Kashmir incursion had been a potent mix of patriotism and religion: nationalistic Islam, shall we say.
The next time this came around was in 1970/71, when General Yahya Khan, with the Jamaat-e-Islami, formed, trained, armed and unleashed on the hapless Bengalis, two organisations: Al-Badr and Al-Shams. These two are the first instance of an organised non-state organisation being

used by the state.
In this particular episode, nationalism took a secondary role to religion. The groups had been used to smash seculars and anti-nationalists. To put it plainly, Pakistani nationalism died in Bangladesh in 1971 and was replaced by religion.
Then Afghanistan happened.
Much and more has been written about Pakistan’s role in the Afghan resistance, which was what it was, until General Zia decided to use religion to turn it into jihad. From 1979 onwards, Pakistan became the landing ground and launching pad for any Muslim who wanted to fight in Afghanistan. And since religion was now the rallying cry against the invading infidel, madressahs mushroomed across the length and breadth of the country. Midway through the resistance, the quintessential jihadist outfit was formed, known as the Harkatul Jihad al Islami. (HuJI). Retrospectively, the HuJI came to be the parent group for other outfits such as the Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), the Harkatul Ansar (HuA) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
But not of all these groups were focused on the Russians. Zia, being who he was, (a perfect opportunist) saw the physical space created by the Afghan mujahids, and the success of the jihad injection into Afghanistan, to nurture the next crop of non-state actors, for use on the eastern front. Groups such as those named above, after the Soviet retreat, recalibrated their focus towards Kashmir. It is widely believed that three groups: the HuJi, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the JeM emerged from the same source.
By this time, hundreds of jihadi outfits had emerged. Some were fighting in Afghanistan, others in Kashmir. Many had disbanded and many small ones had grouped together. Thousands of seminaries were operating unchecked and churning out crop after crop of young men, brainwashed with a skewed version of religion, and trained in the use of weapons.
As the last Soviet tanks rolled out of Afghanistan, a bloody civil war was already underway. A few years in, no clear winner emerged. It was in the centre of this bloody mess that the Taliban were born. The group swiftly grew, with a little help from their friends, to become the de facto rulers of Afghanistan in 1996. It is also widely alleged that as the Taliban rose to power in southern Afghanistan, they were approached by some friends across the border, who promised active and passive support for the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The rest, as they say, is history.
But the Taliban were not non-state actors in their own backyard. However, their ranks were swelled through a constant flow of personnel from other non-state actors named earlier, which, over time, increased the amount of influence one had over the Taliban. But we digress.
Till this point, Pakistan’s engagement with non-state actors hadn’t caused much trouble. But 9/11 changed everything. Two major events are worth mentioning: First, when the US hammer came down on Afghanistan there was no anvil on the Pakistani side to stem the influx of escaping Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel. They scurried over the border, pretty much as far into the country as they wanted to. Second, when General Musharraf decided to ‘abandon’ the Taliban, he made two tactical errors: a) he chose to stick with groups which were not operating there; and b) in siding with the US, he created enemies for himself and Pakistan.
This is where and how the violent non-state actor known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was born.
Why is this history necessary and does it serve any purpose?
Pakistan has a long, chequered and bloody history with the use of non-state actors. Erroneous decisions by people in power and other state institutions have created monsters out of those who once did their bidding.
Is Pakistan going to go the whole nine yards this time? The signs, unfortunately, say no.
Twitter: @aasimzkhan
Email: [email protected]

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