Insurgents, War and Death: Pakistan’s Cauldron of Hell

Taliban supporters at a rally against the Pakistan armyPhoto:
”Cry of Rage” / Taliban supporters at a rally against the Pakistan army offensive in the Swat and Buner Valleys, May 26, 2009
Photo – © AFP / Banaras Khan / Miriam Godet / Flickr

The War

Since the fall of 2001, the United States has tried relentlessly to convert Pakistan into a steady and reliable ally in the war against terrorism. Pakistan’s unique geographic position – next door to the homeland of Al Qaeda in the impenetrable wilderness of several Afghan provinces – mandated this courtship. Billions of USD have been poured into the coffers of the Pakistan military and successive governments, be the Pakistan President a general or a civilian. Democratic process in Pakistan has been given lip service – as propaganda needs dictate – but the assets to be secured were defined as so important that any means necessary to achieve strategic ends continues to be acceptable.

Taliban execute a local outlawPhoto:
Taliban execute a local outlaw / Dadukhei area, Mohmand Agency, April 26, 2008
Photo – Peshawar / Flickr

Over the past several years, this policy has morphed into bloated, confused many-headed hydra in which fantasy and reality are mixed without any embarrassment to suit the needs of a failing imperialistic vision. The Pakistan military, the genuine repository of power, has never executed the mission the US has given them with consistency and commitment because it conflicts with long standing experience in dealing with the Taliban.
Taliban controlled territory / Pakistan NWFP & FATA
Cartography – The Long War Journal / Gerard Group

Pakistan is now more fragile and less reliable as an American ally than ever. A significant portion of the country is controlled by the Taliban which is an indigenous political insurrection. The Taliban deal with the government was to promise relative peace in provinces the Taliban would control. In the fall of 2009, this arrangement fell apart. The Taliban now view the Pakistan government and ruling elite as an enemy, a corrupt elite that will do the bidding of the United States in exchange for Money. The consequences have been terrible.

Taliban Leader, Baitullah MehsudPhoto:
Pakistan’s top Taliban Leader, Baitullah Mehsud, talks to the media / Kotkai, Pak/Afghan border, May 24, 2008.
Photo – AP Photo/APTN / S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr

Taliban Leader, Baitullah Mehsud, may have been killed by a US drone missile, Aug. 5, 2009. Some informed regional journalists believe he was only wounded and his death then staged. Mehsud led a violent campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations against the Pakistan government, Taliban pay back for Pakistan’s alliance with the United States.
‘Pakistan (Khyber) – captured insurgents / Dec. 12, 2009
Photo – Reuters / K. Parvez / Miriam Godet / Flickr

Teenage boy, suicide bomberPhoto:
Teenage boy, suicide bomber under arrest. Taliban buy children to train for such assignments. Price is $USD7,000 to $USD14,000.
Photo – Doug20022 / Flickr

American policy has refused to recognize that continual interference in Pakistani politics, internal affairs and military strategy would destroy government credibility with their own citizens, create a dangerous power vacuum and catalyze the growth of the Taliban and other fundamentalist Islamic movements. The insult to Pakistani sovereignty has never been understood in Washington. American arrogance has alienated the Pakistan nation, from homeless refugees to an important fraction of the elite. On the international stage, American diplomatic credibility has been seriously diluted.

Taliban bombing in PeshawarPhoto:
Taliban bombing in Peshawar / > 100 people died, October 28, 2008
Photo – AP Mohammad Iqbal / Miriam Godet / Flickr

The Pakistan ISI is not understood by the United States and has never been dealt with effectively. This powerful military intelligence service controls much of army policy and is dominated by officers of Pashtun descent, which is the tribal foundation of the Taliban. Until the fall of 2009, Pashtun officers in the Pakistan army were very reluctant to attack and kill fellow tribesmen. If forced to do so, they conducted military operations of extreme complexity in which minimizing damage and death to their tribal brothers was the first priority. This reality about tribal relationships cannot be overridden by bribes or bullying. Money is taken but the United States does not get back what was agreed to.

Brief appearances by: a) General Hamil Gul who headed the ISI and openly supported Pashtun and Taliban; b) a Jamat Islami mullah; and c) a radicalized female protestor who points out that India remains a strong democracy while dealing with numerous, strong terrorist threats and domestic insurgencies.

Cobra Helicopters / Mosque, IslamabadPhoto:
Cobra Helicopters / Shah Faisal Mosque, Islamabad, November 24, 2008
Photo – MAN™ / Flickr

In the fall of 2009, American pressure finally succeeded in changing Pakistan strategy toward the Taliban. An immediate result was that new military and civilian targets opened up for Taliban suicide bombers and the Pakistan military was redefined as an enemy. Taliban willingness to work with the ISI (and vice versa) has now been replaced by wariness and distance at best, outright hostility and attacks at worse. Furthermore, what was a distant and wary relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban has become much more trusting and strategically dangerous to the Pakistan government and USA objectives in the region.

MQ-9 Reaper dronePhoto:
MQ-9 Reaper / drone as deployed in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Photo – USAF

American policy is almost a complete failure. Drone attacks kill Taliban leaders and an occasional Al Qaeda operative with increasing effectiveness, but these individuals are quickly replaced. The analogy of the many-headed Hydra of antiquity is apt. Pakistan public opinion is now very hostile towards the United States and the Pakistan government.
Bombing of the Marriott Hotel, Islamabad, Sept. 20, 2008
Photo – NotMicroButSoft (Backin-Town) / Flickr

A truck with 1000 kg of explosive material hit the security bolder of the Marriot Hotel on September 20, 2008, at about 8:00 p.m. in the capital city’s most secure neighborhood. At least 40 individuals were killed and another 172 wounded. The Taliban did not claim responsibility for this attack and it is likely the work of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba. Birthed in Afghanistan in 1991, the Lashkar is the armed unit of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, whose home is a seminary at Muridke, Pakistan where it feeds on the conflict in Kashmir. Lashkar is one of the most dangerous organizations in this Cauldron of Hell because blood and violence are the beginning and end of their murderous activities.
Pakistan – eviction of Lashkar-e-Toiba
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr
Pakistan – eviction of Lashkar-e-Toiba(2)
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr
Suicide bombing victims / Peshawar, Oct.9, 2009
Photo – AP Mohammad Iqbal / Miriam Godet / Flickr

In the fantasy world that is now America, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are conflated. The Taliban are hysterically described as a direct threat to America’s national security and homeland. The Pakistan Taliban, as with the Afghanistan Taliban, desperately want the United States out of their country. The Taliban also intend to take power and again rule Afghanistan and if possible, do so in Pakistan. If that ever comes to pass, the Taliban will implement their well known brand of highly conservative, severe medieval Islam. While we might find this highly offensive, how these Taliban political movements with their small armies that do not possess a navy, air force or high tech weapons can threaten the United States is beyond the imagination.
Pakistan ( Matanee) / school targeted by insurgent bombs
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr
Demolished school in Mingora (Swat), November 15, 2009
Photo – Kash_if / Flickr

Setting reality aside, anything goes in the USA to drum up support for the next troop surge into Afghanistan and the next inflated budget for the Afghan War. Yes in the past, the Taliban have given sanctuary to Al Qaeda which does plan terrorist attacks in countries far afield from the Cauldron of Hell. But then Al Qaeda hardly needs Taliban sanctuary to continue their operations against the West. Several years ago, Al Qaeda established an international network of sleeper cells that work autonomously in many countries. Sanctuary in the frontier provinces of Pakistan is a convenience, not a necessity.
Pakistan / homeless refugee / Nov. 28, 2009
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr

Pakistan military offensives against the Taliban these past several months have produced a new refugee crisis. At least two million Pakistanis are now homeless as the result of these ill-advised military actions which are executed at the command of a blind, uncomprehending United States. Money talks and this is what came down on Pakistan as the latest leadership under President Zahari capitulated to the American check book. It is impossible to predict where this nightmare will end up. In January 2010, there were signs in Islamabad that USA demands were being considered through a new and more critical lens.

Sacrifice Daki Nal Bandi (Peshawar) / November 28, 2009
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr
Pakistan (Peshawar) / young girls at Jalozai refugee camp
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr
Pakistan (Peshawar) / displaced families returning home
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr
Pakistan (Lahore) – protest against USA / Dec. 13, 2009
Photo – AP Photo / K.M. Chaudary / Miriam Godet / Flickr
The banner reads “Go America Go, American aggression is unacceptable.”
Pakistan / Jamat Islami protest
Photo – S.A. Saddeqe / Flickr

Founded in British India in 1941, Jamaat-e-Islami is Pakistan’s oldest religious political party. They are specifically opposed to violence and advocate change through peaceful methods. Critics believe the JI wants a religious dictatorship to rule Pakistan, and that they maintain terrorist training camps in Kashmir. The militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islam in Kashmir (Hizbul Mujahideen) was formed in 1989. Indian intelligence believes they are supported by the Pakistan ISI (military intelligence). Source #10 is the English language web site of JI in India.
Afghanistan-Pakistan war protest / Boston, Mass. USA / October 17, 2009
Photo – Protest Photos1 / Flickr
Buddha defaced by Taliban (Swat), October 8, 2007
Photo – imranthetrekker (chitralguy), Back from Everest / Flickr

As was done to the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, this large Buddha in the Swat Valley was dynamited by the Taliban in the fall of 2007. Swat is ancient Udyana, and was home to 1400 stupas and monasteries, and 6,000 gold images of the Buddha. 400 Buddhist sites remain, including those said to contain relics of the Buddha. This priceless historical heritage is in serious danger and a sad fitting symbol of what this ill formed war has brought to the region and the world.

The author extends his deep appreciation to S.A. Saddeqe and Miriam Godet who graciously made their photo archives available to the author.

Sources –

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11