Originally Published 2006-05-26 06:56:27 Published on May 26, 2006
By all accounts, the new Taliban is more aggressive, well armed and trained, in collaboration with Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements, determined to take over, to begin with, southern Afghanistan, despite the presence of coalition forces.
Taliban trying a comeback
By all accounts, the new Taliban is more aggressive, well armed and trained, in collaboration with Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements, determined to take over, to begin with, southern Afghanistan, despite the presence of coalition forces.

The testimony to the strength and ferocity of the Taliban is clearly reflected in the statement made by French Rear Admiral Xavier Margne, the officer heading French forces providing support to coalition forces, on May 21: "We can clearly see, now that we're in the area... that they are a lot more aggressive."

There have been similar warnings from other commanders in the recent past about the emergence of a far more dangerous version of the erstwhile Taliban. What, however, no one is willing to point out is that, without Pakistan's tacit support, the Taliban would have remained a small group of terrorists, like many other factions of warlords who rule different pockets of influence, without posing any serious threat to the world in general.

Soon after the Taliban took over Kabul and Kandahar, a large number of Pakistani officials moved into Taliban-controlled areas to man positions of responsibility in the Taliban administration. A confidential report prepared by the UN Secretary General's office pointed out that Pakistani officials had replaced Afghan civilian officials in key positions. Pakistan, in fact, paid the salaries of the Taliban administration - a sum of $300 million was paid in June 1996.

Besides, Pakistan repai-red roads, provided electricity, set up telephone and wireless network, repaired Kandahar airport, offered technical support to the Taliban radio service, Radio Shariat, besides large quantities of kerosene, wheat and diesel. Several ISI officers were appointed in advisory roles in the Taliban intelligence set-up.

So deep was the association that Pakistan helped the Taliban in processing opium harvested in Afghanistan in make-shift refineries set up in border areas and transported the drug to Lagos en route to Europe and South Amer-ica. A World Bank report in 1999 pointed out the smuggling trade between the Taliban-controlled and Pakis-tan was worth $2.5 billion.

Pakistan also gave direct military support to the Taliban. Several thousands activists from various extremist groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Islami Jamat-e-Tulba (JuI student wing) were recruited, trained and sent to fight with the Taliban. Several middle-rung officers from the Pakistan Army were deployed to help the Taliban in formulating and executing their war plans. Plane loads of them were secretly airlifted when the US began bombing the Taliban strongholds following the September 11 attack.

According to an Observer Research Foundation scholar, Happymon Jacob, who studied the re-emergence of the Taliban two years ago, apart from supplying men, Pakistan helped the Taliban capture large arms dumps in Spin Boldak which contained some 18,000 Kalashnikovs, dozens of artillery pieces, large quantities of ammunition and vehicles.

The Human Rights Watch Report, 2000, revealed that Pakistan aircraft assisting the troop rotation of the Taliban forces during combat operations. The report said senior ISI and Army officials were involved in planning Taliban military operations.

A little known but no less frightening development was the Taliban's active interest in procuring nuclear weapons. According to two Afghan scientists, Moham-mad Jan Naziri, a professor of applied nuclear physics and Jora Mohammad Korbani, a nuclear physics professor, a mysterious charitable organisation called the Chand Group or Multi Group, which operated out of a house in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district, approached them to help make nuclear weapons for the cause of Islam.

The charity was closely associated with the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, a charity run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahm-oud, who was questioned by the US and Pakistani authorities. The CIA officials dubbed him as "bin Laden's nuclear secretary". The Multi Group wanted Korbani and his team to construct a nuclear bomb. Investigations revealed that Mahmoud was experimenting with a helium balloon filled with anthrax that could be flown across the US.

The new Taliban is not working alone. It is hand-in-glove with Al Qaeda that has shifted some of its operations to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and in the tribal areas of Waziristan. So entrenched are the terrorist groups that the Pakistan Army has been forced to deploy a large number of troops (50,000 to 80,000) in the area without much success. The first operation to flush out Al Qaeda and other terrorists began in March 2004 and is continuing even today without any significant success.

The growing Taliban-Al Qaeda partnership in Afghan-istan and in the border areas of Pakistan, without doubt, has grave consequences for peace. At least, the recent history of Pakistan-Taliban nexus points to such as an ominous possibility.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, May 24, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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