Monday, September 08, 2008

The Land Question behind the Taliban Resurgence

The Dexter Filkins article below clarifies the main reason for the Taliban resurgence, which looks not unlike an Islamic variant of the Maoist "people's war." Without substantial land reform in the tribal areas, the Taliban will continue to grow in Pakistan. Pressuring the Pakistani government to attack the Taliban militarily in Pakistan so as to deny the Taliban in Afghanistan "strategic depth" (the current main US approach), or worse the US military directly invading the tribal areas in Pakistan (the approach that the US will be increasingly taking), is a recipe for disaster, liable to make the whole of Pakistan, which has not become a coherent nation yet, ungovernable.
Everywhere I traveled during my stay in the tribal areas and in Peshawar, I met impoverished Pakistanis who told me Robin Hood-like stories about how the Taliban had challenged the wealthy and powerful people on behalf of the little guys. Hamidullah, for instance, was an illiterate wheat farmer living in Khyber agency when, in 2002, a wealthy landowner seized his home and six acres of fields. Hamidullah and his family were forced to eke out a living from a nearby shanty. Neither the local malik nor the government agent, Hamidullah told me, would intervene on his behalf. Then came Namdar, the Taliban commander. He hauled the rich man before a Vice and Virtue council and ordered him to give back Hamidullah’s home and farm.

Now Hamidullah is one of Namdar’s loyal militiamen.

“There are so many guys like me,” he said, cradling a Kalashnikov.

The social revolution that has swept the tribal areas does not bode well for the plans, laid out by Governor Ghani, to oust the Taliban by boosting the tribal elders. Nor does it hold out much promise for the Americans, who have expressed hope that they could do in the FATA what they were able to do with the Sunni tribes in Iraq. There, local tribesmen rose up against, and have substantially weakened, Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. (Dexter Filkins, "Right at the Edge," New York Times, 7 September 2008)

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