I wrote a piece last week about the possibility of a Taliban surge in Afghanistan after three previously divided warlords across the border in Pakistan decided to put aside their differences and unite in a common cause. What’s the common cause? First, stop fighting the Pakistani security forces. Second, and more ominous, join forces with the Afghan Taliban to fight the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan.
The Guardian caught up with the story this week. Also, Ahmed Rashid, the extremely well plugged-in Pakistani journalist and author of the books Taliban and one I’m currently reading, Descent into Chaos, confirmed the likelihood of a surge of Taliban fighters into Afghanistan this spring in an article in the Globe and Mail. A spate of ceasefires between the Pakistani army and militants in northern Pakistan give these groups renewed freedom of movement and a secure sanctuary from which to launch attacks into Afghanistan.
Rashid quotes a letter from Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar urging the Pakistani Taliban to stop their attacks on the Pakistani Army. “If anybody really wants to wage jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan… Attacks on Pakistani security forces by militants in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan are harming the war against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.”
Mullah Omar, who is believed to be based in Quetta, in Pakistan's southern province of Baluchistan, followed up by sending envoys to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — the tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan — where the Pakistani Taliban leaders are based. His appeal was part of a concerted attempt by al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, calling upon the Pakistani Taliban to unite.
Their efforts have resulted in an unprecedented show of unity by the once divided Pakistani Taliban commanders, who have been fighting Pakistani forces in FATA since 2004. Three major warlords of the region, Baitullah Meshsud and his two rivals Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul have struck up a new alliance called the Shura-e-Ittehad ul Mujaheddin or Council of United Holy Warriors. They have called for a ceasefire with the Pakistani army in Bajaur, where the army has been carrying out an offensive since last August. Islamabad still has to respond to the offer.
Rashid writes that the ceasefires herald a major Taliban offensive in the spring. The Afghan Taliban leadership based in Quetta is largely untouched and free to direct thousands of Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan. It also means the Taliban now have new operating bases in northern Pakistan:
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban now have the opportunity to create a new safe haven in Swat, well away from FATA, where they have been subjected to increasingly successful surprise attacks by U.S. drones. Sources in Peshawar say that extremist leaders are already moving to the safety of Swat, where drones have not been used so far.
Bill Roggio over at Long War Journal was way out in front on reporting many of these important developments.