Nadir Hassan wrote for Express Tribune that it is time to de-link drones and terrorism. Nadir Hassan’s analysis is based on a commonly accepted idea: that TTP and Afghan Taliban are two distinct groups with different goals.
Much of the terrorist violence in the country is the handiwork of the TTP, a coalition of various militant groups that operate inside Pakistan, while drone attacks chiefly target militant groups that have found refuge in the tribal agencies but are mainly interested in carrying out attacks in Afghanistan. Linking the use of drones on the latter with the violence of the former makes about as much sense as blaming Protestants for the sins of Catholicism. They may have similar ideologies rooted in the same religion but they have goals and aspirations which rarely overlap.
Unfortunately, this appears to be more wishful thinking than verifiable fact. In February 2009, Geo TV reported that TTP leaders in Waziristan formed a new group named Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen and swore allegiance to Mullah Omar as Amir-ul-Maumineen.
The basis for this thought is that militant groups that attack American targets in Afghanistan don’t usually attack targets in Pakistan. Some of these groups, like the followers of Jalaluddin Haqqani who has also sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar, are even considered by some to be ‘pro-Pakistan’. Since these fighters of the ‘Haqqani network’ are not carrying out attacks inside Pakistan, it is assumed that they are not a threat. Nadir Hassan repeats this in his piece also.
In pursuing its own interests, the US uses its drone technology to target those it sees as a threat to its troops and interests in Afghanistan. That same instinct of self-preservation leads the US to constantly pressure Pakistan to carry out a military operation in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, which has attacked targets only in Afghanistan. We have obviously refused to do so since the Haqqani network poses no immediate threat to Pakistan.
We should examine the claim that Afghan Taliban are only fighting an occupation by the Americans and don’t have broader goals. If this is true, why such attacks at the suicide bombing of the Eid Gah mosque in Maymana that killed almost 50 people including women and children? Why the Afghan Taliban threaten consequences to girls’ schools, including the killing of the headteacher of a girls’ school? Why the beheading of 17 people including women for attending a mixed-gender party? These are not the acts of a liberation army, they are the acts of militant group seeking to force its ideology on the people through violence and intimidation.
It is worth noting that the same types of attacks are carried out by TTP in Pakistan. The suicide bombing at Data Darbar, the attack on Malala for promoting education of girls. Yes, Afghan Taliban also attack American military bases, and TTP attacks Pakistan military bases, but even this raises an obvious question: Are TTP and the Afghan Taliban fighting two fronts of the same ideological war?
Hassan’s conclusion is worthy of consideration:
“The only distinction our military has drawn is that of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. This may be about as unhelpful a designation as one could get. ‘Good’ Taliban are described as those attacking Afghanistan, while the baddies are those who go after us. Instead of moralistically differentiating between them, it would be far more persuasive to differentiate on the basis of practicality.”
So then the question we should be asking is whether it’s ‘practical’ to let a militant threat develop on our Western border. This is the question that neither Nadir Hassan nor anyone else seems willing to address.