Pakistan’s Taliban, Part III: Revenge

Ahsan Chawla on the chief motivation of Pakistan's Taliban

North Waziristan, a tribal area in the North West Frontier of Pakistan, where Taliban operations are concentrated. Photo by maverick bashoo via Flickr.

North Waziristan, a tribal area in the North West Frontier of Pakistan, where Taliban operations are concentrated. Photo by maverick bashoo via Flickr.

Amidst all the talk of Sharia imposition in Pakistan and the Taliban’s ideological nature, analysts and the general population alike have ignored the very basic reason the Taliban movement sprung up in Pakistan: revenge.

This side of the Taliban movement in Pakistan is most apparent through their targets, leaders’ speeches, recruits, and their manifesto itself. Firstly, one must pay attention to the composition of the Taliban ranks. The TTP is concentrated in the North-Western areas of Pakistan, which is also where the majority of the population is of Pashtun ethnicity.

The Pashtun are a people with a very strong honor code which has dictated their society for centuries. A major component of that code is “badal”, or revenge, which allows every man the right to take revenge for any harm he receives. It is thought of as a method to safeguard the family’s honor, and hence any man who is unable to exact revenge is thought to be weak and his family dishonored.

This laid the basis for the spreading of the Taliban movement in areas dominated by Pashtuns who were being attacked by the Pakistan army. A clear indication of this was the proportion of bomb blasts targeting the Army the year after the Taliban’s formation. Out of a total of 61 bombings, 31 were against the Pakistani security force apparatus. This, in 2008, included bases, check-posts, and military convoys.

The majority of the rest of the bombings also targeted government buildings and officials, hinting at the TTP’s aim at avenging their losses and hurting the Pakistani State that they saw as an enemy.

Another indicator of the Taliban’s aim of revenge can be seen by way of their attacks in 2007, the year of their official formation. In the first six months of 2007, only four attacks took place. However in the next six months, a total of 52 attacks hit Pakistan. The turning point was the Lal Masjid operation by the Pakistan Army as well as the start of the Army operations in the Swat valley which invoked anger in the tribal areas and cemented the government’s image as a stooge of America giving birth to a violent movement against the Pakistani state.

It came as no surprise, then, when the leader of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud said in his first television interview, “We do not want to fight Pakistan or the Army. But if they continue to be slaves to US demands, then our hands will be forced.”

This gave insight to the Taliban’s tactics and ideology of attacking Pakistani soldiers who were mainly Muslims themselves. Mehsud also claimed at that time that if Pakistan stays in alliance with the US, his men would again be forced to stay on the “path of resistance”. This yet again showed the movement was spurred by resistance and revenge, not the imposition of Sharia law. In the same interview, Mehsud clearly stated the first aim of the TTP: they were to fight a “defensive jihad” against the Pakistan Army who was “attacking on the orders of George W Bush” while the secondary aim was to impose Sharia law. His statements clearly showed the TTP’s priorities and what was motivating them to fight.

Perhaps the most vivid indication of the TTP as a reaction movement was their basic manifesto and the aims they stated at the outset of their founding. According to their self-issued statements, their aims include “enforcing sharia, fighting a defensive jihad, react strongly if military operations are not stopped, demand abolishment of all military checkposts in FATA, demand release of the Lal Masjid clerics and to refuse future peace deals with the Pakistan government”.

All these objectives, except the first, are reactionary in nature – not ideological. What also acts as strong proof in favor of the TTP being an act of revenge is the area where its operations are concentrated. The TTP is centered in the tribal areas of Waziristan and other areas within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These areas are also the ones where the military operations are taking place.

The first military operation in 2004 started in South Waziristan, which is also the area where the TTP’s headquarters are based. The TTP has failed to win any substantial support in any other area of Pakistan, except where the Pakistan Army is carrying out operations.

Pakistan had not encountered a single act of terrorism from the tribal areas prior to the operations. Before 2002, the army had never stepped foot in the tribal areas since independence in 1947. Yet not one terrorist had acted against the state in such a manner or scale before the start of military operations. In fact, the Pashtuns of the FATA had been and continue to be strategic assets of the Pakistani state. As recently as 2008, a Taliban spokesperson said in an interview, “We will put the animosity and fighting with the Pakistani army behind us and the Taliban will defend their frontiers, their boundaries, their country with their weapons.” This speaks volumes about the Pashtun’s and the TTP’s priorities again as not an anti-state movement but one forced to act out of revenge.

The single most horrific aspect of the TTP which in fact epitomizes their overall movement is their treatment of new recruits and kids. According to news reports, children as young as 12 were kidnapped by the TTP and brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers and militiamen. A compound found by the Pakistan Army after its operations was serving as a brainwashing center for kids who were enticed with images of heaven in order to convince them to train as suicide bombers who would attain heaven after their death.

One teenager who had been trained in this method was recovered and in an interview said, “Anyone who stops or becomes an impediment to implementing Sharia needs to be dealt with sternly by any means, including suicide attacks.” This indicates at the TTP’s ability to recruit innocent men with no intention of terrorist activities and inculcating in them the ideological aspect of the TTP.

This activity reflects at the TTP’s overall methodology. The TTP only found its impetus after the military operations started. Before the army entered the area it may have existed in the heads of a few men but the army operations gave these men the recruits to wage their war.

Men and children who lost their loved ones in the army’s ill-planned operations found the TTP as their source of revenge. Once trapped in the vicious cycle, the men who led the movement inculcated their ideas into the heads of the innocent. Thus sprung a movement whose heads are motivated by their own twisted logic and ideology, while their lower ranks comprise of men disillusioned with the state, hence breathing life into this movement which would die out as quickly as it had appeared if the recruits were not avenging their loved ones.

Ahsan Chawla is an undergraduate student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. This article originally appeared on our partner website, Graphite Publications, here: