20 May 2007
A serious blow to Talibanís dreams
The Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan seems to be in trouble. After it had lost three of its prominent commanders, namely Mullah Akhtar Osmani, Maulvi Kalam, and Mullah Obaidullah, in December 2005, September 2006, and March 2007 respectively, it recently lost Talibanís most prominent and feared combative commander Mullah Dadullah Akhund (41) in a US-led operation in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
Like in Iraq, where the death of Al-Qaeda regional chief Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi has not reduced violence, the demise of this one-legged ruthlessly efficient commander, known as the Butcher of Kandahar, may not lead to a quick end of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. However, it is widely agreed that the killing of Dadullah is a serious blow to the Talibanís dreams as his shoes will be difficult to fill. It is likely to affect Talibanís field strategy, deflate its morale, and probably weaken its supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omarís grip on the movementís military affairs.
This is not surprising as Dadullah was the driving force behind the successful regrouping of Taliban militants last year and the mastermind of this yearís spring offensive. Despite his poor strategic background and lack of education and wealth, he succeeded in emerging as an unchallenged leader in the battlefield, using his accumulated experiences from the years of jihad against the Soviet invading troops in the 1980s and years of fighting anti-Taliban militants in the 1990s to derive loyalty and respect among his men, as well as among pro-Taliban tribesmen in Pakistan. His popularity was also attributed to his mingling with his soldiers, fighting alongside them, and suffering the same harsh conditions as them, unlike other Talibanís leaders who have been hiding in caves since their humiliating defeat in 2001.
Such popularity, influence, and prominence of a man whose name had not been familiar until the late 1990s (when he significantly contributed to the control of the northern city of Mazar-e- Sharif and led a massacre of ethnic Hazaras in Bamiyan province) was said to have spited some of Talibanís top leaders, particularly Mullah Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Haqqani, who was appointed by Mullah Omar as the deputy chief of the Taliban movement last year, was reportedly in disagreement with Dadullah over several issues, including cooperation with Al-Qaeda and contacts with Islamabad. According to several Pakistani analysts,† Haqqani, whose son Nasiruddin is of an Arab mother, was in favour of including Arab mujahiddeen belonging to Al-Qaeda into operations against Kabul and NATO-led forces, while Dadullah was firmly against the idea as he did not want Al-Qaeda capitalize on the Talibanís success.
Haqqani was also against a reported peace deal struck in 2005-2006 between Dadullah and the Pakistani establishment, under which the Taliban would use the Pakistani province of Waziristan for moving men and supplies against a pledge to control Waziristanís tribesmen and fundamentalist militants opposed to President Pervez Musharrafís regime and divert their hostility towards NATO troops rather than Islamabad. To Haqqani, the deal was to help pro-US Pakistani regime and Islamabadís strategic interests in Afghanistan. But to Dadullah, it was a tactic that has indeed helped the Taliban.
However, the main reason behind their differences was said to be competition over influence in Waziristan, where Haqqani has long enjoyed influence and repeatedly claim that more than 30,000 young Waziris were at his disposal for suicide attacks. Haqqani was annoyed and felt sidelined by Dadullahís efforts to personally contact Pakistani Taliban and tribesmen in Waziristan and build influence among them. It was such efforts that resulted in the recruitment and training of thousands of young Pakistanis, with whom Dadullah managed to expand Taliban operations beyond the movementís traditional area of influence in the southwest provinces. This, of course, was accompanied by a propaganda campaign aimed at resonating with Afghans with memories of jihad against the Ďgodless Sovietsí in the 1980s, promoting the idea that the insurgency was against the subjugation of Afghans by the infidel armies of the West, and urging the people to leave areas controlled by these armies.
With Dadullahís demise, therefore, Haqqani can restore his influence in Waziristan and within the Taliban leadership and emergence as the real commander in charge of military affairs, especially considering that Mullah Bakht Mohammad, Dadullahís newly appointed successor, lacks charisma, influence, and experience. Given the fact that Haqqani, a non-Kandahari figure, was not part of the original Taliban movement and only joined the group dominated by Kandahari Afghans in the mid-1990s following its emergence as a powerful force, his control of the field affairs could lead to new alliances and changes.
Based on the aforementioned story, many observers listed Haqqani among those who would benefit from Dadullahís death. On the other hand, Islamabad seems to be among the losers, in addition to Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV channel, on which Dadullah has regularly appeared, and Waziristanís bazaars, which have made lots of money out of selling DVDs and video cassettes showing Dadullahís ruthlessness including beheadings.
Academic researcher and lecturer on Asian affairs
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