Taliban walk right in, sit right
down ... By Syed Saleem
KARACHI - Pakistani Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz was due in Afghanistan on Thursday to
meet with President Hamid Karzai, primarily to
discuss a Pakistani plan to seal the notoriously
porous border between the two countries by
planting mines and building fences.
opposes the idea, saying that it would
inconvenience civilians and would not prevent the
cross-border flow of Taliban.
dead right. It will take more than barricades to
Taliban from going about their business in either
country. Moulvi (cleric) Abdul Jalil serves as
a shining example of how the Taliban move
around right under the eyes of officials.
A life without borders With his
light-brown skin, long black beard and a white
cap, it took me some seconds to recognize Jalil
standing in the bustling Lea Market of Karachi. He
looked just like any other Pashtun selling goods,
but he is a Taliban commander.
I had met
him recently in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and now,
after a formal exchange of greetings, we sat in
one of the hotels near the market to chat over a
cup of green tea.
Lea Market, not far from
downtown Karachi, is severely congested, with
flashy new Japanese cars jostling for space with
pedestrians and camel-drawn carts. People of all
backgrounds work here, from Gujaratis (originally
from Indian Gujarat 200 years back) to Pashtuns,
operating diverse businesses ranging from selling
fruit on pushcarts to peddling the latest
It is common
knowledge that the narrow streets around Lea
Market provide a safe haven for people wanted by
the government, from Baloch insurgents to members
of outlawed sectarian organizations. Thus such
outfits as the Intelligence Bureau and the Police
Intelligence Department maintain a strong proxy
network in the area.
seemed quite content to be seen in public, and to
talk with me. The reason is simply that Jalil, a
native of Kandahar, does not have a price on his
head and he has no record to make the security
agencies suspicious. In his appearance, language
and mannerisms, he is much like the more than 1.5
million other Pashtuns living in Karachi.
Yet appearances could not be more
deceptive as Jalil is one of the main cogs in the
Taliban-led insurgency in the Punjwai district of
When I met him in November in
the city of Kandahar, he came across as well
balanced and completely at home in his
environment. Then, he was roaming the markets,
buying commodities as part of his responsibilities
as a logistics official for the Taliban. In
addition, Jalil coordinates with pro-Taliban
elements in the Afghan establishment, and he
happens to be an expert in making improvised
weapons, especially by using unexploded US bombs.
Jalil explained that he did not even have
to cross the border illegally between Afghanistan
and Pakistan to reach Karachi; he simply crossed
at the regular Chaman border post, passing through
all checkpoints like Pashtuns from both sides of
the Durand Line that separates the countries. He
can do this because he is not yet a marked man.
Meeting Jalil reminded me of the many
Pashtun Taliban commanders I have met over the
years who on the face of it seems ordinary folk,
sons of the soil, moving freely around in such
places as Spin Boldek, Chaman, Kandahar and
Mending - and building -
fences Karzai, even before meeting with
Aziz, expressed his skepticism over building
fences along the 2,430-kilometer border.
He should know, as he took refuge in
Quetta in Pakistan's Balochistan province during
Taliban rule in Afghanistan to organize
anti-Taliban activities. After the assassination
of Karzai's father - most likely by the Taliban -
in Quetta in 1999, Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) was after Karzai for conspiring
against the Taliban government in Kabul. Karzai
moved to Karachi, where he stayed in the Defense
Housing Authority at his cousin's residence. The
ISI was unable to find him.
from the distinguished Popalzai tribe of Pashtuns
in Kandahar province. His father was hereditary
khan (chief) of the Popalzai, a title
Members of his family
still live in Quetta and Karachi, and he must be
fully aware how tribal societies on both sides of
the divide treat the border as non-existent.
Western decision-makers tend to view the
insurgency in Afghanistan as the handiwork of
underground militias that carry out hit-and-run
cross-border operations. This might have been true
two years ago, but it is certainly not the case
The insurgency, mostly as a result of
last spring's offensive, is growing into a full
tribal-supported mass movement. Until a new
political formula is worked out to ensure the
representation of all tribes at all levels,
according to the stature of each tribe, no mines,
fences, crackdowns or military operations will
prevent the insurgency from spreading.
will such measures prevent the likes of Moulvi
Abdul Jalil from shuttling between Kandahar and
Syed Saleem Shahzad is
Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com.