KARACHI - With the destruction
of a bridge on the Indus Highway in the North-West
Frontier Province (NWFP) region of Darra Adamkhel
last weekend, the Taliban have taken another step
towards choking the supplies that flood through
Pakistan to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) mission in Afghanistan.
At the same
time, the Taliban believe an agreement Russia
concluded with NATO at its summit last week will
not alleviate the situation. Moscow agreed to the
transit of food and non-military cargo and "some
types of non-lethal military equipment" across
Russia to Afghanistan. NATO is acutely aware that
the 70% of its supplies that enter Afghanistan
through Pakistan are in jeopardy with the
Taliban's new focus on cutting transit routes.
These developments take place as the
Taliban-led battle in
Afghanistan is about to
enter a new phase; for the first time since their
ouster in 2001, the Taliban will scale back their
tribal guerrilla warfare and concentrate on
tactics used by the legendary Vietnamese commander
General Vo Nguyen Giap, an approach that has
already proved successful in taming the Pakistani
military in the tribal areas.
first time, the Taliban will have a
well-coordinated strategy under which we will
seize isolated military posts for a limited time,
taking enemy combatants hostage, and then leaving
them," "Dr Jarrah", a Taliban media spokesman,
told Asia Times Online in a telephone conversation
from Kunar province in Afghanistan.
is the second tier of General Giap's guerrilla
strategy. The third tier is a conventional
face-to-face war. This aims to demoralize the
enemy," Jarrah explained. "We have been delayed by
rainfall, but you shall see action by mid-April."
Jarrah claimed the Taliban have already
launched some attacks over the past few weeks in
Nooristan province, killing several American
soldiers. Jarrah said retaliatory bombing only
resulted in civilian casualties.
Taliban and al-Qaeda used these tactics against
the Pakistani military in the South Waziristan
tribal area during 2007. This involved targeting
remote military posts and forts and other
installations on the fringes of towns such as
Bannu. The Taliban would occupy the positions for
only a few hours, long enough for them to take
scores of soldiers as hostages. These would then
be swapped with Taliban prisoners or used as
bargaining chips for ceasefires and other demands.
The Taliban's new focus is the brainchild
of several retired Pakistani military officers who
are now part of the Taliban movement. They are
complemented by men trained by Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence's India cell to fuel
the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.
These "neo-Taliban" have changed the face
and dynamics of the Afghan insurgency. They are
particularly careful not to blindly waste
manpower, as in the past. During 2008, the main
center of Taliban activity will be eastern
"Almost 90% of the men have
been launched for this spring," a Pakistani
Taliban told Asia Times Online on condition of
anonymity. He is known for his professional
military skills and strategic planning.
"About 10,000 fresh men have joined hands
with us. Of these, half of them have been trained
and launched, along with the old lot, while the
other half [5,000] are getting training and will
be launched in the next phase," the man said.
He continued, "Chopping off NATO's supply
lines from Pakistan is the prelude of our
operations and, believe me, the NATO deal with
Russia for an alternative supply line is useless.
To me, this is a fallacy or a political slogan to
pressurize the strategically illiterate Pakistani
leadership that NATO can do without Pakistan."
The strategic expert pointed out that the
transit agreement was signed between Afghanistan
and Pakistan because historically NWFP has always
been the lifeline for southeastern Afghanistan,
and nothing has changed this status. Iran is the
second choice, but it is not willing to allow its
territory to be used to support NATO.
Maintaining military supplies to
Afghanistan this year will be a great challenge
for the US, which is why Richard Boucher, the top
US official for South Asia, and US Deputy
Secretary of State John Negroponte were in
Pakistan's Khyber Agency recently to try to get
tribal elders on side. But because of the
Taliban's threats, only three elders turned up for
A load of
'nonsense' Brigadier General Carlos Branco,
a spokesman for the NATO-led International
Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is
skeptical of the Taliban's claims, calling them
unrealistic and no more than propaganda.
"Every year they claim a spring offensive.
What offensive are they talking about? Blowing up
cell phone towers in Helmand and Kandahar
[provinces] or blowing up power stations in
Ghazni? This is not an offensive," Branco told
Asia Times Online in a telephone interview from
"You know much better than me this
[cutting supply lines] is not true. We rely on
various means of transportation; besides, we do
have a lot of supplementary stocks with us.
Therefore, a few attacks will never have any
effect. We do have sea problems [Afghanistan is
landlocked] but this claim of completely chopping
off our supply lines has no base in reality. I
completely deny their claim," Branco said.
Commenting on the Taliban's new strategy,
Branco dismissed it as old wine in new bottles.
"The Taliban haven't had a new strategy in
the past, neither will they have one in the
future. They will do what they did in 2007. They
avoided any confrontation with NATO or the Afghan
National Army and instead they attacked district
headquarters and claimed they had captured the
whole district. But before the arrival of our
troops, they left.
"They did indeed attack
some of our forward operation bases, but their
attacks were ineffective as they lack the military
capability ... it makes me laugh when they try to
compare their guerrilla strategy with that of
General Giap's," said Branco.
really nonsense. General Giap used coordinated
guerrilla attacks and employing conventional
tactics with a range of weaponry. The Taliban's
tactics are useless. The tried to use those
tactics in 2006 and suffered heavy losses. I don't
think they will be able to repeat those tactics.
They are not able to confront us on open ground,
not even at the platoon level," Branco said.
Similarly, a United Nations representative
who spoke to Asia Times Online on condition of
anonymity said the tide had changed against the
Taliban. He said this had been brought about by
the National Solidarity Program - a rural
development initiative - and with a more visible
and effective presence of the army and police,
especially in Paktia and Kandahar provinces.
He said governance is improving after some
"inspired appointments" and that international
organizations like the UN are gaining improved
access in almost all areas.
observers, such as the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) , see the situation
differently. The ICRC said in a press release from
Kabul dated April 8:
The president of the ICRC, Jakob
Kellenberger, is in Afghanistan for a seven-day
visit to get a first-hand look at the situation
in the country. "We are extremely concerned
about the worsening humanitarian situation in
Afghanistan. There is growing insecurity and a
clear intensification of the armed conflict,
which is no longer limited to the south but has
spread to the east and west," said Mr
"Intensification of the
conflict has forced a growing number of people
from their homes. While the ICRC has stepped up
its humanitarian activities in recent years,
dangerous conditions often prevent it from
reaching groups such as displaced persons who
need protection and assistance. The harsh
reality is that in large parts of Afghanistan,
little development is taking place. Instead, the
conflict is forcing more and more people to flee
their homes. Their growing humanitarian needs
and those of other vulnerable people must be met
as a matter of urgency. The Afghan people
deserve to live in a secure environment and have
access to decent health care, safe drinking
water and adequate food supplies," added Mr
These are different
views from different perspectives. The Taliban,
NATO, the United Nations and humanitarian
organizations, they each have their own agenda.
Ultimately what matters is what happens on the
A new generation of
neo-Taliban has emerged under Sirajuddin Haqqani
(son of veteran mujahid Jalaluddin Haqqani) . They
are ideologically more radical than their elders,
but much more strategically attuned, having proved
themselves in Indian-administered Kashmir against
Indian forces a few years ago and against the
Now they have to prove
their claim that the summer of 2008 will be a hot
one in Afghanistan.
Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
Chief. He can be reached at