Saturday, July 19, 2008

Strategy to Rehabilitate and Integrate the Taliban

As Pakistan struggles to deal with the insurgency in its tribal areas, it is important for the Pakistani government and its allies to have a clear strategy and action plan.

The Strategy

The first, and most important part of the strategy, is to distinguish between Al-Qaeda, who are mostly foreign fighters, and the Taliban, who have local roots on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. The best way to deal with Al-Qaeda is to isolate them, and launch an all-out assault to defeat them, and drive them out of the tribal areas. Regarding the Taliban, it is important to clearly identify the groups that are irrevocably committed to violence and have a military strategy to deal with them. At the same time, Pakistan needs to pursue a political track with those Taliban and other militant groups who have genuine grievances and are willing to sit down and talk to resolve the issues. The strategy has to consist of both carrots and sticks with the militants who are local and show willingness for dialog. The sticks strategy has to be based on divide-and-conquer thinking. Understand the differences among the militants, and then deal with each group as appropriate. Here are some possible examples for the elements of a carrots strategy:

Rehabilitation for Jihadists

One example is the rehab schools for the jihadists in Saudi Arabia. These schools focus on fighting the Al-Qaeda misinformation and indoctrination about jihad. The curriculum addresses questions such as: What is jihad? Under what circumstances is it permissible? Who is authorized to declare jihad? And other similar questions. The inmates include many former fighters in Iraq and 108 Saudis released from Guantanamo Bay prison. The student inmates are taught that only the government has the power to declare jihad, not Al-Qaeda or any individuals or private groups, Afghan jihad against the Soviets was legitimate for Saudi citizens because it was authorized by the state of Saudi Arabia. The rehab school employs the services of Islamic scholars, Shariah experts, psychologists, and other staff to help the inmates adjust to life after militancy. The facility outside Riyadh consists of six compounds called resorts. Each has Sony Playstations, table tennis and other recreational facilities. The Saudi ministry of interior gives graduates jobs and pays them as part of rehab. In 18 months since the first class graduated, no one has re-offended yet, according to Saudi government.

Pakistan can use this model with appropriate modification to the program and add appropriate skills training to facilitate the return of the jihaists into society with jobs, families, housing and other things that normal citizens wish for.

Jobs for Jihadists

There must be a way for the jihadists to return to normal life, to have skills training, gainful employment and be integrated in society. There may be many different ways to accomplish this. But one that is working its way between Pakistani and US governments is the idea of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ).

The U.S. Congress is actively considering legislation to establish Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in Pakistan and Afghanistan that will significantly reinforce the Pakistani government's strategy to counter the insurgency. Under the ROZ strategy, a significant number of goods including some textiles, manufactured or grown in designated sites (the ROZs) in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan, as well as in Afghanistan, will be able to enter the U.S. market duty-free.

According to a recent statement by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, successive US visits of Pakistani business delegations, as well as inquiries from businesses to the trade office at the Embassy confirm the strong interest of the private sector in this program. Experience with similar programs elsewhere in the world demonstrates their value in dramatically expanding exports. The export growth will generate much needed jobs and economic activity in the border areas, countering the recruiting efforts of the insurgents and contributing to stability there.

The ROZ initiative needs to gain congressional approval before it can be implemented. Bills have been introduced by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State (S. 2776) and by Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (H.R. 6387) and are working their way forward.


The problem of Islamic militancy is a very serious one for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the western world. Most of its victims are Muslims, not westerners, although it poses a serious challenge for the entire humanity. It requires creative thinking and well-considered and durable solutions. The current blame game between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States will not help. Threats to launch attacks on Pakistan may serve temporary political objectives of some politicians. However, such disarray among the allies in the war on terror will only benefit the militants, rather than help rid the world of the serious threats we face. After issuing threats of attacking in Pakistan's tribal areas, US presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama is currently in Afghanistan. His world tour is expected to take him to Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain. The keys to ending the terrorist threat from the Pak-Afghan border areas are in Islamabad and Washington, not in Kabul or Iraq or Israel. By dropping Islamabad from his itinerary, Mr. Obama is sending the wrong signal to the world. Let's hope he and his campaign will realize and correct this mistake soon.


Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! The strategy looks like a retirement benefits for terrorists. "The is no other choice but the table" is a nothing but fear of adverse results of military conflict. If a nation's military can't tackle an insurgency in the country then what good is it. The differentiation about Al-Queda and Taliban is nonsense. Only difference is Al-Queda is better trained,strategic minded and full of Arabs. Taliban's roots are the hate spreading madrassas that precipitated events like Lal Masjid. The thing is after the peace deal, Taliban is recouping with new cadres,better training from Al-Queda and is going to take over city by city. At the end of the day its nonsense that terrorists will be supported by the people and conflict will be fought until last women and child of tribes is killed. All people no matter who or what they are at the end of the day just want to lead a normal life and a good future for themselves and their children. If the Taliban is decisively beaten and their source supplies of cadres and funds cut off. The shift in Taliban strategy has to be taken into account and they are dictating terms from positions of strength. Pakistan will pay a heavier price in times to come for their myopic appeasement policy of Taliban. The choice is clear - "stand up and fight or lay down and die". There is nothing like good options in crisis.

Riaz Haq said...

What you are suggesting is never-ending warfare in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's a recipe for a much bigger disaster than what we have seen so far. In spite of their overwhelming fire-power used in Iraq, the Americans have finally concluded that a purely military solution will not work. The "surge" success in Iraq has been attributed to the "awakening" program where the US made deals with the tribal chiefs to help drive Al-Qaeda out. The new CENTCOM commander General Petraeus believes in the use of diplomacy along with the military force. “In most of the issues we'll address, a purely military approach is unlikely to succeed,” he noted, “and our strategy must recognize that.” In the absence of a clear understanding of the various components of the insurgency and lack of diplomacy, there can be no success.
While I agree many Taliban believe in a hateful ideology, you can not dispute the fact that they are indigenous to the tribal areas. Whereas AlQaeda are foreigners with no local roots. A different strategy is required to deal with each to have any hope of a successful outcome.

Anonymous said...

Yes totally agree! But Iraqi people are very secular people in general. They got sick of Al-Queda's wild mass casualty bloodshed.And more importantly their cadre independently did the attacks. In Afgan-Pak insurgency, they changed tactics, they completely moved out of operations and concentrate on training and there are reports they merged into some of the groups. Almost every aspect is different. This is THE "Al-Queda" territory. They were here since Taliban took control in middle of 90s and there is generous help from pak intelligence agencies. There is strong Al-Queda link with LeT,Jaish-e-Mohmd which r inturn ISI's pets and their leaders fully in protection. What is certain is that a deal wont do the job. Iraqi people are strong nationalists and this is a different ball game altogether.This is last bastion and the most powerful one the Americans dread.Currently Americans are weighing which is to be given priority - Iran or Afghanistan.Its almost a zero-sum choice since both needs undivided attention if US goes head-on with any of it. Pak military is currently exploiting that vulnerability. The only card for US is threat of "limited strikes".

Riaz Haq said...

No two situations are ever exactly alike. But the human nature is common to both situations here, regardless of ISI, CIA, terrain etc. Iraqis are neither secular nor nationalists. Iraq is a tribal society and an artificial creation of the British by combining three Ottoman provinces, each ethnically different or part of different Islamic sects. But the shia are dominant and they are in charge now, and they are religious. But, regardless of all these factors, most people want to live in peace. Given the opportunity, most Taliban will agree to a deal that gives them alternative means of living. The exception will be the hard core Jihadists who will have to isolated and defeated militarily. I believe the change in ISI and Pak military posture against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is genuine. They now see these guys as a threat after having been targeted by their violence including suicide bombings.