Five years ago, the United States began an aerial bombing campaign in Afghanistan that ended with the ouster of the Islamist Taleban and its replacement with a new civilian government. But attacks on Afghan and coalition forces have sharply risen recently. Taleban is back, although it is not quite the same organization that ruled Afghanistan with such efficient ruthlessness.
The Taleban is back in business, with new recruits, new tactics, and safe havens across the border in Pakistan from which to launch its attacks on Afghan and NATO forces. But it is not the same Taleban that ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Many analysts call this new generation of radical Islamic fighters the "neo-Taleban".
A New Generation
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of several books on the Taleban, says there are similarities with the old Taleban, but also some significant differences. "Certainly some of the leadership is the old leadership. And it's much more ideological than before, much more closely linked to the idea of global jihad, of al-Qaida. But many of the young fighters we are seeing are of a new generation. Many of them are born and brought up in Pakistan in the refugee camps. But they are extremely uneducated. They are very unversed even in Islam. And a lot of them have been brainwashed in the refugee camps and in the madrassas, the religious schools that they go for," says Rashid.
But how did an organization thought to have been put out of business five years ago reorganize to again be a military threat to Afghanistan's stability? Analysts say the regrouping Taleban fed off growing dissatisfaction with the performance of the elected government of President Hamid Karzai.
Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan and terrorism at the RAND Corporation, says the Taleban drew new recruits because expectations of government services, such as electricity and roads, were not fulfilled, especially in rural areas.
"It has taken some time for that to set in, especially in rural areas. And that has allowed over the course of the last couple of years this disillusionment to build among the populations in these areas, which has then allowed the Taleban to increasingly operate in these areas. So it's that increasing disillusionment," says Jones.
Help From Pakistan
But absolutely critical, analysts say, was the help the Taleban found in Pakistan. In these areas, self-governed by ancient tribal rules, the Taleban found both sympathy and sanctuary. The Pakistani tribal area, or "agency," of Waziristan became a particular magnet for the neo-Taleban, drawing Afghans, Pakistanis, Chechens, Uighers from China, and a host of other Islamic radicals willing to help the resurgent Taleban.
Seth Jones says the Taleban re-established contacts with allies inside Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or I.S.I. He adds that the sudden appearance of suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices, which had previously been unknown in Afghanistan, can be traced to what might be called a terrorism exchange program.
"They established relationships with some elements of the I.S.I. to help provide funding, to help get intelligence. They also began to tap into, in 2004 and 2005, the broader jihadi community, especially the Iraqi groups, which have been very helpful in providing more sophisticated information on improvised explosive devices, on the use of suicide attacks and in general learning how to fight better insurgency, irregular warfare, unconventional operations," says Jones.
Under U.S. pressure, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sent troops into Waziristan to root out the militants. But the campaign stalled, and the government struck a peace deal in September in which the army would withdraw to its barracks in return for a pledge of no-cross border activity by the Islamic militants.
A Deal with the Taleban?
President Musharraf, speaking during a press conference with President Bush recently, said it was not a peace deal with the Taleban. "This deal is not at all with the Taleban. As I said, this is against the Taleban, actually. This deal is with the tribal elders of north Waziristan agency," said Musharraf. Mr. President Bush said he takes his Pakistani counterpart at his word. "When the President looks me in the eye and says, the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taleban and won't be al Qaeda, I believe him," said Mr. Bush.
But Christine Fair, a Pakistan affairs analyst at the non-partisan U.S. Institute for Peace, says it is indeed a deal with the Taleban and that it will do nothing to stop the cross-border attacks.
"From the mujahedin's point of view and the Taleban's point of view, as well as the other individuals giving them succor, what is your disincentive? The army has not been effective in countering you before. They've basically conceded defeat to you with this agreement. So what in the world would stop you from persisting in prosecuting the insurgency in Afghanistan? Absolutely flaming nothing," says Fair.
Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army, says support for the Taleban continues in the tribal areas because of opposition to both U.S. and Pakistani policies. "I think there are two factors. One is an anti-Americanism, and also the present [Pakistani] government, President Musharraf's government, because they see that as a reflection or extension of that. And that I think is also one of the factors why the government decided to have the peace deal, to give an impression that we have an independent policy and not just doing the American policy," says Masood.
Analysts say the agreement may ease the domestic political pressure on General Musharraf, but the military pressure from the Taleban on the NATO forces operating along the border in Afghanistan continues.
This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.