Pro-Taliban Pakistanis Want to Join Fight against US

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Hundreds of pro-Taliban Pakistanis, armed with automatic assault rifles, rocket launchers, and handmade guns and swords, have seized control of an airstrip in the northern part of the country, demanding that their government stop supporting the U.S.-led strikes in neighboring Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, other armed tribesmen engaged in similar protests have taken up positions on both sides of a key highway, erecting barricades at various places. The 750-mile Karakurram Highway, built along the ancient Silk Road that linked Asia with the West, connects Pakistan with China and gives access to Kashmir.

Muslim leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad is heading a large group of armed tribesmen who are eager to cross the border into Afghanistan to join the Taliban in its fight against the U.S.-led coalition forces and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Some 8,000 tribesmen are reported to be waiting at the border for the go-ahead to cross. While the Pakistan government is not preventing them from leaving, Taliban authorities have not yet given them clearance to enter Afghanistan.

It is not clear whether the Taliban wants the Pakistanis to enter Afghanistan in small groups due to security concerns, or whether the militia does not regard itself in need of the help of non-Afghans at this stage.

However, regional analysts suggested the Taliban leadership may be suspicious about the role of the Pakistan government. Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the U.S., Islamabad has abandoned its former Taliban ally, siding with the U.S. in its campaign against terrorism.

"The Taliban is wary about allowing fighters from across the border as they are scared that the Pakistan intelligence agencies may try to sneak in anti-Taliban elements," Afghan expert Rajeev Sharma said on Monday.

He claimed that the deaths last week of 34 militants from the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, who had been fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, had taken place on a specific tip-off from Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency. The militants died during a U.S. attack on a building in Kabul.

It is becoming increasingly clear to the Taliban that its formerly close relationship with the ISI has changed considerably since the attacks in the U.S.

According to M. Kesavan, a specialist in international affairs at India's Jawaharlal Nehru University, the U.S. and the Pakistan have been trying desperately to break Taliban ranks.

Although there has been no division yet within the Taliban, its leadership is now on its guard against infiltration by elements aiming to sow discord.

Furthermore, analysts said the Taliban leaders may be preparing for guerilla warfare against American ground troops, in which case it did not require large numbers of fighters as much as skilled specialists in guerilla warfare.

Indian intelligence sources say a number of Pakistan-backed militants who had been active fighting against Indian rule in divided Kashmir have now left for Afghanistan to join what they see as a jihad against the U.S. It appears the Taliban is only welcoming allies from organizations it trusts.

The Taliban said on Sunday the time had not yet come for Muslims from other countries to join its struggle.

"We respect the spirit of the Muslims and will not stop them to come to Afghanistan ... to wage jihad, but we want to tell them that time has not come for their arrival as Americans are using fighter planes to drop bombs," Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, was quoted as saying.

"Jihad has become obligatory on Muslims and we will not stop them, but the ground battle has not started," Zaeef added.