November 2007, the Lal Masjid siege in 2007, the kidnapping of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s envoy to Afghanistan, in 2008, the two subsequent blasts at the heavily garrisoned Indian embassy in Kabul – in July 2008 and October 2009 – are all indications of the influence exerted by the Taliban on either side of the Durand Line. Taken hostage in early February 2008 from the Khyber Agency and released in mid-May 2008 after three months in

captivity, Tariq Azizuddin’s freedom is believed to have cost the release of top Taliban militants – including possibly Mullah Omar’s deputy Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.3 This exchange, involving one of the most senior Pakistani and Taliban officials, was also supposedly linked to possible peace accords and a subsequent military pullout from South Waziristan – evidence of the serious problems that the Taliban and Al Qaeda sponsored insurgency poses for the region and in particular for both Pakistan and Afghanistan from their respective homegrown brands of the militia group. Moreover, dwindling faith in the governments and the men at the helm of affairs and the political fragility of the new democratically elected governments has ensured that the situation continues to get more volatile with every passing day. The persistent fear of nuclear material falling into the hands of these extra-national forces also came closer to being more real than perceived with the revelation of the abduction of two Pakistani nuclear officials of the Atomic Energy Commission from Dera Ismail Khan in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in February 2008.4

It is against this background that this chapter analyses the domestic and global situation that created the political space and encouraged the resurgence of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the political gains that Al Qaeda has made from this resurgence, particularly in view of the diminished visibility of Al Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden. The sporadic irregularity with which audio and video tapes with purportedly new messages from Osama himself surface appear more an exercise in motivation than any real political messaging from the Al Qaeda camp. The international troops are into their eighth year in the country. Even as many NATO countries look again at their Afghan mission, Afghanistan’s government believes that its army would be ready to take on the insurgency independently by 2013. US General Stanley McChrystal, the former head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, wanted to see the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) increased to 124,000 by 2011 and double that by the time the coalition troops are ready to leave even as he called for reinforcements for its ongoing mission.5 With the noises back home getting louder for their demilitarization, even as President Karzai himself has asked for continued assistance for at least another decade, an assessment of their role in the country so far would help unravel why the militia group continues to be a threat. What has and could be the role of the regional actors considering the course that geopolitics is taking in the region? In late 2001, soon after the American troops had moved into Afghanistan

armed with Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), a suicide bomber in Kabul rammed a motorcycle into a convoy of buses carrying Afghan military personnel killing 12 people. The attack immediately after Afghanistan’s landmark Loya Jirga would have been one of the forewarnings of the limitations of security in the country. Eight years and many civilian deaths later violence has returned to Afghan lives as a daily mundane occurrence. In fact, more Americans have been killed in Afghanistan since the invasion began

than in the first nine years of the Vietnam War.6 As far as insurgency-related casualties were concerned, both civilian and ISAF, in 2009 these were already the highest since 2001, despite the large build-up of troops effected over the summer. Insurgent attacks soared 59 percent to 5,222 incidents between January and May 2008, according to a report by NATO’s ISAF. That is more than twice the rate of violence in Afghanistan between the same months in 2007 and 2008.7Even as NATO makes repeated claims of success against the militia, the Taliban appears to come back stronger. According to the US Department of Defense, by early October 2009, at least 764 members of the US military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.8 Despite the killing of major Taliban leaders by the coalition forces it has barely reversed the Taliban’s momentum attributed by some analysts to the fact that most commanders killed – like Mullah Berader and Mullah Dadullah in 2007 – were those most capable of opposing the central Shura. Thus, the troops have unwittingly helped the Taliban maintain their cohesion and resilience.9