The high-profile attack on Kabul's best known international icon, the Intercontinental Hotel, leaving 19 dead and another 13 wounded, is the latest show of force by the insurgents, among whom the Taliban are the largest group. There seems to be a widespread misconception everywhere which equals the insurgents with Taliban in a belief that all insurgents belong to the Taliban.
The reality, however, is rather different. In the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan, Taliban as a group forms only one division among a multitude of insurgent groups. Each large insurgent group has its own distinct command and control structure with a leadership that sits at the top of the pyramid-like loose organization and channels money and logistics. Each of these main insurgent groups harbors its own unique strategic and long-term objectives. However, all of them share the same goal of defeating what they see as foreign occupation and overthrowing the government in Kabul in its current shape.
Apart from the Taliban, other prominent insurgent groups are the Haqqani group and the Hizb-e-Islami of Gul buddin Hekmatyar not to mention many other smaller groups that function either as offshoots of these Big Three or render services to them in exchange for money or patronage. Although these various groups form one grand front of insurgency that has been able to seriously challenge the international coalition and the Afghan government over the years, the relations among these three main groups has been far from peaceful.
Bloody clashes and skirmishes erupt once in a while between the Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami with the latest being in Maidan Wardak province wherein both the sides sustained deaths and injuries. In March of 2010, the Northern province of Baghlan, which has always been a strategic hub of great importance for insurgent groups, was the scene of fierce battles between the two groups that left more than 50 insurgents from both sides dead.
The two groups were at each others' throats again in July of 2010 in MaidanWardak province wherein Taliban bore the brunt of casualties this time with one of their high-ranking commanders and more than 18 fighters killed. This fact might sound rather funny to many unsuspecting readers that even the principal insurgent groups in Afghanistan, while being on the same side of a ten year old war, do not even spare each other's throats and turn their guns on each other if the need be.
But the larger fact is that the relationship between the Taliban as the largest insurgent group and the Hizb-e-Islami as the second largest is an uneasy companionship which more often than not hits a rough patch with fighters from both sides taking aim at each other. The Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, although both sharing a close world view and a vision of what they want in Afghanistan and also coming largely from the same ethnic group, each originates from a different social and cultural background; a fact that has largely given shape to their differing societal base, long-term strategies, objectives and approaches towards the offers of peace fielded by the U.S. and the Kabul government. The Taliban have more often than not viewed the Hizb-e-Islami with suspicion.
Whenever a wing of the Hizb-e-Islami has shown a willingness to negotiate with the government or to lay down arms, the Taliban have shown their displeasure. The Taliban-Hizb-e-Islami war of early 2010 in Baghlan province and surrounding areas happened as a local wing of the Hizb-e-Islami moved to negotiate with the government.
Taliban, whether their leadership or their rank and file, largely arise from the lower strata of the agrarian society in Southern Afghanistan where young children frequently find their ways to the religious Madrassas and afterwards, join the ranks of Taliban as religious zealots adhering to a reactionary world view. In their unrelenting zeal to remain loyal to their strictly religious world view and in keeping with their largely rural upbringing, the Taliban and their leadership have not shown any real willingness to negotiate. Even the Pakistani security intelligence establishment has a tough time dealing with the Taliban's leadership.
On the other hand, the Hizb-e-Islami has proved to be a more pragmatic and less inflexible political-guerrilla entity that values political strategizing even as it presses ahead with its armed insurgency. Currently, the leadership of the Hizb-e-Islami is well-represented within the government of President Karzai in Kabul.
The third group is the Haqqani Group founded by the elder Jalaluddin Haqqani and being operated in close liaison with the Taliban by Jalaluddin's son, Siraj ud din Haqqani. As the government and NATO forces acknowledged, the audacious attack on Hotel Intercontinental of Kabul was masterminded and executed by Fidayeen (suicide Kamikazis) of Haqqani group and allegedly with some help from the Taliban.
The NATO forces in Afghanistan have repeatedly termed the Haqqani group as the most resilient insurgent group in Afghanistan. This characterization of the Haqqani group is fair given how battle-hardened the group's leaders have become after close to three decades of constant fighting initially against the soviets and now against a 47-member international coalition.
Unlike the Taliban which is largely active throughout the South, the Haqqani group, being based in North Waziristan of tribal areas, is active in the Eastern belt of the country in Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Logar and parts of Kunar and Nuristan. While the Taliban have been severely undermined in recent months in their Southern strongholds of Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Ghazni and parts of the East owing to the sweeping operations undertaken by the U.S.-led NATO forces in conjunction with Afghan National Army (ANA), the "Haqqani Network", as the NATO forces call it, have been resilient in the Eastern belt.
The Haqqani group has its flourishing backward bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan, mainly the North Waziristan, while its fighters routinely cross the border into the Eastern belt of the country taking advantage of the mountainous terrain and dense jungles in the region. Taking shelter in the high mountains and thick vegetation cover of Eastern provinces by the Haqqani group fighters have made the task of the NATO and Afghan forces particularly difficult.
In the run-up to the 2014 deadline of handing over the whole of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, both the international coalition and the Afghan government must break the back of the Haqqani group in the East in spite of the adverse terrain conditions. Accomplishing this task in the East is important after the Taliban were weakened in their Southern strongholds. The transition process in Afghanistan will not be smooth if the Haqqani group can operate with impunity and carry out more attacks like what it did in Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. The cooperation of Pakistani forces is absolutely necessary since the Haqqanis' main base of operations is across the border.