Religious and political forces in Northern Pakistan, which hitherto drew strength from their association with the Taliban have begun to distance themselves from the militants, as the latter’s legitimacy plummets in the border regions.
By targeting schools, mosques, funerals, soldiers, music shops, government buildings, dancers and a range of other professions and civil institutions, the Taliban have brought themselves to the brink of collapse, explained Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
As the Taliban’s ship sinks, actors who had benefitted from the group’s popularity are increasingly wary of expressing their allegiance to the militants.
"The religious forces’ unflinching support for the Taliban was the only reason (the latter) won a sweeping victory at the 2002 polls," Mian Iftikhar said.
"At the time, the Taliban enjoyed massive public support in the areas bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan and the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," he added.
After the U.S-led allied forces dismissed the militants’ government in Kabul towards the end of 2001, the Taliban were warmly welcomed in the tribal areas, where they were "revered as ‘true jihadists’," according to Muhammad Nasir, a student of Peshawar University.
But now the Taliban are entering a new era, one that will test their ability to withstand severely diminished public support.
The first signs of the group’s waning popularity came on May 2, when Osama bin Laden’s assassination by U.S. forces in Abbottabad failed to draw a single protest or demonstration condemning the action as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
"This was clear evidence that the Taliban have moved from ‘hero to zero’," Nasir added.
A slew of attacks against various scholars and public officials over the last half-decade have also ...