Mir Jan proudly displays what he describes as his badges of honor two deep scars one acquired fighting the erstwhile Soviet Union with US assistance; the other, ironically, sustained fighting his former ally in the US-led war in Afghanistan.
The 43-year-old bearded and turbaned Jan is a Taliban fighter, who is based in the Kuchlak refugee camp in Pakistan, not far from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak. In recent weeks, he has once again started taking part in skirmishes in Afghanistan.
"I am proud to be a part of the jihad which defeated Roosis [Russians] and now fighting against infidel forces of America in my country. I have come here temporarily after this bullet wound I got in Ghazni," Jan says, while reciting verses from the Koran and fingering prayer beads.
"I will go to fight again, as Mullah Omar has ordered us to wage jihad against Americans in Afghanistan," Jan says referring to a recent pronouncement by the Taliban's elusive one-eyed spiritual leader.
Hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, like Jan, managed to escape the US blitz in Afghanistan, finding refuge in the madrassahs and Afghan refugee camps situated in the hilly terrains of Baluchistan, as well as in the tribal areas in the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan. In recent months they have recovered from the shock of their defeat at the hands of US forces and are renewing armed operations. Units of Taliban loyalists along with fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the hardline Islamic Hizb-i-Islami movement have infiltrated back into Afghanistan to carry out attacks against US troops and Afghan government forces.
The upsurge in Taliban activity has coincided with US military operations in Iraq. Many Taliban supporters believe that American attention is focused on Baghdad, a belief that is emboldening them to mount attacks against President Hamid Karzai's transitional government.
Taliban raids have already caused a few US casualties. For example, one late April clash near Shkin in Paktia province left two American soldiers dead. The skirmishes have resulted in an unknown number of Taliban casualties. Although the Taliban's military capabilities remain limited, Karzai government officials are clearly concerned about the raids. In particular, officials worry about ongoing Pakistani support for the Taliban.
"There is no hindrance for the Taliban in crossing the border. They just walk into Afghanistan and provide arms for their fighters. It cannot be done without Pakistan's security agencies' blessings," said an Afghan intelligence official at Spin Boldak.
Karzai reportedly expressed Kabul's concern about the Taliban revival during a late April summit meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The Pakistani leader pledged to work with Afghan officials to establish a bilateral commission to improve security in the border zone. Other Pakistani officials, however, have denied that Islamabad is aiding or abetting Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
"We have not allowed any terrorist to operate from Pakistan, nor have we given shelter to al Qaeda and Taliban operatives," Pakistan's Federal Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told EurasiaNet. "The past is history and our actions should be gauged by the international community by our commitment to end terrorism."
Despite the official denials, political analysts say geopolitics developments concerning Afghanistan may be pushing Islamabad to maintain ties with the Taliban as a means of influencing the Afghan reconstruction process. "Pakistan ditched the Taliban due to American pressure, but now there are fears that their relationship could be restored due to the increasing presence of Indians in Afghanistan," says analyst Professor Shamim Akhtar, the former chairman of Karachi University's International Affairs Department.
Even if official claims are true that the central government in Islamabad has not provided assistance to Taliban and al Qaeda elements in recent months, there are indications that radical Islamic fighters are finding support elsewhere in Pakistan, namely from religious political parties. A coalition of religious parties now holds power in both Baluchistan and North-West Frontier provinces, which border Afghanistan, after a convincing win in elections last October.
"The Taliban are our brothers and soldiers of Islam like us," said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior leader of the extremist Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI). "They [the Taliban] were a symbol of Islam in Afghanistan."
Ahmed, like others in Pakistan, points to India's rising influence in Afghanistan as reason to increase assistance for the Taliban. "The real power in Afghanistan is with the enemies of Pakistan, the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance is pro-India and not pro-Pakistan and is strengthening military ties with India," Ahmed said. "So the time has come for Pakistan to support the Taliban."
Owais Tohid is a freelance correspondent based in Islamabad.