Red, White and Black

Pakistan’s Taliban Quagmire
18 January, 2007, 3:20 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

The last month has seen an exchange of verbal volleys between the Pakistani, American and Afghan establishments, leading to a definite straining of the atmosphere.

First, we had Karzai publicly lambasting Shaukat Aziz over Pakistan’s alleged role in the increasing Taliban presence in Afghanistan. Following that Pakistan decided to go forth with the installation of biometric checkposts on the Pak-Afghan border along with the fencing and mining of the border area. The idea was to limit and monitor cross-border movement. The decision drew sharp rebukes not only from the Afghans, but also from the international community – though on entirely different grounds. To add another twist to the developing story, American officials decided to become involved in the blame game.

On January 11, US Intelligence chief, John Negraponte, told the US Senate that while Pakistan was a important ally it was also remained a “major source” of Islamic extremism and a sanctury for the Taliban operating in Afghanistan. [#] On January 13, a top US military official, Maj General Benjamin Freakley argued that while he could not verify the locations but top Taliban leaders were operating from within Pakistan. [#] This was the harshest critique yet by the US and it drew sharp rebukes from President Musharraf on January 14. Musharraf termed them to be “baseless allegations” and said that Pakistan was committed to the war on terror, having made “unprecedented sacrifices” for the cause. [#] To top it all off, now it is being reported that the Afghan intelligence has managed (coerced) a confession(?) from the captured Taliban spokesman that Mullah is being sheltered by the ISI in Quetta. [#]

Doomsday analysts will contend that the US is warming up for an attack on Pakistani soil on the same grounds as the one that was conducted in Afghanistan in 2001. I don’t believe that it has reached that stage, for the US does understand the stakes involved for Pakistan. It is also cognizant of the fact that Pakistani support is essential in the war against terrorism. Nonetheless, these events do herald in tough times ahead for Pakistan. There would be increased pressure on Pakistan to authenticate it’s commitment to fighting global terrorism. The question remains how far will Pakistan have to go and what concessions can Pakistan evoke from the rest of the stake holders?

Already Pakistan carried out an attack on suspected Taliban militants in South Waziristan on January 16. [#] The opposition in the area has been up in arms against the government that the operation was carried out on labourers and not terrorists. The government’s predicament is compounded by the fact that it is not ready to allow independent media into the region, all the while refusing to produce evidence to substantiate its claims of having acted upon credible intelligence. At the same time, there is growing critique of the peace deal that negotiated with the tribals of the area. All of these developments have put the government in an unenviable position.

The Aghans and the Americans are looking to lay the blame solely on Pakistan while refusing to adopt a more holistic socio-political approach to the resolution within Afghanistan. I also believe that the government itself has failed to aggressively pursue socio-political rapprochement with the rogue elements in our tribal belts. I say this for a number of reasons:

One, the government has failed to regulate the network of madrassahs in the region. Not only has it been unable to get the madrassahs to register their syllabi, but they have also been unable to get rid of foreign students there. Thus, in essence they have been unable to root out the rouge elements from the vast network that exists in the area. Ergo, fundamentalists and sympathisers continue to be bred.

Two, the government has been unable to convince pro-Taliban elements of the dangers of their support to the Taliban and has also been unable to prevent the murders of the anti-leaders in the region. This has meant that the government has not been able to develop a common ground of understanding with the authorities of the region.

Lastly, military acts of violence have failed to produce an atmosphere that is conducive to negotiation and settlement. The manner in which these strikes were carried out has only furthered the divide and lost whatever goodwill that existed for state in the area.

Pakistan’s problems are compounded by the Afghan reluctance to set its own house in order. The Afghans are not ready to fence the border and do not want to accelerate the process of refugee return to the country. The writ of the state does not extend beyond the capital and the Afghan warlords earn a whopping $3 billion from drug trade annually. This money goes into sustaining their armies and fighting a perpetual war against Kabul and the Americans. At the same time, the US fails to recognise the re-emergence of the very factors that led to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990’s. They have been unable to further socio-economic development and political stability in the region. US spending the region has a ratio of 1:10 in favor of military expense to socio-economic development. The volatile ethnic fibre of the Afghan society is dangerously streched and those elements are revolting against Kabul and the allies.

Such an anarchic situation has provided ample space for the Taliban to regroup and reestablish alliances with local warlords and sympathetic groups. President Musharraf has his job cut out. He has to cleverly maneuver both the international and domestic elements. His priority should be a) to impress upon the Afghan and the Americans of the practical adoption of a more holistic approach in Afghanistan, which would include clamping on the sources of funding and the political space for the warlords and their supporters. b) Pakistan needs to set its own house in order. This would mean a stringent clampdown on the madrassah network, addressing the refugee problem, taking the country into confidence about the real events that take place in the area. We need a more honest approach on the issue and for that the press needs to be allowed back into the region. There should be another long term objective. The government should look to strongly redress the socio-economic position in the region – something which is being half-heartedly pursued right now. Tough days are ahead and a we need a cool and wise head at the helm of affairs.

6 Comments so far
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take a bow… great analysis of a complex issue… my 2 cents below…

I agree the issue is more complex than simply 1 of the 3 (Pakistan, Afghanistan & U.S) not doin enuff… all 3 need to do more “together” …

That being said, I do fault the pakistani establishment for claiming to do more than it actually does, everytime a US official visits or make a hostile statement an attack on camps are launched / a high profile fugitive is apprehended… I find it difficult to believe in such coincedences with so much regularity… but then what do i know…

Comment by Dazzler

Hmmmm, is Mushi the right person to lead??? Being a trapeze is extremely hard, let’s see if he pulls it off. But, talk of US taking on Pak is absurd. Mushi will probably look the other way and twiddle his thumb if the US does something in the Tribal area.
Capturing OBL is the best way to rejuvenate Bush’s ratings. So who do we bless with “interesting times” this year, Mushi or Bush??

Comment by Afzaal

I do not follow Pakistani or Indian or any other politics, so cannot comment on this one intelligently.

However, All I Know, this is just wordplay and there is nothing that can be done. Mushi is as Good as Sita Raam Kesri…

Sorry about the Cynicism.


Comment by Rahul Sharma

One fairly worrying development is the passage of “Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007” on Jan 9th in the House. A provision in the bill states that:

“For fiscal years 2008 and 2009…United States assistance may not be approved for, Pakistan until 15 days after the date on which President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Pakistan is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control, including in the cities of Quetta and Chaman and in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

I am hoping that the Senate (supposedly being a more deliberative body) will consider the facts (i.e. the toll this violence is taking on us; and the reason why the Taliban are so offended at us in the first place) and vote nay to this bill. But given the Democratic party’s newfound power there you never know.

According to an email sent out by the Pakistani American Leadership Center (PAL-C):

“Simply put, the legislation requires President Bush (and every future President) to certify every year that Pakistani territory is not being used by the Taliban to carry out missions in neighboring Afghanistan, before aid to Pakistan can be approved. If the President does not provide this certification, then Congress will have the power to freeze aid to Pakistan.

The last time such a certification was enforced by Congress was back in 1990 with the Pressler Amendment.”

Comment by Mansur

@ Afzaal: If not Mushy, then who? Therein lies the dilemma. The Mullahs or the feudals?

@ Mansur: Yeah, worrying development indeed. But if I remember it correctly – for it to become a law it has to be signed by the President, no? And I believe there was a statement by the Bush administration a few days ago that they are not in favor of the bill. So I don’t think it should be an immediate worry. But if the Democrats come back to the White House in 2 years time – I would be worried about the precedent this sets.

Comment by ayesha

Great Ideas !!
God bless U.

Comment by Afaq

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