Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Every now and then, either when there is a fresh setback or a key moment in Afghanistan’s turbulent history, like last week when it went to the polls to choose a president, the debate flares anew.
Foreign Policy magazine has a provocative piece headlined “Saigon 2009: Afghanistan is today’s Vietnam. No question mark needed.” No matter who wins last week’s election, America is certainly not winning the war in Afghanistan because it is committing the same mistakes it did in Vietnam, authors Thomas H.Johnson and M Chris Mason argue.
The parallels are just too strong, too structural to be ignored. Both Afghanistan and Vietrnam (prior to U.S. engagement there) had surprisingly defeated a European power in a guerrilla war that lasted a decade, followed by a civil war which last another decade. Insurgents in both enjoyed the advantage of a long, trackless and unclosable border and sanctuary beyond it, the authors say.
The death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. Predator strike last week – now considered a certainty by U.S. and Pakistani security officials – and subsequent reports of fighting among potential successors would seem to justify the strategy of taking out top insurgent leaders
The Taliban are looking in disarray and fighting among themselves to find a successor to Mehsud, the powerful leader of the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella group of militant groups in the northwest, if Pakistani intelligence reports are any indication. Top Taliban commanders have since sought to deny any rift, but they certainly look more on the defensive than at any time in recent months.
In the eight years since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, political pundits have used, and largely overused, all the available historical references. We have had the comparisons to the British 19th century failures there, to the Great Game, and to the Soviet Union’s disastrous experience in the 1980s. More recently, it has been labelled ”Obama’s Vietnam”.
The latest leitmotif is the domino theory - the view that Vietnam had to be saved from communism or other Asian countries would go the same way. In the case of Afghanistan, the argument is that if it falls to the Taliban, then Pakistan too might become vulnerable – an infinitely more dangerous proposition given that it is a country of some 170 million people with nuclear bombs.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the possibility in April of Islamist militants taking over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, her words were dismissed as alarmist – and perhaps deliberately so as a way of putting pressure on Islamabad to act.
The problem with Pakistan is that it is almost impossible to come up with a view that is not either alarmist or complacent. It is such a complex country that nobody can agree a frame of reference for assessing the risk. It is the base for a bewildering array of militants including Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and anti-India groups, yet also has a powerful and professional army which would be expected to defend to the last its Punjab heartland and nuclear weapons against a jihadi takeover. Its potent mix of poverty and Islamist sympathies among a significant section of the population make it ripe for revolution, yet it also has a strong and secular-minded civil society which was willing to go out into the streets earlier this year to demand an independent judiciary.
Michael Cohen and Parag Khanna have become the latest to argue, in an article in Foreign Policy, that the real focus of President Barack Obama’s battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda should be Pakistan rather than Afghanistan.
“Preventing a return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan is important, but a long, state-building mission in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries is the costliest and least effective way to accomplish that goal,” they write.
A new poll shows public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against the Taliban and other Islamist militants, even though they still do not trust the United States and President Barack Obama. Reporting on the poll, our Asia specialist in Washington, Paul Eckert, said the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, conducted in May as Pakistan's army fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley, found that 81 percent saw the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country, a jump from 34 percent in a similar poll in late 2007. Read Eckert's report here. (Photo: Pakistani Taliban in Swat, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)
The poll shows a wide divergence between Pakistani public opinion and the views of the Taliban on the implementation of sharia, a religious issue sometimes cited to help explain earlier tolerance of the militants. Some 80 percent of the respondents said sharia permits education for girls, one of the first services the Taliban close down when they gain control of an area. And 75 percent said sharia allows women to work, which the Taliban do not.
The suicide bomb attack on the Pakistan Army in Pakistani Kashmir on Friday was not only unprecedented; it also raised questions about the state of militancy in Pakistan.
At its simplest level, the first suicide bombing in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir was seen as a reaction by the Pakistani Taliban to Pakistan’s military campaign against them in South Waziristan. “The militants are hurting and they are reacting. And this is a reaction to the successful operations we’ve had in Waziristan and we’ve had in the Malakand division,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters.
from India Insight:
Pakistan's success in the Twenty20 cricket World Cup must rank as one of sports' more timely victories. For a state that is supposed to be at war with itself, failing and in danger of fragmentation there cannot be a sweeter way to hit back.
Younus Khan who led his unfancied team comes from the North West Frontier Province, as does Shahid Afridi whose explosive batting took Pakistan to an eight-wicket win over Sri Lanka, another nation wracked by decades of civil war, but coming out of it.
The Pakistan Army is engaged in what appears to be a very nasty little war in the Swat valley against heavily armed Taliban militants. With journalists having left Swat, there have been no independent reports of what is going on there, though the scale of the operation can be partly measured by the huge numbers of refugees – nearly 1.7 million – who fled to escape the military offensive.
Dawn newspaper carried an interview with a wounded soldier saying the Taliban had buried mines and planted IEDs every 50 metres. ‘They positioned snipers in holes made out of the walls of houses. They used civilians as human shields. They used to attack from houses and roofs,” it quoted him as saying. ‘They are well equipped, they have mortars. They have rockets, sniper rifles and every type of sophisticated weapons.”
The Pakistan Army is fighting to regain control of the Buner valley to stop a Taliban advance deeper into the heartland, a battle that could determine the course of action the United States adopts in the near future.
Two weeks is what U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus is giving the Pakistani establishment to destroy the Taliban in Buner, some 60 miles from Islamabad, and begin to reverse the tide in the rest of the northwest region, according to Fox News.