Peshawar is such an important city for Pakistan that it can be hard to write about it without sounding shrill. It is significant strategically since it lies near the entrance to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. But it is also important emotionally — not only is it a Moghul city and an ancient Silk Route trading hub, but it is also a Pashtun town on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line , the ill-demarcated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed by British colonial rulers that splits the Pashtun people of the region in two. For Pakistan, fighting for control of Peshawar is probably comparable to what France and Germany felt about Alsace Lorraine before World War Two.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
So which troops is Afghan President Hamid Karzai going to send to Pakistan to make good his threat to hunt Baitullah Mehsud and his men, and stop cross-border attacks? The Afghan National Army, the Afghan national police ? Aren’t they already too stretched trying to cope with the Taliban inside Afghanistan to worry about them across the border ?
Pakistan’s Frontier Corps soldiers and U.S. led coalition-led troops just over the ill-defined border in Afghanistan must have been barely a few hundred yards apart on Tuesday night when 11 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an air strike that has touched off a new row between the two allies.
It would be hard to think of a more complex web of problems. Pakistan and Afghanistan face, in very different ways, severe domestic political crises which are being exacerbated by soaring prices and food shortages. Both blame each other for failing to crack down on the Taliban and al Qaeda. And now tensions are rising over attempts by Pakistan, the traditional supplier of food to Afghanistan, to curb its wheat exports to make sure it can feed its own hungry population.
Despite the reservations of its principal ally, the United States, Pakistan’s new civilian leaders have gone ahead and sued for peace with militants in the Swat valley this week, and by all indications are about to cut another deal, and this with the head of the Taliban in the country.
(Luke Baker is with the U.S. army in eastern Afghanistan)
The snows have largely melted in the Hindu Kush and the high trails over the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan are once again passable. What’s more, Tehrik-e-Taliban’s leader, Baitullah Mehsud, looks like he may secure a peace deal with Pakistan’s new leadership, including the possibility of Pakistan’s security forces backing off from attacking his hideouts in South Waziristan.
A story in the Washington Post “U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan has attracted attention worldwide. It says the United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that Pakistan’s new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations there.
For those who missed, it’s worth looking closely at Barack Obama’s latest comments on Pakistan made in a speech this week in which he repeats a call for the United States to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “This is the area where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants still hide. This is where extremism poses its greatest threat.”
Thanks to openDemocracy for highlighting this piece on EurasiaNet about a row between the Taliban and al Qaeda which it says has surfaced among bloggers on a website in Egypt.