Thursday, April 23, 2009

Taliban Consolidating Grip On NW Pakistan

I think it's fair to say that Pakistan is now two countries. There's the portion held by the government in Islamabad, and then there's the rest of the country, which includes the frontier provinces and a shifting border that is creeping ever closer to Islamabad. That portion is controlled by the Taliban, and they're tightening their grip on the region.

Taliban control has serious consequences, not only to Pakistan, but the entire region.

The Taliban are once again overtly seeking to support and shelter Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Islamabad has been incapable of controlling the frontier provinces and has all but given up on the idea, allowing the Taliban to impose sharia on the region. Most dangerous among the Taliban are the Mehsud clan, led by the capable Baitullah Mehsud, and whose relatives include those who are notorious for training child suicide bombers and whose thugs are regularly harassing NATO/US supply lines between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It's becoming all too apparent that the Zardari government in Islamabad is losing control of Pakistan to the Taliban, and there's little anyone can do about it. The US Secretary of State has basically said that the Zardari government has abdicated its responsibilities.

I don't think that's entirely fair to the Zardari regime, which has basically cut deals with the Taliban on repeated occasions in a fashion little different than the prior Musharraf regime. The Pakistani leaders try to stick around long enough, and they repeatedly cut deals until they are threatened personally with terror attacks, in which case they engage in crackdowns. It's a cycle of violence that does not end because the appeasement repeatedly shows weakness to the Taliban, who exploit it.

The Pakistani military, which continues sending troops into the frontier provinces has been ineffective, which makes the situation all the more desperate.
Pakistan on Thursday sent paramilitary troops to a district virtually taken over by the Taliban, a day after Washington said Islamabad had abdicated to the militants by agreeing to impose Islamic law in the region.

Around 100 paramilitary troops had been deployed in Buner district, not far from Islamabad, police said. Soon after they arrived, militants attacked their convoy, killing a policeman escorting them, said Arsala Khan, a deputy police superintendent.

"A platoon of the Frontier Corps has arrived in Buner to help police maintain security in the district," Khan told Reuters.

Surging violence across Pakistan and the spread of Taliban influence in the country's northwest has revived concerns about the stability of the nuclear-armed state, which is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.

After failing to quell the Taliban through force, President Asif Ali Zardari last week approved enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the Swat valley and adjoining areas despite criticism from Western countries and Pakistani liberal and rights groups.
Despite spending billions on their military, they're unable to control the situation. US airstrikes are regularly denounced, despite the fact that they have been quite successful in taking out mid- and high-level terrorists.

It comes as no surprise that Gen. David Petraeus stated that Pakistan's greater threat isn't the traditional rival India, but the Taliban. For a nation steeped in nationalism and longstanding hatred of India (as seen by multiple wars and regular skirmishes across the Line of Control), recognizing that the Taliban are the true threat is a difficult thing for the government in Islamabad to do, let alone convince a polarized and Islamist-sympathizing population that they are threatened by the Taliban.

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