Pakistanis Make Deal with Taliban

On February 15, Pakistani officials signed a peace agreement with the Taliban that will allow the militants to impose sharia law in the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan in exchange for laying down their arms.  The Taliban representative who negotiated the deal is Sufi Muhammad, a man who once led more than 1,000 Taliban fighters across the border into Afghanistan to engage US troops operating there.  Naturally, Western leaders did not react positively to this development.  NATO spokesman James Apathurai said:

“We should all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have a safe haven. Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.”

 

Why not doubt the good faith of the Pakistani government?  It is clear that the Pakistani government is either unable or unwilling to subdue the militants in the tribal regions near the Afghan border.  There are certainly elements within the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) that are pro-Taliban, and political and military leaders in Islamabad may not think battling the Taliban to satisfy Western allies is worth sustaining a large number of casualties.  It would be incredibly naïve for Pakistani officials to think that the Taliban will uphold their end of the peace agreement and lay down their arms given their repeated failure to do so in the past.  The Taliban are probably just buying time to strengthen their position in the region vis-à-vis the army and the local government.

 

 

Taliban and Al Qaeda have had a safe haven in Northwest Pakistan since 2001, when they fled there after the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was toppled by US troops and their Afghan allies, and will continue to have one unless the American government decides to send US ground forces into Pakistan to engage the militants there.  During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama suggested that he might do just that if he were elected; now that he is president it will be interesting to see if he pursues that course of action.  Doing so is not without peril because such an incursion would undoubtedly inflame Pakistani public opinion against the US, and the new Pakistani administration, which many consider fragile, might be compelled to order its army to fight the American invaders or risk being toppled.  Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, and many policymakers around the world are concerned that such weapons might fall into the wrong hands if there is political turmoil there. Another danger is that invading another Muslim country could engender more anti-Americanism around the world and create more terrorists.

 

 

The US now has only two options, both of which are bad: allow the Taliban and Al Qaeda to have a safe haven in Pakistan, or send troops there and hazard creating political upheaval with all of its implications.   I do not know what the right answer is.  In the past I thought that the US should roll the dice and go after Bin Laden and his allies with special operations units or perhaps larger army contingents, but now I am not so sanguine about the outcome of such a move.  If it were up to me I suppose that I would pursue the same policy that we are pursuing now, which is to only use aircraft to attack targets in Pakistan.

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One Response to “Pakistanis Make Deal with Taliban”

  1. Conway Says:

    Did you see the interview of Zardari on 60 Minutes on Sunday? It was really interesting and I would recommend looking it up.

    I know it will be a difficult to sway opinions in Pakistan, but I think that if couched correctly maybe some sort of joint operations could be carried out. They complain of not having a military capable of fighting an insurgency (just India). Maybe we could “train” their forces and use that as an in to run operations. This would be a hard sell for Zardari, but maybe our best bet in the long run. It’s so bizarre to have an “ally” which we can have so little direct assistance or interaction with.

    While we are at it, maybe we could convince them to lock A.Q. Khan back up.

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