The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Pakistani Taliban Move to Within 60 Miles Of Islamabad

Image by takebackpackistan

Image by takebackpackistan

I’ve been saying for years that the two pieces on the game board that matter to those who want a Caliphate are Pakistan, because of its nukes, and Saudi Arabia because of its oil.   The realpolitik problem with the Afghani war is that it’s destabilizing Pakistan so much – Afghanistan falling to fundamentalists really doesn’t matter that much, Pakistan doing so changes world geopolitics significantly.

The Taliban came to within 60 miles of Islamabad last week. What’s also interesting about this is that it wasn’t the military that fought them, it was a the police and a militia called up by the elders.  Now, the timing of this is such that the military had a day to get to the district, and didn’t bother, which given it’s 60 miles from the capital of Pakistan, they certainly could have.

Isn’t that… interesting.  And while the accounts of the fight are somewhat ambiguous, it doesn’t sound to me like the Taliban were forced to leave.

Is the military deliberately deciding to let the Taliban continue to put pressure on the civilian government?  One does wonder, doesn’t one?  Or is morale too uncertain to risk against the Taliban?  Or are they so overstretched they can’t get a company 60 miles from the capital?  Or does the “truce” mean that they’ve decided to comletely write off the entire north and let the Taliban take it over unopposed, even when the citizens don’t want it? Whichever it is, it isn’t good.

Lots of folks assume that the Pakistani military is more than capable of crushing the Taliban whenever it wants. I don’t know if that’s true, but I suspect that as long as attacks on the Taliban are seen as doing America’s work against their own countrymen, that the military is going to be both reluctant and somewhat crippled in doing so.

Furthermore, as Steve Hynd notes, in the areas it rules, the Taliban is a more effective government than the Pakistani government ever was.  It is able to solve long standing problems Islamabad could not.

Escalating in Afghanistan is going to turn into the biggest mistake Obama makes in the foreign sphere.  Not only is it a bleeding ulcer robbing America of troops and treasure it cannot afford to lose at this time, it may well lead to the fall of Pakistan.


(Go to the The Long War Journal and look at this map of Taliban control of Pakistan to get a visual picture of how much territory the central government has lost control of.)

Piece modified to reflect JPD’s corrections. Thanks Dave.

I’ll be traveling to Victoria and Vancouver from Tuesday through Saturday this week.   Since my laptop is on the fritz that means posting will be light, though there will be at least a couple pieces.


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  1. JustPlainDave

    As a technical note, a jirga is a consultative body – I think it works somewhat like a shura council. A militia is a lashgar [literally, I think “army” like jaish] – which is authorized by the jirga.

    In terms of how Army non-action should be interpreted – keep in mind, they’re trying to keep a truce in place in Swat. If the Pakistani Army opens up on the Taliban in Bruner, they endanger the truce – which they don’t want to do. Puts this in a somewhat different light.

  2. Ian Welsh

    Thanks Dave. Modified to reflect your corrections.

  3. off topic, and sorry to take so long, ian, but i’ve added your blog to my blogroll!

  4. How close is the Pakistani army linked with their intelligence service?

  5. The American attempt to suborn the Pakistani military against the interests of Pakistan’s own stability have led to this juncture. Ultimately, the Pakistani military’s goal and interest is keeping pace with India, not “fighting terrorism”. But it did so under duress, which had political effects Pakistan cannot bear. The American policy to prevent Pakistan from falling under Taliban influence is going to be precisely the policy that causes it.

  6. In other words, just as the key to the Mideast situation is ultimately the I/P conflict, the key to the situation in the subcontinent is a solution to the Kashmir problem that Pakistan can strategically accept.

  7. Pashtoon

    Ian / Huffington Post Contributors, just a note for future articles…

    AFGHANI – The official currency of Afghanistan.
    AFGHAN – A term for something or someone of, from, with familial roots in, or pertaining to Afghanistan.

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