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The end of the Taliban?

May 29th, 2009

Until a few months ago, the Taliban seemed to be gaining ground in the war in Afghanistan, both militarily and in propaganda terms. The US reliance on air and drone attacks, with the inevitable civilian casualties, was proving disastrous. Most importantly, the Taliban possessed a crucial asset for a guerilla army, a safe haven across an international border in Pakistan, with surreptitious backing from the military and particularly the ISI, the secret police/military intelligence organisation that has historically dominated Pakistani politics. Just as Lashkar-e-Taiba was seen as asset to undertake deniable attacks on Pakistan’s historic enemy, India, the Taliban was an instrument to be used against rivals such as Iran.

In these circumstances, it seemed reasonable to conclude, as I did in August last year

, that “a military victory over the Taleban insurgency is now unlikely, whether or not it might have been achieved in the past”.

But the string of terror attacks and other outrages starting with Lashkar-e-Taiba’s attack in Mumbai late last year has changed everything.

Although the Pakistani establishment seeked to dodge the blame for Mumbai, attacks within Pakistan made this stance untenable. Two crucial events were the widely circulated video of a Taliban flogging of a young woman accused of unspecified offences against sharia law, and, most recently, the attempted bombing of the ISI headquarters which killed dozens and was claimed by the Taliban.

At this point, it is becoming clear to the Pakistani state, and to individual members of the elite and middle class that they are facing an existential threat. They face both the threat of death by terror attack and the risk of rule by brutal fanatics, compared to whom even the worst of Pakistan’s many bad rulers look benign. The historic divisions between the military and civilian politicians, and between the ISI and everyone else are ceasing to matter. The Taliban has declared war on the state and everyone associated with it. Any group that employs terrorist methods, like Lashkar-e-Taibais, perforce, on the Taliban side.

As the crushing of the LTTE showed, once this point is reached, there is only one possible outcome. In the absence of a safe haven, insurgents with AK-47s and car bombs will never defeat a state armed with tanks, aircraft and no choice but to use them or die. And, once the Taliban are destroyed in Pakistan, they will, in all probability, suffer the same fate in Afghanistan.

(It seems that terrorist group invariably act in this self-destructive way. Al Qaeda was a creation of the Saudi state (with some US encouragement) and enjoyed a fair degree of protection there even after 9/11, with “charities” providing funds and officially sponsored preachers encouraging a flow of recruits. But a series of terror attacks within Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004 put an end to that, and, as a side effect, gave the government a good excuse to persecute democratic reformists.)

As in Sri Lanka, the war in Pakistan is a brutal one, with huge suffering among the civilian population. This is an inevitable consequence of terrorist and guerilla tactics, which rely on blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians, but that does not mean that the military should have a free hand.

It is vital to do as much as possible to bring this suffering to an end, and to secure a lasting peace. An important step is to resolve old and pointless disputes like that over the location of the border in Kashmir. So far, the Obama Administration has talked a good game, but has little in the way of concrete achievements in foreign policy. This would be a good place to start.Goal! divx Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead full movie

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  1. Michael S.
    May 29th, 2009 at 22:38 | #1

    I think your optimism about the Taliban might be a bit overstated (though I’d love to be wrong).

    Even though the current shape it takes may fall by the wayside there are still several factors that will continue to support the instability from the Pashtun areas on both sides of the AFPAK border (even if it has the label of ‘Taliban’ or not). The crushing of the present insurgency may make some worse.

    1. The weak and corrupt central government in Afghanistan
    2. Pakistan’s iron fisted, utterly undemocratic rule of the tribal areas in the frontier provinces
    3. The profits from the Opium trade
    4. The lack of anything resembling a viable economy in these areas

  2. philip travers
    May 29th, 2009 at 22:40 | #2

    I personally think you are either over-balancing your commentary,or applying some sort of modelling process in perspectives,and thus losing whatever could be the essential attempt at genuine comment,that has still as issues and events,are effecting Australia in some way.I dont think that is a constant character failure that you may need to deal with, but some of your statements lack ,to me at least, the quality of the dynamics of events,that are impossible for Australians to assume any type of practical assessment.Summarising events as a form of analysis,can only lead again to the same outcome as a way of trying to engage in what this may all mean.From the start,even when there is evidence of a countervailing process, I prefer to see to it… in my own expressions,a reluctance to generalise about people,outside the known factual accounts.It is easy to assess that, maybe, the Talibani in Pakistan are becoming the victims of what seems to be,reported as a military goal in mind. As they become victims as individuals their cause may grow.[See the latest New Scientist about suffering]. That is,I read,something yesterday, that suggested ranks amongst Talibani fighters,if my memory serves me.I cannot accept that could be a reality,for the reason, that, these descriptions of the Talibani are extra colour,rather than any precise comparison with enlisted national armies.I mistrust the whole story of Talibani behaviour,on the premise, that we already know that their behaviour is one easily characterised as extreme.So if they are bad,why does the reporting seem to encourage reinforcement of this!? Strange to me,how the U.S.A. didn’t have full control over where all the guns were they took into Afghanistan…then you can read stories of the crushing of ammo supplies for domestic consumption,whilst Israel received ammunition supplies before the recent terrible,and still continuing events ,going on involving Palestinians.So how did the Pakistani Taliban get to have guns piles in remote areas!? And why is it that mainly as government,Police in Pakistan seem the targets!? It is clear there are military soldiers active everyday in Pakistan,but Police and ISI related buildings get hit!? When the story goes twas, until recently,perhaps, ISI are in with the Talibani. There are some other influences at play rather than ,whatever the differences and hostilities that are easy to see within the Pakistani population as it is.I suspect, a misinformation process is operating.

  3. May 30th, 2009 at 00:24 | #3

    “It seems that terrorist group invariably act in this self-destructive way”.

    What about the Fenians and their successors the IRA in Ireland, or the Sons of Liberty in America even earlier?

    But that whole idea that a safe haven is necessary for guerillas to succeed is like the idea that “Treason doth never prosper / What’s the reason? / If it Doth / None dare call it Treason”. When they succeed, they get safe havens on the way to final victory even if none were available earlier (Mao, Castro) – and when they don’t, they find that whatever they had wasn’t safe in the end. That’s not to say that safe havens aren’t valuable, rather that it’s hard to use their existence as an analytical criterion while things are going on as there isn’t enough information to sort out the direction of causality in individual cases until it’s all over and the dust has settled.

    Philip Travers wrote “…the Talibani in Pakistan…”, and so on.

    That’s a solecism on a par with “ignorami” as a plural for ignoramus. Taliban is already a plural for Talib (although in bad Arabic, since the term is being used by the non-Arabs in those parts; it really only means “two Talibs”, and the proper plural is Tulaab). There is no such thing as “Talibani”, even in the language spoken thereabouts.

  4. gerard
    May 30th, 2009 at 04:21 | #4

    One other thing to add to the list at @1 is the geography of the region in question. The Tamil Tigers were cornered on a small edge of a small island with nowhere to run. That’s pretty much the geographical “opposite” of what you have in Taliban country.

  5. derrida derider
    May 30th, 2009 at 09:05 | #5

    Wow, that’s impressive erudition PML – well done.

    But I too think that JQ is a bit overoptimistic. Even if the Pakistani army wins a military victory in Swat (itself no “gimme”), Swat is not the core of the Taliban’s havens in Pakistan. The tribal areas would be a far, far harder nut to crack. And anyway its not as though they don’t control territory within Afghanistan anyway.

    Plus I’m not convinced the coalition is fighting the Taliban alone. A lot of it looks like we’re fighting tribal Pashtuns generally, just like the British and Russians did. And that really is a no-win game. It is only the military’s habit of assuming that anyone taking a potshot at them, or anyone shot by them, must by definition be Taliban that prevents us seeing this.

    Nevertheless, I agree that the Islamic fundies (not actually Taliban but their allies) made a mistake in attacking a complaisant Pakistani state’s interests. I just doubt it’s a fatal one.

  6. Ikonoclast
    May 30th, 2009 at 09:21 | #6

    I’d like to accept JQ’s analysis (in some ways) but I feel the situation over there is too confused to call now.

    It seems to me that the entire maelstrom in the Middle East for the last 50 years has occurred because the West has interferred there. I think the West should just get out militarily and let it run its course. It will die down quicker if we don’t keep fanning the flames.

    Most of the militarised extremist groups in the Middle East would not exist if the US had not created them in the first place either directly by CIA schemes or indirectly by military provocation and excessive support for Israel.

    In addition the US often supports brutal state dictatorships like Iraq when it was fighting Iran. This has the result of pushing “entities” like Iran and the Taliban to extreme positions.

    The modus operandi of the US is to create a mess and then “intervene” i.e. make the conflagration bigger.

    There is no country in the Middle East (except perhaps Iran) that has the capacity to conquer the middle east and create a pan_Islamic state. And if they do, so what? Such a state would still be contained by Russia, NATO, India and China. They are going nowhere geostrategically so why are we so paranoid?

  7. Jill Rush
    May 30th, 2009 at 10:13 | #7

    It is reasonable to assume that many of the Taliban are unwilling conscripts seeking to survive in an area where food and security are in short supply.

    There will be those who are also happy to take the power that comes from this. This is well described in Siba Shakib’s Novel Afghanistan:Where God only comes to Weep” and also in the “Kite Runner” where the Taliban are seen as loathsome psychopaths who exercise control on every level of daily life and therefore will be “protected ” by those who fear them but have no love of them.

    There are reasons to be hopeful that there now seems to be a far greater will on the part of the Pakistani government and military to remain in control of their country. The giving over of the Swat valley to the Taliban was quickly shown to be a flawed policy as it emboldened the Taliban to try and take over more of Pakistan. This does not sit well with the Pakistani military or government who as described in the original post fear that consequence.

    The Taliban, by showing their intentions before their rule had been bedded down in the Swat valley, did overplay their hand. The machinery of the State, once it is mobilised will be more than a match for the limited equipment of the Taliban especially if they can prevent rearmament occurring. Sri Lanka has shown the Pakistani government that the international community will tolerate massive civilian dislocation and misery.

    If the situation can be stabilised, the international community should help build local economies and broad education programs in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This will do more to prevent the rise of the next Mujahadin or Taliban than military might alone.

  8. May 30th, 2009 at 12:24 | #8

    For another perspective on the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, see articles on the Winter Patriot website, including More Thoughts About The War Between The USA And Pakistan of 13 May 09.

    And let’s not forget that, even today, there is no legal basis for the invasion of Afghanistan. The documents given to NATO by Colin Powell which supposedly proved Al Qaeda’s guilt for the 9/11 attack have never been made public and documents promised by Colin Powell to the UN that would have proven Al Qaeda’s guilt and thereby have made the UN legally a participant in the “war on terror”, were never produced. (“Towers of Deception – the Media Cover-up of 9/11″, Barrie Zwicker, p111, 2006). Anyone, who views with an open critical mind, the hard evidence contained in video “9/11 Science vs. Conspiracy Theories Part 1 of 2″ will know that the ‘collapses’ of the WTC twin towers were, in fact, controlled demolitions, and therefore could not have been committed by Al Qaeda.

  9. Methusela
    May 30th, 2009 at 15:41 | #9

    Prof Q

    Do you really think it is wise to contine that bet with Bryan Caplan? Your success with predictions has not been the best lately. First, you had to backtrack on the GFC and now the WOT. ;)

  10. jquiggin
    May 30th, 2009 at 16:32 | #10

    “First, you had to backtrack on the GFC”

    ???

  11. Alice
    May 30th, 2009 at 17:28 | #11

    Ikonoclast says on the middle east
    “The modus operandi of the US is to create a mess and then “intervene” i.e. make the conflagration bigger.”

    One could be forgiven for thinking the US govt has been at the beck and call of the US arms industry…

  12. Jill Rush
    May 30th, 2009 at 17:45 | #12

    #8 Daggett,

    I am not sure what point you are trying to make with your links.
    The Pakistani officials are known for a policing style which is in their own interests and would be called corrupt in other lands. That is why it has been so difficult to contain the Taliban and Al Quaeda in the North Western province of Pakistan.

    Whether the invasion of Afgahanistan was because of 9/11 or fabricated there is no doubt that it appeared to be the latest of a long line of attacks on the US by Al Quaeda. There were planes that crashed into those towers and the Pentagon. The US didn’t follow good international principles in invading Afghanistan. However the Taliban up to that point had not shown themselves to be good international citizens at any time. The destruction of the Buddhas at Bamyan was an outrage to those who understood their antiquity. In fact they had shown themselves to be destructive and joyless with a real penchant for brutality and self righteousness. This is not to ignore their treatment of children and women who were not allowed to work, to walk outdoors without a man or to have an education. Stonings for adultery were held in the soccer stadium each week. Whilst things have always been bad for women in Afghanistan the Taliban took their oppression to a new brutal level. So the regime did in many ways bring on an attack, on Afghanistan, by allowing Al Quaeda to train new fighters who aimed to attack US interests.

    The main problem was that GW Bush and his administration had no idea of the history of the region or the nature of their politics and failed to address the tail end of the Taliban and Al Quaeda before turning their attention to Iraq.

    We will never know how much of the billions poured into the region have gone to the Taliban and Al Quaeda through the police and army networks. If the weapons purchased are now being turned on them it suggests that this will no longer be an avenue for support for the rebels which will hamper them considerably.

  13. Donald Oats
    May 30th, 2009 at 18:45 | #13

    Um, people here in Australia know some of the unfortunate victims who were working in the TT that morning. I don’t think their circle of friends would attribute the 9/11 TT collapses to a US government conspiracy. A big mother of a fuel-laden jet hit the south tower smack-on, and same for the north tower. I don’t think they were built to withstand a fully laden modern jet and the shear energy of jetfuel combustion; one or the other perhaps, but not both. And that’s all I have to say on that tragic topic.

    I agree with Jill #12 that Al Qaeda has history in-so-far as the USA is concerned, and the location of the seniors was supposedly known, at least down to a region of the Afghanistan mountains. They were being provided safe haven by the Taliban, as far as I know. A large military operation to capture or kill those Al Qaeda individuals would surely have been more justifiable than one of invading Iraq. Apparently not.

  14. philip travers
    May 30th, 2009 at 21:50 | #14

    I have no real problem,with the L for Lawrence person.After all the subject matter,does not require me to have a problem with a non Taliban!The use of the word Talibani has been prominent,it would seem to be a creative combination that melds Pakistan and Taliban and maybe Afghanistan the i in the previous put on the end.Eye!? My point is undiminished by spelling or matters geographic,for the simple reason, that one cannot assume,any geography is easy,with war weapons flying over from within Pakistan itself,bombing the bejeebers out of what is below.I haven’t found it in myself to actually,think this is acceptable.And the reason for that is,if the Taliban want independence from the Pak and Afghan Governances,they are in part still citizens of both countries.Whereas the American call on this is terrible. The problem they may have with the two countries as Taliban individuals seems somewhat much further away from the U.S.A. then the territorial borders,and therefore the price that is being paid by the citizenry completely is unfair and uncalled for. Bush dreamed up this War against Terrorism,it is simply impossible to commit oneself,to deciding the Taliban are very dangerous with the 7000 released from any form of guilt no longer considered Terrorist ,and who had various tastes of U.S.A. Justice. I am Australian that is my bloody excuse!So tell me ,what is the buying power of the average Taliban person,with or without access to criminal means…. to in some way purchase store maintain and then use weaponry and its servicing by ammunition!? I personally think, they have been well and truly manipulated by forces, that, seem friendly to them,but just makes them suicidal actors, that kill others on the way to the end of the theatre play.[The 7000 referred to,are not all Taliban].

  15. May 30th, 2009 at 23:41 | #15

    Yochi J Dreazen in the WSJ (via War in Context) reports on the funding of the “Pashtun Resistance” quoting David Petraeus as saying:

    . . . the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign [Islamic]charitable foundations and individuals.

    “You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business,” he said. “It’s a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level.”

    One of the reported reasons the Tamil Tigers defeat was that the EU cut off an important source of funding for its operations.

    The simple principle is that violence begets violence. Overt violence carries the implication of cultural and structural violence whether practiced by vicious individual methods of the Taliban or the mass murder implied in the method and technology of counter insurgency.

  16. jquiggin
    May 31st, 2009 at 07:39 | #16

    Daggett, you’ve had your say on this, and you are hijacking the thread against my previous request. I’m deleting your most recent comment and will deleting anything further on this topic. Any metacommentary, attempting to dispute my decision or similar, will result in a more extensive ban. I don’t have time to waste on this kind of thing.

  17. May 31st, 2009 at 12:23 | #17

    Deleted. I think everyone is aware of 9/11 conspiracy theories, and I see no benefit in having them discussed here. I specifically requested no metacommentary on my decision, and you’ve chosen to ignore that. You’re banned for 24 hours.

  18. May 31st, 2009 at 14:49 | #18

    Professor Quiggin,

    Your comment “everyone is aware of 9/11 conspiracy theories and I see no benefit in having them discussed here” is offensive to millions around the world who are fighting for truth and justice.

    Your viewpoint is now in the minority by the way.

    In my experience the reason more professionals don’t speak out is because they are afraid of losing their jobs.

    This is the face of modern fascism.

    I invite you to debate this on my radio podcast – please contact me by email.

    Thank you,
    Hereward Fenton
    Truth News Radio Australia

  19. Jill Rush
    May 31st, 2009 at 15:43 | #19

    # 15 wmmbb

    The production of Opium has been prolific in Afghanistan for generations despite the War on Drugs that the USA has been so keen to pursue. Opium is relatively easily grown and harvested, is lucrative, inconspicuous and light to transport. Those who produce it, also use it, and it doesn’t have the negative reaction of the community. Certainly if Westerners are addled by it, that is of no concern to the producers who otherwise would be far poorer.

    I have never understood why the anti drug forces didn’t just buy the crop rather than try to introduce alternatives which are far less well paid and which are also more subject to failure and therefore family starvation. The western attitude means that the opium growers are in the hands of groups such as the Taliban as they are able to coerce growers into selling to them. Coercion which equally applies to local businesses – although at their height they were happy to put businesses into liquidation if they sold products like cassette tapes, radios etc. These local Afghani businesses would be happy to be free of extortion.

    It should be remembered that the Pashtun of the North Western Provinces are a self reliant people who have looked after the region for hundreds of years. They manufacture weapons themselves and have strong family ties with many of the Taliban. Any goods that come into the region must be purchased but even more importantly have to be taken into the region through leaky borders controlled by Pakistani police and the military.

    The Pushtuns are very suspicious of outsiders and able to control their region through force and intimidation. That is why they have been self governing since partition and under the British Raj. The question is how many civilian and military deaths it will take to ensure Pakistani control of the region?

    Up until this point it didn’t look as if the Pakistani military were prepared to wear the deaths of their own forces to any degree. Now that the police and military are being attacked in areas far from the Khyber Pass that reticence to put their troops in harm’s way appears to be changing – because there is no choice but to face the Taliban.

    I agree with Professor Quiggin that this is the most hopeful time for the rest of the world since the downfall of the Taliban government – although from the viewpoint of those living in the region it is probably also a most dangerous time. Those who are refugees from the SWAT valley will need a great deal of international support to survive long enough to return home once peace is restored. Safe schooling for all children which includes maths, science, geography and literacy is the next step if government stability can be established.

  20. Michael of Summerhill
    May 31st, 2009 at 15:51 | #20

    John, it seems like the Pakistan Army is up to the task of taking on the Talibans and pressing on towards Charbagh, a major Taliban stronghold, some 32km north of the valley.

  21. philip travers
    May 31st, 2009 at 22:32 | #21

    So no-one here has noticed in Afghanistan the building of U.S.A. barracks that are gigantic compared to what is the potential of the Taliban and Pushtun to engage as an enemy of the U.S.A. in defending Afghanistan,without necessarily the real approval of the present Parliament!? And could someone please explain to me,because I simply cannot understand why it is years going by is something I remember,that doesn’t seem to be appreciated here.That is, before the 9/11 event most of what dismayed the world and Australians about the Taliban took place.Someone here could simply ask,the Australian Defense people what are the average age of people they fight against as Taliban and whoever.Time is marching on for all cowards who simply are locked into enemy equals Taliban,rather than asking has there been a generational change!?And are the fighters young victims of atrocities past,rather than atrocity producers!The fact the Taliban being bombed from within Pakistan by Americans at or near sites now,doesn’t get your senses of cynicism going about the real reason the Pakistan Armed Forces are having successes!? I mean, doesn’t yesterday ring a bell with you lot everyday a day passes!? You can be intelligent about who is winning on the day,etc. and in the future,rereading what you have agreed to as the real history unfolding will hurt you beyond your present sense of what is right.You cannot even clarify from your seats, that the Taliban had even the potential to defend themselves.You have no proof the reports you rely on actually account for reality…tell me why I am wrong by counting physically the weapons when you saw them and dated for me to say in big exclamation marks that you are a 100% right in analysis and nuances of why you were right!? Cross my heart,or be ready to die.Amen.

  22. June 1st, 2009 at 13:00 | #22

    Metacommentary deleted – last warning on this

    The setbacks to the Tamil Tigers as well as the Pakistani Taliban, however we view those movements, illustrate that it is folly to assume that popular resistance can always overpower the military might of powerful imperial nations like the US or their local proxies. Even where it succeeded as appeared to be the case in Vietnam, it was at a terrible cost in lives and material.

    So, it seems to me that Ho Chi Minh and others, who tried to emulate his strategy, may not have been as smart as they have been held to be, particularly given that Ho Chi Minh failed to seize opportunities to decisively end the conflict in 1945 and 1954, claiming that a people’s war would bring victory at a cheaper cost .

    I guess at least we can all sleep soundly at night in the knowledge that our rulers would never contemplate using the awesome firepower that they have used against the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan against their own people.

  23. David Irving (no relation)
    June 2nd, 2009 at 16:04 | #23

    Did anyone see Kilcullen on the 7:30 report last night?

    He reckons that if the US (etc) bankrolled the Pakistani police instead of the Army, it’d have a much more beneficial result. Mainly because it’s a lot harder to divert to unintended purposes.

  24. jquiggin
    June 2nd, 2009 at 16:06 | #24

    I did see Kilcullen. V interesting and considerably less optimistic than the post above.

  25. Jill Rush
    June 3rd, 2009 at 00:55 | #25

    The local people in refugee camps are no doubt a lot less optimistic as well as many of them will be going home to places that no longer exist. It is really a question of which outcome is the lesser evil.

    However those performers and artists who have survived the murderous Taliban regime and those women (50%+ of the population) incarcerated in their own homes by the Taliban’s rules will no doubt have good reason to think that Pakistani rule is somewhat better than under the Taliban. It is hard to be overly optimistic.

  26. philip travers
    June 3rd, 2009 at 11:55 | #26

    Can someone inform me,when Pakistan was under the rule of Taliban!? Or more distinctly,if Jill is at all right in her assumptions about Taliban generally across borders, and within the border areas of Pakistan, as a result of efforts American first and foremost to engage bombs in Taliban areas, where the central Pakistani authorities were the Government,as of now!? So being in a declared emergency area according to the UN. will avail these women of a keen sense of improvement in living!?Even though family may have died,and, the shared moments of buildings and other experiences of regularity,seem not as worthy as dependence on UN assistance!? I suppose they were also happy to see earthquakes,if ,in fact, they were in the area at the time!

  27. Glen Clancy
    June 3rd, 2009 at 18:28 | #27

    Philip Travers,
    I would suggest since Benazir Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari was sworn in as Pakistan president who is defying “war on terrorism” propaganda.

    (May 2009) Zadari: Osama was an Operator for the United States

  28. Oldskeptic
    June 9th, 2009 at 19:55 | #28

    Kilcullen also did a long interview on Late Night Live last month (check for the podcast).

    Taliban beaten, not a chance. All we are seeing is tactical fighting at the moment.

    Basically the Taliban were sucessfully cutting off logistics (supplies) from Pakistan. Constant attacks (in of all places the Khyber Pass) were reducing convoys by as much as 30%.

    The US has few options. The Russians do allow non military convoys but that is not sufficient and they would ask for too many concessions to changes that (e.g. stop stirring up Georgia, putting military forces right on their border, missile defence, etc, etc, etc). Their other option is Iran, with a brand new highway to the border no less. But they hate the Iranians (or the Israeli’s do which is the same thing) to the extent they are funding terrorist groups there. So that is out.

    The other option is to risk a breakup in Pakistan, forcing them to ‘clear’ (to the extent of a million or so people) various areas, so that they can go gangbusters against everyone left. Translated a Vietnam ‘free fire zone’. Hopefully then clearing the way for their life giving convoys.

    The key to evaluating their tactics (I refuse to grace such idiocy with the term strategy) is the new US commander who comes from the ‘dark side’ of special ops.

    Will it work .. nah. Oh maybe for a month or so, but the Taliban are Pushtans and have beaten everyone who have ever attacked them, including the British and the Russians. Plus they now have huge numbers of new recruits …. on what side are that million or so refugees going to fall on?

    Meanwhile there are persistent rumours that some parts of the US Military/strategic elite (ref Pep Escobar’s articles in the Asia Times) thinks that a Pakistan breakup is actually not too bad a thing. Plus more rumours of Pakistan increasing its nuke production (a last case revenge in a Pakistan breakup situation?)

    Interesting times.

    And as for comments that the Taliban are terrorists, nonsense. They were the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan (odious, but less of a terrorist than Wall Street). They actually offered to hand over Bin Ladin, but they were (as was Iraq) in the firing line long before 9/11. Asking a bit too much money for the long planned pipeline (that avoids Russia and Iran) is the best theory.

    Note a lot of this is all fallout (or blow back) from the British and their ‘great’ empire and ‘great games’. Creating arbitrary borders across ethnic lines. Pushtans cover large swathes of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The borders, for them, have been non-existent ever since they were created.

  29. Jill Rush
    June 10th, 2009 at 00:34 | #29

    Phillip Travers #26
    The Taliban were earlier this year given control of the SWAT Valley by the Pakistani authorities so that they could instal Sharia Law despite the fact that in the most recent elections the people had voted for a civil government. The Pakistani government had hoped that this would appease them. However the Taliban soon made it clear that they wouldn’t stop there.

    The Taliban are now in a great deal of trouble as local militias are helping the Pakistani authorities clear them out of this area as they didn’t stick to Sharia law but began to murder those who had opposed them in the past.

    The North West Frontier region has always been an area where there has been no civil authority and has been wild enough to deter those who thought they might try. This area has been well known for a long time as a favourite area for smuggling and has had leaky borders. The people are Pashtuns like those on the Afghan side of the border. Something that means more in this region than an artifical boundary drawn up by the British in the nineteenth century.

    It appears that the latest tactic of the Taliban is to appeal to this ethnicity against foreigners – in this case the Punjabis. So far to no real effect as the attacks on the Pakistani authorities has not weakened their resolve. The Pakistanis are using the local Pashtun structures militias and supporting them against the Taliban. The Taliban are weakened by their brutality against the local population and their alliance with the foreigners of Al Quaeda. The refugees will almost certainly support whatever side feeds and protects them as long as they are not bombed indiscriminately. As the summer progresses we will see if the optimism is warranted. Old Skeptic is right the Pashtuns cannot be controlled from the outside but most will prefer peace and prosperity to oppression, loss and death.

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