The end of the Taliban?

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

30 thoughts on “The end of the Taliban?

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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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