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