Friday, September 08, 2006

Pakistan "Taliban" in Peace Deal

"Pakistan has signed a deal with pro-Taleban militants on the Afghan border aimed at ending years of unrest. ...The North Waziristan accord calls on tribesmen to expel foreign militants and end cross-border attacks in return for a reduced military presence." "Local Taleban supporters, ...have pledged not tharborur foreign militants, launch cross-border raids or attack Pakistani government troops or facilities." "Observers say meeting these conditions could be difficult, as the Taleban has support on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border."

Everyone seems to see this as an exit strategy for the Pakistani army. And for good reason, there is abundant doubt about whether this will really accomplish anything. The statement by the Afghanistan foreign minister implies that support for the Taliban and Al-Qaida is not limited to Waziristan: "I think it is [in] a lot of other places in our region and a lot of organizationsns and also madrassas [religious schools], that they are the centre of terrorist activity." Indeed some of the most important figures in the organization have been caught elsewhere in Pakistan. And we are hearing that support for them is broadening among the Pakistani citizenry: "a lot of other places -- and a lot of organizations" he says. He specifically points to the madrassas and implies that they are at least one "center of terrorist activity." If he is right, then this deal accomplishes very little, except give the army an excuse to bow out.

The Pakistanis have lost 500 men in attempting to get control of the tribal areas. This is a frontier area between south Asia and Afghanistan, notable for its rugged terrain (it looks like a washboard from the air), as long as the distance from Maine to Georgia, where attempts at sustained control by outsiders, the British earlier and now the Pakistanis, was unfeasible. I had thought that this time, in the era of modern warfare, the Pakistanis would finally get direct control. But it has been too costly.

We can only surmise the nature of the difficulty. When we used to travel through the Khybar pass I would try to find a place along the road that was not covered by a line of fire from at least two directions. I never found a place that was not covered by fire from at least two established, secured positions above the road. Also, the road was already supplied with huge cement blocks that could easily be moved into position to barricade the highway; it would have been easy to shut down all traffic. These fortifications were first developed in British times and no doubt the Pakistanis have maintained them. I have not been further than the northern edge of Waziristan but I surmise that the passes into that area are similarly secured: I suppose that the Pakistani army's problem was multiple installations along the lines of access that covered every point. The Waziri tribesmen would have planned ways of shutting down an army trying to move into the area. And now, after 30 years of war, they are armed with the latest weaponry. The old muzzle-loading jazaeels that once did so much damage to the British and the Lee Enfield rifles of WWI times have been replaced by AK-47s.

Moreover, scarcely anyone believes that Pakistan is fully committed to rooting out the Taliban. The New York Times [9/7/06] quotes an American intelligence source that Pakistanis are still actively supporting the Taliban raids into Afghanistan:
"Pakistani intelligence agents have provided intelligence to the Taliban about coalition plans and tactical operations ...". They have also provided support, housing and security for the Taliban leadership, including Mullah Muhammad Omar, and it is believed that they are providing money and weapons for their attacks on Afghanistan.

Not a good sign.

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