Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taliban are hunkering down?

The BBC report on affairs in Pakistan [2/24/09] says that the unilateral ceasefire announced by Faqir Mohammad, deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, was because "Pakistan is our country and the Pakistan army is our army". . . . "We don't want to fight the army, but some elements have been creating misunderstandings between us." He also claimed that there were no foreign fighters in Bajaur. Now, it seems, the Taliban are ready to grant that they live in part of Pakistan, a new admission.

Apparently also a strategic one, given the circumstances. The report says that “The announcement comes a day after the security troops dislodged militants from the strategic Bachina heights. . . . and also “two days after the head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, announced a new strategic alliance with two important non-TTP groups in Waziristan. One is led by Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and the other by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan.” The deals in Waziristan are taken to mean that “the Waziristan groups have decided to fend for themselves.”

So in several places separate deals are being made. Does this mean that the apparent unity among the Taliban is weakening? The deals are of course taking place on the heels of the notorious cease fire in Swat.

Tucked at the end of the BBC report is the most interesting detail: “observers believe some militants are on the retreat due to people's war fatigue, the recent realignments within different groups in anticipation of the new US strategy in the region and increasing international pressure on Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries.” War fatique? If this is the reason, it is good news because in such a context a true resolution to these conflicts is possible.

And does this mean that anticipation of a greater US commitment to the region is generating worry among the Taliban? Reason enough to lie low.

(Click on the title for a link to the whole article.)


Sami said...

Professor Canfield, we're actually getting mixed messages about Western strategy in Afghanistan. While Obama appears to have started making good on his pledge to fight the 'real' war in the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands, the Europeans (especially the British) have been making some quite different sorts of noises over the past year or so now: "ALL IS LOST IN AFGHANISTAN!"

Yes, the wave of Euro-pessimism has been toned down in recent months in response to Obama's escalation strategy, but it seems the reality may be that everyone on all sides is suffering from war fatigue over there. Do you suppose instead it is in the face of stalemate that people are running to the bargaining table, if only to buy some more time and breathing space?

Also, along with the Taliban problem, there are serious Russian concerns about greater US commitment in this region. Moscow has been taking incremental steps to undermine in any way it can the achievement of such American objectives. The eviction of US military forces from Central Asian military bases are of course an obvious part of this pattern, but what else might Russia be willing to do to see the Americans on their way out of the area for good?

Bob said...

Hi Sami,
Thanks for this. Yes, it looks like the Europeans are eager to get out. They believe the stories of the demise of empires, perhaps? Anyway, I am hoping that they will be influenced by Obama's desire to persist. In fact, is it possible that one factor in the persistence of the Taliban is the belief that the Americans as usual will give up and go home?
Thanks for your comment, and yes, you are right.