Saturday, April 25, 2009

Graham Usher's insight into the real reason the Pakistani army tolerates the Taliban -- or at least some of them

The most valuable publication on the Taliban situation in Pakistan in a long time is an article by Graham Usher that appeared in the London Review of Books (April 2009). He explains that the real reason the army behaves the way it does in Pakistan -- and despite appearances the army is the actual ruler of Pakistan -- is that the Pakistani army has been 'at war' with India since 1948, that is, since the inception of the country and thus of the army itself. This is why the Pakistani army treats some Taliban as enemies [those that are active against Pakistan] and some of them as friends [those that want to attack Afghanistan]. This is because Afghanistan, in the army's mind, is allied with India. For that reason much of what Karzai does is considered to reflect India's interests and so cannot be taken at face value.

From the army's viewpoint there are good Taliban and bad Taliban. Baitullah Mehsud is an enemy because he is responsible for suicide attacks inside Pakistan against the army. And he is believed to have recruited hundreds of Afghan fighters who are "agents" from the Indian intelligence services -- that is, of the real enemy, India, not Bin Laden.

Jalaluddin Haqqani, on the other hand, is a friend of Pakistan. He directs the "central front" against Afghanistan from bases in North and South Waziristan. Also, Mullah Muhammad Omar, head of the original Taliban, is a friend operating from his bases in Quetta. "They are our friends, not our enemies" says a member of Pakistan's Intelligence Services.

So, if they attack NATO forces or American forces in Afghanistan they are friends of the Pakistani army. If they attack the army or other installations inside Pakistan they are "enemies."

Such is the logic of an army created and shaped by generations of war with its neighbor. What would have to happen for them to realize they have another enemy? What would have to happen for them to see India as a benign neighbor and not an enemy?

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