Pakistan: The Taliban’s Silent Partner
Robert Kaplan reports that the government of U.S. “ally” Pakistan is behind the steady resurgence of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
WHEN the American-led coalition invaded Afghanistan five years ago, pessimists warned that we would soon find ourselves in a similar situation to what Soviet forces faced in the 1980’s. They were wrong — but only about the timing. The military operation was lean and lethal, and routed the Taliban government in a few weeks. But now, just two years after Hamid Karzai was elected as the country’s first democratic leader, the coalition finds itself, like its Soviet predecessors, in control of major cities and towns, very weak in the villages, and besieged by a shadowy insurgency that uses Pakistan as its rear base.
Our backing of an enlightened government in Kabul should put us in a far stronger position than the Soviets in the fight to win back the hinterland. But it may not, and for a good reason: the involvement of our other ally in the region, Pakistan, in aiding the Taliban war machine is deeper than is commonly thought.
The United States and NATO will not prevail unless they can persuade Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, to help us more than he has. Unfortunately, based on what senior Afghans have explained in detail to American officials, Pakistan is now supporting the Taliban in a manner similar to the way it supported the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviets two decades ago.
The situation is tragically simple: the very people we need to kill or apprehend we can’t get at, because they are in effect protected by our so-called ally, Pakistan. All we can do is win tactical battles against foot soldiers inside Afghanistan, who are easily replaced.
It isn’t that President Musharraf is doing nothing. He has deployed troops along the border that have somewhat cut down on the activities of Mr. Haqqani. Moreover, many of his troops are busy quelling a separatist rebellion in the border province of Baluchistan. But he feels himself atop a volcano of fundamentalism. He is among the last of the Westernized, British-style officers in the national army; after him come the men with the beards. The military and Pakistani society are filled with those who do not see the Taliban as a threat: it is an American problem, and one for an Afghan government toward which they feel ambivalence. So President Musharraf must walk a fine line. And he must be as devious with us as he is with any other faction.
Much more at the link. It’s a maddening situation because, as Kaplan notes, “President Musharraf, for all his faults, may still be the worst person to rule his country except for any other who might replace him.” Kaplan thinks there is more we can do here, including allowing corrupt former leaders into the country to run against him, but I’m not optimistic. As difficult as it is to deal with the Arab Middle East, it’s a cakewalk compared to the ‘Stans.