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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Taleban creep towards the capital

The Taleban, now secure in the Swat valley through the deal with the government, begin to infiltrate Buner, the next steeping stone towards the capital, just 60 miles away.


  • Looking at this coldly, I just want to explore this idea...

    Ultimately, this is a Pakistani problem. To the extent the the Taliban focuses it's "agents of God" efforts domestically and not internationally -- nor provide safe harbor to international terrorists -- it isn't our problem. Indeed, the more we insert ourselves militarilly as "saving" Pakistan from the Taliban, the more we increase their legitimacy (in the eyes of locals) and the more we undercut our own self interests.

    Only when enough Pakistanis see the Taliban as "the enemy" will there be a shift in hearts and minds. Inserting ourselves militarily only makes us the common enemy of both extremists and moderates alike.

    By Blogger -epm, at 8:40 AM  

  • The hitch is, the more space and control they have in Pakistan, the freer hand they have. The Pakistani Taleban isn't exactly the same as the Afghani Taleban was, but they were the ones who harbored Bin Laden.

    (Of course, they also offered negotiations to turn him over, although to a third country, Muslim, and of their choice.)

    Also, on Pakistan more generally, the country is very broadly split into two camps. The Urbans and the Muslims. The Urbans in Pakistan are worldly and liberal, much like Lebanon, but there's also a "country" part that lives in hard poverty and they are very prone to the Taleban message.

    Maybe Iran's a better example where Ahmadinejad came to power off economic hard times outside the urban centers, but you go into Tehran, and you'll find some of the most liberal folks in the Muslim world.

    That's the dichotomy that all of this is playing against. It's a broader internal cultural conflict with the politicians coming largely from the Urbans and the military coming from the countryside.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 10:23 AM  

  • All true, but isn't this all just internal Pak politics? Their own "culture wars?"

    I'm concerned with our involving our selves in the Taliban issue.... It just seems to be a lose-lose for us.

    I don't know. The game has always been about "hearts and minds" and it seems we continue to treat this as strictly a "bullets and bombs" mission.

    By Blogger -epm, at 10:49 AM  

  • Yes, the conflict is internal, but the difference is that the traditional culture war doesn't export bombers.

    And, it is sort of lose-lose, but there are also degrees of losing.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 2:01 PM  

  • "...traditional culture war doesn't export bombers."

    Well this is the crux of it, isn't it. Is the Taliban the same as Al Qaeda....? Do they, indeed, export bombers? And if so, to where? Neighbors or the West... or both?

    Balance this with the fact that a Taliban under siege is marketed to the underprivileged, Muslim youth in the West, where bombers aren't exported but groomed.

    I'm just trying to get a fix on this stuff. I can't put my finger on it, but I have this sense we get caught up in the immediacy of local extremism (Taliban) and maybe aren't looking at the bigger, long term picture. I dunno. My head aches trying to make sense of this stuff.

    By Blogger -epm, at 2:33 PM  

  • No. The Taleban is not Al Qaeda, and frankly, the Taleban isn't even the same as the Taleban. It's really a collection of warlords we've lumped together, but each is different and plays within different rules.

    We've lumped all of this together for the sake of the conversation, but, if you really want to get into this, you need to break out the leaders and groups. The Kashmiri separatists pose no direct threat to the US, but direct to India. There are the border Taleban who work with the Pak military and those who don't directly. You have actors focused on Afghanistan, some focused on the broader Muslim world, some focused on overturning the Pak government, some focused on the US or Britain or France for various reasons. You have the folks in the northeast who are working with the Chinese Uighers, and the segments in Baluch who are trying to impact Iran....

    And each of those groups is now working, to at least some degree, outside of any governmental or structural control.

    The issue is that any of those groups has the ability to destabilize in any number of ways.. That's why Al Qaeda can find solace. There are so many groups to work with.

    No, we cannot solve Pakistan's political probloems, they've been going on for decades, but the potential fallout from doing nothing is pretty dire. Not just Al Qeada finding safe haven among one group or other, but also things like nuclear distributions of AQ Khan or training camps.

    If I were drawing a model, I would hope all the "Taleban" would unify, even if it was against us because then they would have leadership and some sort of rules of engagement. Someone we could deal with, a structrure we could target.

    I mean, look at Hezbullah. Bad guys, but there are people you can negotiate with. Although they commit violence, they do so within restrictions and within a structured framework. That's a hell of a lot better than what we have now in Pakistan.

    (Also, to your side, I think everyone forgets that Pakistan is 170 million people. It's huge. We really can't force it too much.)

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 2:54 PM  

  • Very interesting stuff... Wouldn't it be cool if one of the American broadcast networks actually had a news special explaining all this? This is important stuff and we (average Americans) are as dumb as a bag of rocks when it comes to understanding the situation around the world. (And some Americans are willfully and actively ignorant).

    I guess I'm just frustrated with my own intellectual impotence and had to vent. :(

    By Blogger -epm, at 3:05 PM  

  • You know, maybe they could present assuming a deeper understanding, but really laying out the Pak/Afghan problems would take at least an hour long Frontline, (and I'm sure the viewership would be huge!!!)

    We really want that simpler answer.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 4:01 PM  

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