Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swat Deal Going South

As Pakistani Taliban march (mostly unopposed) closer and closer to Pakistan's capital, Pakistani leadership is starting to get jittery. While not canceling the peace deal altogether, President Zardari has given the military a go-ahead to hit the Taliban hard and push them back. Fighting has broken out already; the Pakistani military is showing its training gives it a hard edge over the Taliban in conventional battles.

It's unclear what this particular operation is besides a knee-jerk reaction, and it--frankly--probably will not on its own be the beginning of an offensive into the northwestern frontier regions. But it may be a sign that opinion polls are starting to change. The closer the Taliban gets to the capital, the more it becomes clear to the Pakistani people that the Taliban are a threat to the security of everyone in the country and to the very existence of the Pakistani state as we know it. Until now, most Pakistanis thought that the problem would go away if the US pulled out, and that the Taliban did not have aspirations to conquer the region. It's becoming more clear that they do.

The Taliban have not held up their end of the Swat deal to lay down their arms and halt expansion. As discussed earlier, a deal with the Taliban had the strong potential to turn Swat valley into an untouchable safe haven from which to train, arm, organize, and then launch attacks elsewhere. And it looks like that's exactly what the Taliban are doing. But while breaking the Swat deal may have given the Taliban a tactical advantage, they may push the Pakistani people over a threshold of sufficient resolve to begin an all-out offensive. Such an offensive, which could be heavily funded, supported, and aided by the US, might have the potential to seriously rout Taliban leaders that have spent the past few years not having to deal with conventional warfare. More than likely, the Taliban have taken a path-of-least-resistance in the northwestern frontier regions, letting themselves operate more openly and conventionally in a region where they were not being bothered, and supporting their more guerrilla brethren in Afghanistan. If this is true, bringing to bear the might of the Pakistani army might leave them disorganized long enough for the US to be able to make an offensive in Afghanistan.

Should such a pincer maneuver work, the next step would require the hasty-but-effective deployment of indigenous local security forces loyal to the Pakistani and Afghani states. Such a task is easier said than done, but it is something that will be much easier done with a scattered and disorganized Taliban than a fully entrenched and offensive one.

Hopefully, Mr. Obama is ready to take advantage of the Swat deal going south. He needs to be able to propose a better alternative--and this alternative would include getting India to back off long enough for Pakistan to shift some troops to the north. But India is going to want attention dealt to the Kashmir region, as well, which is full of largely Pakistani Intelligence-supported insurgents and terrorists.
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