Saturday, May 30, 2009

Taliban Attacks Signal Desperation

The Taliban have had many recent opportunities to learn how to fight a good insurgency in both urban areas (from Baghdad/Diyala/Mosul/Basrah, etc) and rural, desert areas (Afghanistan, Anbar). There's a lot of smart stuff they've been doing in Afghanistan to keep NATO off-balance. But in Pakistan, their mistakes are starting to grow--and show.

Part of the problem is context. The Taliban are recycling some old concepts that have worked in the past, but are not particularly useful here. The two of note are its strategy in Mingora, and its attack strategy in Lahore and Peshawar.

The Taliban Mingora strategy--to sit and hold--had worked before. Ineffectual Pakistani Army attacks in the past balked at real resistance and urban warfare, dissolving before damage was seriously done. Further, such defeats crushed morale and domestic support for military operations. Doing the same seemed wise enough, but the Taliban did not estimate the ire they had caused among the Pakistani people. With domestic support, the Army was able to send a sufficiently sized and resourced force to retake Mingora rather easily (much more easily than the US took Fallujah). The Taliban were not prepared.

Perhaps as importantly, the Taliban offensive strategy is almost certainly a mistake. They're taking a few pages out of the al-Qaeda book, trying to intimidate the population into submission with attacks (although on police) in multiple cities: Lahore and Peshawar so far. Islamabad is probably next on the list of targes. The idea, of course, is to let the population know that they are not safe as long as they continue to assault--that the Taliban can hit anywhere, at any time. This isn't strictly-speaking true, but they certainly want to give off that impression.

Unfortunately for the Taliban, such attacks are likely to bolster the emerging story told in Pakistan that not only is the Taliban a major threat to Pakistan's survival, but they're an urgent threat to the individual citizens of Pakistan right now, and must be cleared sooner rather than later. When dealing with a committed enemy, minor hurts tend not to deter them--only enrage them. If the Taliban is going to try and beat Pakistan at this point, it will either require staying sufficiently below the radar that the current commitment dissolves, or require destroying their capability right now--which is highly unlikely. But after years of offensives, the Taliban may not have the patience nor the wisdom to be able to seep back into the walls and make themselves hard to hit. Hard-won territory in Swat and Waziristan will unlikely be easily given up--but by choosing to take the Pakistanis head-on and agitate their population, the Taliban show a level of desperation to keep their position that will ultimately be detrimental to their cause.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blast in Lahore

Lahore, Pakistan: A "huge" blast went off near the Larore High Court just now. Gunfighting has erupted. Casualties being reported. More on this later.

Obviously, the Taliban is hitting back in their own way. The good news: They were not able to hit India (yet).

DPRK Abandons Armistice

Which means official, serious-business war with the ROK. More on this as soon as I know it, folks.

The Taliban Confirms Army Successes

In a very rare and politically costly concession of fact, the Taliban recently asked the Pakistani government very nicely for a return to a recent past that now seems so rosy and delightful in retrospect. The Taliban have formally sought a return to the Sharia-for-disarmament peace deal. Pakistan has rejected the deal, offering an ultimatum--leave or be arrested. Submit to arrest or be killed.

The government has also made it clear that any Sharia-style law in any province of Pakistan will necessarily submit to the Pakistani Constitution, which was violated in almost all possible ways in the few weeks that the Taliban had state-approved authority in Swat.

The Taliban surely knew that asking formally for peace would be a long-shot, at best. And if they indeed knew this to be the case, then facing the public embarrassment of begging for peace indicates incredible desperation--and desperation indicates hurting on their side. The Taliban have effectively signaled to Pakistan and to the world that the government's military actions are working, and extraordinarily well.

Such an admission is going to boost the morale of the Pakistani people, and boost their confidence in the decision by their leaders to pursue a decisive military option. It's the first really tangible sign of military results in a very, very long time by the Pakistani Army, and this admission may be a mistake that dooms the Taliban well into the future.

I've also heard from a friend that the Pakistani Ambassador to the US went on televised news and claimed that the Pakistani government only enacted the Swat peace deal to show the population that the Taliban would break it, which they they (correctly) guessed would lead to public support for decisive military action. This statement could indeed be a complete lie, though it seems intuitive enough to not be totally outrageous; indeed, it's almost certain that at least someone in the Pakistani government was convinced by his colleagues to support the deal on the prediction that it would fail miserably. So either it was dumb luck or incredibly clever planning, or a bit of both, but it's paying handsomely now.

I suppose, given Pakistani sensitivities, that it would be counter-productive to openly root for the Army, but I will say that things are looking pretty good for them right now.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Retaking Mingora--and Pakistan

Mingora has been called "Taliban City" over the past few years. While the Taliban have a large presence in many districts of NWFP and FATA, this was their power base. But the Pakistani military offensive has proven either brilliant or lucky over the past month, leading to an increasing likelihood that the military will score a shattering victory over the Taliban in this particular offensive. I'll discuss below a few points of interest.

Taliban Hubris and Error: The Taliban grew incredibly confident in their ability to walk all over the Pakistani government over the past few years, and they reverted from their insurgent campaign to a largely-conventional stance in many areas, Mingora included (the advantage of a conventional stance is that it is easier to suppress and control the population, set up a government, costs less to operate: one does not need to hide in caves, etc). But such a stance makes the Taliban incredibly vulnerable to a better-trained conventional force. With the incoming Pakistani offensive, the clever thing to do might have been to slip out to fight another day, leaving traps to greet the incoming soldiers--Army personnel would have died (in some number) and spent a great deal of time pouring house-to-house to find nothing. It would have been tough on morale, and allowed the Taliban to regroup and re-assess. But the Taliban--many of them--chose to tough it out and fight house-to-house, and all reports indicate that they're being crushed. Those that chose to escape have a surprise in waiting...

The Commando Raid: 300 or so Commandos from the Pakistani Army raided a Taliban base located 14 miles to the north of Mingora over the past two weeks. The fighting was difficult--massive trench and tunnel networks in the mountains prevented large ammunition from having any effect, so the Commandos had to eliminate Taliban the hard way. But the Army claims that the raid was successful. In all likelihood, paramilitary and Commandos await the arrival of fleeing, disorganized Taliban that hope to seek refuge in the mountain base. If this is the case, it would be an incredibly efficient and effective use of force. The Commando raid is going to be a particularly effective bolster to domestic support: the camp was used as a training ground for forcibly recruited children to make them suicide bombers--dozens of children were rescued. PR doesn't get much better than that.

House-to-house in Mingora: There are about 10-20,000 civilians trapped in Mignora, which is making the fighting incredibly slow and deliberate. But from what little reporting I've dug up, the Army seems to be in possession of most of Mingora, having killed about 1000 militants (and having lost about 50 of its own). These numbers may be wrong, but time will tell. Nonetheless, civilian casualties seem to be extremely low, and Mingora appears to be all but captured. If civilian casualties are kept to a minimum, then the Army will have proven itself to its people as capable of dealing with the Taliban threat--and the days of ineffectual "peace" deals will be over. The Army would have the opportunity to turn on its toes and continue pursuit all the way to the Afghan border.

Pushing North:The Pakistani military has taken two significant towns to the northwest of Mingora, as well. The choice seems to be an attempt to not only isolate the Taliban in Mignora from reinforcements and resupply, but also to capture or kill any escaping militants--such a move would be a sign that Pakistan is putting as much effort as possible into making this victory as decisive as possible.

Steadfast Commitment:Maj. General Abbas, who leads the Pakistani army's PR department, has made it clear through a number of press statements that the Pakistani military is committed to continuing the campaign. The recapture of Swat will be the beginning: he has claimed that it will be a "blueprint" for other areas, specifically Khyber, North and South Waziristan. These three provinces all border Afghanistan, signaling that the Pakistani government understands the need to eliminate Taliban influence throughout the AfPak region--rather than just the buds growing near Islamabad. And if this operation ends as well as it has begun, the army will have all the political support it needs to get the job done.

Fighting for Freedom: Their confidence bolstered by the coming success of the Army's campaign, villagers in Pakistan are taking up arms against the Taliban in hopes of driving them out (knowing that reinforcements will not be coming for their regional overlords). Such a move is a bit dangerous--if it fails, it will spell disaster. But there exists a tipping point, at which if enough villagers do indeed take up arms against the Taliban, the Taliban's ability to deal with such uprisings will be overwhelmed, and their control over any area with such a critical mass will collapse. If they're thinking on their toes, Pakistan should be pushing their paramilitary forces to these areas to support and encourage disruption in the Taliban's power base, which would further degrade the Taliban's organization (and reduce support to the Afghan Taliban).

The Future: A Full Pincer Offensive? If the Pakistani military is going to push into Waziristan and Khyber, then the Afghani Taliban is certainly going to lose critical support from its rear, making it more vulnerable than it has been in years. The Afghani Taliban is much smarter and more hardened than its Pakistani brethren--it has been fighting NATO since late 2001. It remains in an "insurgent" stance, but the strength of such a stance often depends on some base from which insurgents can receive weapons and ammunition, supply, etc. With NATO in control of areas north of Taliban territory, a Pakistani Army conquering of NWFP and FATA could potentially leave the Afghani Taliban without a route through which to bring arms and ammunition, making the fight (at worst) a war of supply attrition, which NATO could easily (if slowly) win. It is unclear whether the people of Pakistan see the Taliban as a sufficiently deadly enemy that they are willing to put aside their long-standing sourness towards the United States, but if they are, the cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO would likely together be enough to scatter the Taliban and finally begin to provide real security.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lessons from Sri Lanka

The war is over. But a tone of solemnity reigns over Sri Lanka. Many civilians died, and the country remains highly divided.

But there are things to be learned, even right away. Much of this is speculation, but I think it's good speculation.

I believe the Tigers gave up long after they should have, if military was the only factor. In the past few years, the Sri Lankan military became more competent, and the Tigers failed to revert to an effective insurgency--they fought the Sri Lankan military face-to-face, and lost handily. Cornered for months in a tiny, destitute section of the country, starving and out of ammunition, they held on. They dragged the war on. People continued to die.

I believe the blame lies in part with the international community. The United Nations, the EU, and even the US levered increasing pressure upon the Sri Lankans to pay more attention to civilians, to be more cautious. And the Tigers took advantage of this--one of the reasons so many civilians died was that the Tigers hid among them, and the Sri Lankan government had the domestic political capital necessary to largely ignore this. But increasing international pressure over these civilians may have convinced the Tigers that the tactic would eventually force the Sri Lankans to break and fight much more conservatively.

Moreover, the international community began to advocate strongly for a ceasefire, rather than a surrender. And ceasefires seem to be the knee-jerk reaction of the UN and EU (at least--the US is often responsible). It is a fair knee-jerk; we want the fighting to stop, the dying to stop, as we "sort things out." But the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government had had many ceasefires--and often, they are (quoth a great professor of mine, Barry Posen) "the pause that refreshes" for the losing side. If you are getting beat up badly by your adversary, there's nothing you want more than a ceasefire in order to rearm, reorganize, treat your wounded, recruit, etc. The momentum of the winning side falls apart. Both sides move back--which often means the winning side gives up strategic gains. Sometimes, UN peacekeepers show up to make sure that the winning side can't effectively police the losing side and make sure they don't build up. Such a ceasefire was clearly the last hope of the Tigers, and the incessant calls for it by the international community likely bolstered their confidence in a situation where they would have otherwise felt doomed.

Sometimes, wars must end in surrender. In fact, they often must. Ceasefires lead to lasting peace in very few of the circumstances they are implemented. War does not happen for fun, or out of irrational whim--war is a product of rational security concerns, over competition for naturally scarce security resources that often cannot be allocated well for both sides. The Tigers wanted a homeland to protect themselves as a minority; they were willing to fight, bleed, die, kill, and terrorize for it, for a quarter-century. A ceasefire would not have convinced them to lay down their guns and join the Sri Lankans--not without what is called a "hurting stalemate" (in which both sides have suffered enough and have seen few enough prospects for progress in fighting that a compromise eventually becomes compelling), but a UN-imposed ceasefire typically comes long before that.

The lesson in Sri Lanka is that war sucks, but it cannot be ended by pieces of paper and prayer alone. There are real structural factors at work, and sometimes the best way to change those structural factors to the point that the war ends is to let it run. By pressuring the Sri Lankan government with such zeal, the international community prolonged the war, leading to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of Sri Lankans. We must not let misguided altruism become an ally of the scourge of war. We must be more conscientious in our statements, in our pressure, in our policy. We must, always, think.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Thesis

Is done and turned in. I'll be working on publishing it.

It's posted here:

The abstract, if nothing else, is worth reading, though my findings are pretty cool. Ultimately, I am trying to use an old theory (Power Transition Theory) to explain a very large chunk of the wars throughout history. I make a number of conceptual changes to the theory and operationalize it with a very large (572,000 datapoint) database, testing the theory and creating a model.

The model has pretty good predictive power. I can predict the probability of war in a given dyad (over the past 200 years) with an average error rate of 5%, which is not bad.

Hope you enjoy.

I turned it in on Wednesday (signed and everything), and I graduate on June 5th.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Emerging Wisdom of Pakistan's Military Strategy

Pakistan is sending hundreds of commandos into a Taliban hideout near Mignora. And while the over-arching strategy is not announced (it's unclear whether the US administration even knows what the strategy is), there is a good story to be told in what such a strategy might be. Below I submit a proposal for what the Pakistanis might be doing, with some evidence for it.

With 5000 Taliban militants (and only 15000 military to combat them), Pakistan fell far below the "standard" 10:1 ratio of counter-insurgents to insurgents. Simply trying to stick troops in the area and hope they could provide security was foolish. So Pakistan first asked its civilians to move out of Mignora. They are now refugees, and this has made life terribly difficult for both the government and said civilians, but mixed results seem to suggest that Pakistan is up to the challenge. In doing this (and I've talked earlier about how tough it would be for the Taliban to try to sneak up with these civilians), Pakistan was largely able to turn a counter-insurgency campaign into an urban warfare campaign. But 3:1 are still pretty bad odds against a dug-in urban enemy--things would get pretty bloody, at best.

So Pakistan, possibly ready to reimburse owners of whatever houses the Taliban holed up in, decided instead to throw a bunch of explosives at them, instead. To a large extent, the Taliban broke out of their dug-in areas in fear, and fled the streets when the Army showed up to intercept them. Such a tactic was a brilliant stroke of taking advantage of the Taliban's lack of military discipline and rigor--the Taliban might have had an advantage if the fight had gone how the Taliban had prepared, but they had not prepared for how to deal with heavy bombing campaigns, and decided (wisely), not to fight the Army on the Army's terms.

And then, Pakistan gets even smarter. As the 5000 fighters retreat (after about 750 casualties), many of the slightly-less-nutty Taliban (especially the youngsters) may be rethinking their long term life plans, and deserting. The Army estimates that only about 1500 are total die-hards, and the rest are new/young/coerced recruits. This mass retreat is a good opportunity for them to run to the paramilitary (scattered all over the outskirts of the city) with their arms in the air, and get 3 squares and a cot to sleep on. Why would they surrender? Well, this is probably the hardest that the Pakistani military has hit the Taliban in many years, and many of the new recruits have likely gotten more than they bargained for.

But it gets better. There are 1500+ remaining die-hards to deal with. This is where the Commandos come in. There is a pretty big mountain base that seems an obvious retreat location for a scattered and disorganized Taliban that has no other place to go. It is apparently well-stocked, and well-guarded. But what if the Pakistani Army flew (in helicopters) ahead of the Taliban retreating on foot to this base, with hundreds of Commandoes, in order to shut it down? If these Commandoes are successful (and frankly, they likely will be), these retreating Taliban will be a long way from any friendly territory, disorganized, under-supplied, and without morale. Their capture will likely be relatively easy with the 15,000 troops sent to the area. And, voila, Mingora will be cleaned up, if all goes to plan.

But, frankly, Mingora is only the start of a much greater, more pervasive Taliban problem. It's big. The BBC provides an excellent map (shown here) of where it thinks the Taliban is in control. The Pakistani government, of course, contests the extent of alleged Taliban control, but even if it's a bit less, it's a lot. The Pakistani Army has a very long way to go if it is actually going to break Taliban control over this swath of its country.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Flushing the Taliban Out?

This will be a short blog post. I'm getting word from Al Jazeera that the Pakistani army is "flushing out" Taliban from main Swat cities, and that the Taliban are now "on the run." Apparently about 700 Taliban have been killed in Swat in the last 4 days, which is about 1/6 to 1/7 the 4000-5000 militants in the area.

But with most of these Taliban on the run, the Army may not actually be successfully accomplishing goals that lead to the long-term security of the AfPak (as it's called) region. There are benefits to routing and disorganizing an enemy force--they are less effective in future combat, they cannot launch offensives, and indeed, you take the territory. But the entire point of an insurgency is to run when the heavy weapons come, and to slowly seep and sneak back into an area being held by the government, and use terror/hit-and-run tactics to grind them down. Like Vietnam and Iraq, causing the enemy to turn tail and run is only a short-term victory. They will find refuge elsewhere (there is a great deal of space in northwest Pakistan and southeast Afghanistan in which they can take refuge) and come back to fight another day. Unfortunately, in the case of hardline militants, the only ways to achieve victory are to A) convince them not to fight (which is unlikely with a single flushing) or B) kill them all. Killing some large portion of them with a grinding and bloody operation would have certainly gotten the job done to a large extent, but it would have cost large numbers of civilian and army lives. But by not paying the price now, the Army may have to pay a greater price later in the form of a coordinated vengeance attack.

There is an alternative explanation, that I am quietly hoping that Pakistani tacticians have elected. If the Pakistani Army was not willing to deal with massive casualties in door-to-door fighting (which is understandable), then urban warfare would not be an option. There is a second option that would require more finesse and fewer casualties--though the finesse part may be tough to muster. If the Pakistani Army can effectively rout the militants and channel them (by cutting off alternative escape routes) into some relatively obvious hiding spot, then the Taliban will have lost their defensive advantage: they will be on relatively unfamiliar ground, they will be disorganized, they will have lost much of their weaponry, and they will no longer be "dug in" to an urban area, well-placed for brutal urban combat. If they enter an unfamiliar mountain range, then not only do they have less preparation and ammunition, but they also (more importantly) are no longer shielded by civilians to endless bombing and artillery. The Pakistani army can spare lives and throw metal instead at the problem, and simply surround the mountain region to catch and capture or destroy any escaping militants. Such a tactic could create Taliban casualty rates that would spiral towards 100%.

It's unclear whether that's the Pakistani Army's tactic of choice. If it was, they wouldn't be advertising it. If it's not, then they may instead try a very thorough hearts-and-minds counterinsurgency campaign in the city to win the loyalty of the population and keep the Taliban from coming back. Unfortunately, most civilians from Swat urban centers are in refugee camps that are undersupplied at best. The Army will struggle to win their loyalty to an extent that exceeded their loyalty pre-invasion.

Alternatively again, the Pakistani Army might intend to simply use a series of cheap "flushing" maneuvers on the Taliban until they retreat, in a disorganized way, into Afghani space, at which point better-trained NATO troops might be able to eliminate them. At such a juncture, the Pakistani Army would be able to close in on Taliban bases and safe zones, and eliminate the free operating area that the Taliban had in Pakistan. And frankly, this may be the only way that NATO got the Pakistani Army to agree to the operation--if NATO was willing to do the actual hard work in fighting the Taliban to the death, then the Pakistani Army would return the favor by ensuring (as best as they could) that the Taliban have no safe zones in Pakistan. While it would result in higher NATO casualties early, it would mean a significant strategic victory, and quite possibly a full turnaround in the war in the area.

If this is the case, I tip my hat to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton for excellent strategic diplomacy. But I may be being optimistic.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Closing In on the Taliban

The Pakistani Army is actually making a push to rid Swat Valley's major urban centers of Taliban militants, one city at a time--and starting with the biggest.

Mingora is apparently home to 4000-5000 Taliban fighters, who seem to be bent on reinforcing defensive positions rather than trying to sneak out with civilians. Sneaking out with civilians would likely require leaving behind weapons caches that the Pakistani Army would scoop up, as well as likely exposing their commanding officers (well-known to the Pakistani Army by now) to helplessness; the Taliban would probably rather take their chances fighting it out.

And there is some precedent for just that. The last major venture into Taliban territory ended in disaster for Pakistani troops: they were ambushed and torn apart. But these are not paramilitary patrolmen on the offensive. Pakistan is sending commandoes and shock troops to spearhead door-to-door fighting, and will be following up with regulars (who are surprisingly well-trained). What is likely is that the paramilitary will be surrounding the city, providing forward defense for any counter-attacks by the Taliban from elsewhere, and preventing escape. The Army probably intends to neutralize as many of these fighters as possible, rather than simply flushing them out (because, frankly, they would just pop up somewhere else).

This will be bloody. But my money's on the Pakistani army in this battle. They seem to have the will to suffer (and inflict!) the casualties necessary to get the job done. Somehow, they have either mustered courage or worked a deal on the Indian border, such that they actually have some of their best troops in the northwest rather than the southeast. And, almost certainly, they have NATO support.

A major victory here, especially one that leads to the rounding up of thousands of militants, is likely to have positive effects in the future, for a few reasons. First, morale will be high, and the will to keep fighting will remain (a major defeat may send the Pakistanis reeling into peace-seeking again, though we can hope that they've learned their lesson from the Swat deal). Second, the Army will be at a major tactical advantage (with literally 4,000 fewer militants hanging around, with weapons caches cleaned up, etc, they will have to spend less time on the defensive and can spend more hunting). Third, this may even go very far in the necessary hearts-and-minds campaign in the northwest. As the Pakistani people grow more exhausted of the Taliban, the Army has the potential to become a welcome relief. If they can root out the threat, provide security, aid resettlement of the refugees (of which there are now hundreds of thousands), and provide aid (food, water, trash pickup)--not to mention freedom from the Taliban's harsh sharia rule over the area--then they are likely to forge allies among the civilians in the area.

It's an exciting time in Pakistan. This could be the first major turnaround in the war on the Taliban since 2001. I'll keep you guys updated on it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

FLASH: Taliban-Pakistan Peace Deal Officially Over

Prime Minister Gilani made an overnight announcement that the Pakistani Army is to "eliminate" militants and terrorists in the Swat region, until it is restored to normalcy. This announcement is the most potent signal yet that the Pakistani government is going to remove the safe havens in Pakistan that the Taliban have enjoyed for years, and is the first official sign from the government that the peace deal has been nixed--the Pakistani military is on the offensive. Public opinion seems to be behind him. If this resolve holds, the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan may welcome a new advantage that it had not previously seen. Without safe havens, thousands of Taliban in Afghanistan may lack logistics, command, intelligence, and safe haven that they once enjoyed, giving NATO/Afghani military forces a significant advantage. If NATO/Afghanistan can capitalize on this, then a brokered peace deal with a western twinge might be sought. More on this as matters develop.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How Pakistan's Relationship with the Taliban Changed

I have spent a lot of time and many words in this blog banging my head against a brick wall over why the hell the Pakistani people, their government, its military, wanted to sit idle over the Taliban. "If only they could act," I lamented, over and over. As did the Bush administration. As does the Obama administration. Pakistan's formidable army could turn the tide of NATO's war to end Taliban hegemony and secure Afghanistan, if only the will existed to bring it to bear.

But I've done a lot of reading and thinking since then. And I believe I have a compelling story that explains both the behavior of the Taliban and the responses of the Pakistani government until now.

Hardline Muslims of Pashtun descent have lived in Pakistan for a very long time. They lived in the far northwestern reaches of British India, and remained right where they were when Punjabi/Sindhi peoples of Muslim and Hindu belief cross-migrated over the line drawn between India and the new Pakistan. The Pashtuns wanted little or nothing to do with the new Pakistan, and arranged a large amount of autonomy in the Northwest Frontier Province and (especially) in the Fedrally Administered Tribal Areas. And for a long time, these Pashtuns lived a mostly isolationist existence, with very close ties to their Afghan brethren across the border (mostly not concerned with the lines that the rest of the world considered sovereign).

Enter the Soviet Union. Their invasion of Afghanistan prompted the West (the US in particular) to arm the Afghanis and train them. The CIA often chose the most fanatic and enthusiastic of Afghani warriors, ready and hellbent to kill Soviets. The mujahideen drove the Soviets out, and began to fight amongst themselves for control of Kabul. The Taliban, a Pakistan ISI-backed Pashtun Islamic group, emerged victorious. By 2001, they had mopped up most of Afghanistan. The support of this Pashtun group by the Pakistan government pleased Pashtuns in Pakistan enough that they remained quiet.

But like most militant groups supported by states, the Taliban did not listen to their ISI backers indefinitely. Their radical version of Islam called for a foreign jihad to destroy oppressors of Islam, those that stood in its path. The Taliban supported the international terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, in order to further their ideological goals.

Enter the Americans. NATO invaded Afghanistan and quickly ousted the Taliban with the Northern Alliance. Many have criticized the invasion of Iraq as hasty. But the Bush Administration prepared that for years. The invasion of Afghanistan was planned for in a few weeks. The Taliban fled, and NATO thought their back had broken. But in retrospect, failing to trap and destroy the Taliban's leadership in Tora Bora proved to be one of a number of crucial mistakes. The Taliban retreated to Pakistan, where they joined sympathetic Pakistani Taliban. They spoke the same language, they looked the same, they worshipped very similarly. They got along well. The Pakistani Taliban hoped to see their Afghani brethren return to power; they helped. And the Afghani Taliban, hardened and experienced by two decades of endless war, began to advise, teach, and then militarily lead the Pakistani Taliban.

The West put incredible pressure on Pakistan to not let the Taliban operate in the northwest with impunity. Musharraf, a tough secular realist, was willing to cooperate to some extent, but operations into the Northwest ended in disaster: civilians and Pakistani troops died in large numbers, and the public reacted with rage. Pakistanis did not want their army to be a tool of the West, especially the US. They did not want to attack their own Pakistani people to please the foreign devils they hated. Retaliatory attacks by the Taliban were seen as terrible, but the public viewed them with sympathy: they were stern messages that there had been a deal for a long time, and it had worked. Leave us alone, leave you alone. But if you break it, we will hurt you.

But the Pakistani government has also been cripplingly short on money for a very long time. And as much as it is in the interest of the West to keep Pakistan propped up, it does mean that the Pakistan government has a very weak bargaining position. International pressure would mount, particularly when convoys were destroyed, and reach a local maximum, and the Pakistani army would launch an operation to take control of some valley or pass. The Taliban would react, and the public would be enraged. Then the army would back off.

International pressure has grown in the long term, too, as the Afghan war has dragged on and Talibani offensives have led to more deaths of both NATO soldiers and Afghani civilians. The Pakistani Taliban, largely influenced by the even-more-radical Afghani Taliban, saw that the situation might not end favourably for them if they did nothing. And so they have launched offensives to drive government troops out of Pashtun areas and create a state with stronger autonomy. Recently, this desire for autonomy has taken the form of buffer zones--and thus, the Taliban move into Kheber district.

And there are some Taliban that hope to take over Pakistan completely. Victories over the past seven years have convinced many Taliban, whose power has grown, that Pakistan (whose government they consider largely puppeted by the West) should be their next target if and when they drive the West out of Afghanistan and re-establish hegemony there.

These offensives for buffer zones were a grave error by the Taliban. As much as international pressure was difficult and people did die, the Taliban did not appear a threat to the existence of Pakistan, or the lives of most Pakistani people. But the Taliban have broken the Swat Peace Deal, and it has become painfully obvious that the deal was an attempt to make strategic military gains by using sly negotiating, and create a safe haven near offensive zones. (the Taliban in the area remain armed, patrolling the streets, extracting resources from the local population, indoctrinating new recruits, and arming/organizing/planning for operations elsewhere.)

The Pakistani people have now seen how the aspirations of the Pakistani Taliban have changed. Formerly a status-quo actor (hoping to maintain Talibani hegemony in Afghanistan and independence in the Pakistani Northwest), the Pakistani Taliban have now become a powerful and threatening revisionist actor as their power has approached parity with the government. And now, a growing number of people in Pakistan are supporting that the government use its formiddable army to put down the Taliban while there is still hope of doing so.

The costs will be high. Civilians will die. Good soldiers will die. The Taliban will respond and terrorize Karachi, Islamabad, and other civilian centers to intimidate the population. But this new resolve in the Pakistani people is real, and exists for good reasons. And if it sticks, it might be the key to winning the war in Afghanistan.

So that's my story: how Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban changed.