Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Islamic Taliban Republic - in Pakistan?

Militias look to create 'shariah state,' author says
National Post  Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A Swat Valley delegation meets yesterday with Pakistani government officials in Peshawar to discuss the introduction of Islamic law.Ali Imam, Reuters
Richard Holbrooke, the new U. S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently went to ground zero in the U. S.-led jihadist war. As heavily armed CIA Predator drones patrolled the skies above Pakistan's troubled tribal areas hunting for al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, the former Wall Street investment banker and Balkan peacemaker launched his own fact-finding mission, huddling with presidents, prime ministers, soldiers and spies.
While he insisted he was there to listen and not to lecture, Mr. Holbrooke was really searching for ways to salvage U. S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Seven years after a U. S. invasion drove Afghanistan's Taliban from power and dislodged al-Qaeda's leaders, the war against terrorism and Islamist radicalism seems to have fizzled in the barren border lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Former U. S. President George W. Bush's "War on Terror" has come to resemble a deadly game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey rather than a well-planned military campaign. Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, Afghanistan is in danger of sliding back into chaos and civil war, and instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan has provided the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a haven and the support they need to regroup.
In a television interview a little over a week ago, Pakistani President Ali Zardari acknowledged the Taliban was present "in huge amounts" of the country and Pakistani forces were "fighting for the survival of Pakistan."
"Pakistan is at the centre of a gathering firestorm engulfing south and central Asia in the most volatile confrontation since 9/11," warned Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani analyst who wrote the best-selling book Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
The West's failure to crush the Taliban and rehabilitate Afghanistan has resulted in a spreading contagion that now threatens the entire region as Pakistan has become the global centre for terrorism.
"Last year, Pakistani Taliban militias developed their own political agenda-- to Talibanize northern Pakistan and create a new 'shariah state' -- that would lead to the balkanization of Pakistan," Mr. Rashid said.
"The Pakistani Taliban now control all seven tribal agencies that make up the autonomous region bordering Afghanistan called the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)," he added. "They have spread across the North West Frontier Province through brutal terror tactics and threaten large towns. Poised on the borders of Punjab, the largest province, they are joined by Punjabi and Kashmiri extremist groups."
Mr. Holbrooke didn't have to look far for evidence of Pakistan's dangerous vulnerability and the threat it poses to the rest of the world.
During his last day in Pakistan, before travelling to Afghanistan, Taliban terrorists simultaneously stormed three government compounds in Kabul in a Mumbai-style terror attack that left 26 people dead. Within hours of the assault, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amnrullah Saleh, said the terror plot was hatched in Pakistan and the attackers had "sent three messages to Pakistan, calling for the blessings of their mastermind" before launching their suicide attacks.
Earlier, Mr. Holbrooke was in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, as he travelled by helicopter to some of Pakistan's battle-scarred tribal territories. While he was there, a local provincial politician was assassinated with a car bomb in Peshawar and a policeman was killed in a Taliban rocket attack on a police station in North Waziristan.
A day earlier, Pakistani Taliban militants released a graphic video of the beheading of a Polish engineer, Piotr Stanczak, who had been abducted in September. The same day, terrorists in North Waziristan killed a local man who they accused of being a U. S. spy and dumped his body by a road.
In recent weeks Taliban insurgents have cut off supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan by attacking supply routes through the Khyber Pass.
In the nearby Swat Valley, 3,000 Taliban militants have run circles around a 12,000-man Pakistani army division and bombed or burned 185 schools in addition to destroying 25 bridges.
Pakistan's military has been unable even to jam the FM radio station the Swat Valley militants use to co-ordinate their attacks and spread hatred against Pakistan's government.
Just 150 kiliometres from Pakistan's capital, the Swat Valley extremists regularly stage public lashings of "sinners" and have just issued a list of 43 people, primarily government officials, who are "wanted" for crimes punishable under Sharia law.
"The failure to bring peace and to restore a modicum of stability to the FATA will have widespread repercussions for the region and perhaps the world," warned Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region."
But as Pakistan flirts with becoming a full-fledged failed state, fears are growing its nuclear-armed military may not have the ability or the will to control the situation.
Ill-equipped for fighting a domestic counter-insurgency instead of a conventional war, Pakistan has repeatedly been unable to provide proper security for its own or other high ranking officials. Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated a little over a year ago, in spite of numerous threats; the biggest hotel in Islamabad, near the Pakistani presidential compound, was destroyed in a car bombing; a U. S. embassy official was attacked in Peshawar; Afghanistan's ambassador designate was kidnapped and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' top official in Pakistan, John Solecki, was abducted earlier this month in Quetta in Baluchistan.
U. S. President Barack Obama has said he intends to treat the growing security crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single issue. He has said he is determined to step up military attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists on both sides of the border.
But to do that, U. S. policy will have to focus on supporting Pakistan's fledgling democracy, while both demanding more from Pakistan's military and doing more to prepare Pakistan to fight a counter-insurgency.
As a first step, the U. S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has begun reviewing a massive new development assistance program for Pakistan that includes $1.5-billion annually in aid focused on developing Pakistan's tribal areas over the next five years.
At the same time, Pakistan's military is pushing Washington for more military aid, asking for attack helicopters, night vision goggles and radio jamming equipment.
In return, Washington will likely demand Pakistan adopt a more coherent strategy for fighting the Taliban and routing out al-Qaeda.
Mr. Holbrooke can also be expected to try and defuse tensions between India and Pakistan in the hopes a form of detente between South Asia's two nuclear powers will allow Pakistan's military to focus on the terrorists along its western border instead of on its traditional enemy in the east.
Before he became Mr. Obama's special envoy, Mr. Holbrooke wrote a guest column for the Washington Post in which he flatly declared "the most critical fact about the war in Afghanistan [is that] it cannot be won as long as the border areas in Pakistan are havens for the Taliban and al-Qaeda."

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