Friday, December 15, 2006

Breaking the Chain of Appeasement

It works like this: Bush appeases Musharraf, Musharraf appeases Waziristan, and Waziristan appeases the Taliban which then besets Afghanistan.

What ever happened to that nonsense about "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists"? You're not supposed to be able to be with both and yet that's the dilemma of Pakistan today.

Pakistan is ruled by a strongman who is also, in many ways, incredibly weak and vulnerable. President General Musharraf's hold on power is tenuous and subject to the whims of his fellow officers and intelligence agency. He knows there are people and groups who are waiting for the chance to kill him. They've already tried and they've come close.

The tribes of Waziristan have very divided loyalties. They're more apt to consider themselves Balochs and Pashtuns first and Pakistanis only reluctantly. They don't hold much love for the Arab jihadis, al-Qaeda, but the Taliban are kith and kin.

Here's how the International Crisis Group sees the problem:

"The military operations Pakistan has launched since 2004 in South and North Waziristan Agencies to deny al-Qaeda and the Taliban safe haven and curb cross-border militancy have failed, largely due to an approach alternating between excessive force and appeasement. When force has resulted in major military losses, the government has amnestied pro-Taliban militants in return for verbal commitments to end attacks on Pakistani security forces and empty pledges to cease cross-border militancy and curb foreign terrorists.

"The government reached accords with pro-Taliban militants in April 2004 in South Waziristan and on 5 September 2006 in North Waziristan. These were brokered by the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the largest component of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), the ruling six-party religious alliance in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Musharraf’s coalition partner in the Balochistan provincial government. Following the September accord, the government released militants, returned their weapons, disbanded security check posts and agreed to allow foreign terrorists to stay if they gave up violence. While the army has virtually retreated to barracks, this accommodation facilitates the growth of militancy and attacks in Afghanistan by giving pro-Taliban elements a free hand to recruit, train and arm.

"Badly planned, poorly conducted military operations are also responsible for the rise of militancy in the tribal belt, where the loss of lives and property and displacement of thousands of civilians have alienated the population. The state’s failure to extend its control over and provide good governance to its citizens in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is equally responsible for empowering the radicals. The only sustainable way of dealing with the challenges of militancy, governance and extremism in FATA is through the rule of law and an extension of civil and political rights. Instead, the government has reinforced administrative and legal structures that undermine the state and spur anarchy."

It's hard to believe that Musharraf has escaped US pressure to shut down these Taliban strongholds. Washington must understand that there is only so far that their ally in the war on terror can go without himself being deposed by the dangerous Islamists lurking in the wings. When it comes right down to it, keeping Musharraf in place and coping with the Taliban problem may be seen as preferrable to Muslim extremists getting control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

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