The New York Times reports that George Bush is sending a stern warning to Pakistan's president Musharraf - start cracking down on al-Qaeda operations within Pakistan or face a cut off in aid by the Democrat-controlled congress.
Like previous dealings the message refers to al-Qaeda and seems to make no mention of the Taliban. Whenever he's pushed, Musharraf makes a few, token strikes on al-Qaeda compounds and arrests a few of its leaders in Pakistan cities and then the business winds down.
Why leave out the Taliban? Because they're the "home team" of the Pashtuns, slightly more of whom live in Paksitan than Afghanistan. The Pashtuns and Balochs occupy the ungovernable tribal lands adjacent to the Afghan border including Waziristan.
A military campaign against the Taliban could easily turn into a civil war with the Pashtuns and Balochs and that could be fatal for the vulnerable Musharraf. There have already been two assassination attempts against the Pakistan president. It is quite possible that, if Musharraf was assassinated or toppled, he could be replaced by an Islamist regime and the idea of Islamists with nuclear weapons and North Korean missile technology is a prospect that Washington doesn't even want to contemplate.
Musharraf is the cork that keeps the genie of the Islamic Bomb safely inside the bottle. What that means is that the Afghanistan situation is basically insoluble. We can't defeat the Taliban because we can't bring enough pressure on Musharraf because we can't risk having Pakistan's nuclear arsenal fall into the hands of Islamists. Game, set and match.
No one understands this reality better than Afghan president Hamid Karzai. He's regularly sending out overtures to the Taliban, the very same Taliban we're over there supposedly to fight to protect - why Mr. Karzai and his thoroughly corrupted government.
We can't allow the Taliban to return to Kabul because, after all, they tacitly allowed bin-Laden's al-Qaeda to operate from their territory. Okay, fair enough, but then we have to take a kid glove approach, even send hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, to Musharraf who is tacitly allowing al-Qaeda to operate from his territory.
The logical disconnect to all of this is astonishing. We're not bringing security to Afghanistan because we can't eliminate the Taliban bases in Pakistan, we're not bringing anything resembling true democracy to Afghanistan because Karzai has allowed warlords and thugs to infiltrate his government and security services, we're certainly not liberating the women of Afghanistan from brutal oppression because the countryside has reverted to fundamentalist feudalism, so just what are we doing in Afghanistan?