Sunday, May 03, 2009

How real is the Taliban threat in Pakistan ?

I have been following with interest the scare stories about the Taliban being 60 kms from Islamabad and the dire prophesies about Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. Are things really as bad as that? I came across an article in Asia Times, which made a lot of sense to me:
Pakistan is not an ungovernable Somalia. The numbers tell the story. At least 55% of Pakistan's 170 million-strong population are Punjabis. There's no evidence they are about to embrace Talibanistan; they are essentially Shi'ites, Sufis or a mix of both. Around 50 million are Sindhis - faithful followers of the late Benazir Bhutto and her husband, now President Asif Ali Zardari's centrist and overwhelmingly secular Pakistan People's Party. Talibanistan fanatics in these two provinces - amounting to 85% of Pakistan's population, with a heavy concentration of the urban middle class - are an infinitesimal minority.

The Pakistan-based Taliban - subdivided in roughly three major groups, amounting to less than 10,000 fighters with no air force, no Predator drones, no tanks and no heavily weaponized vehicles - are concentrated in the Pashtun tribal areas, in some districts of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and some very localized, small parts of Punjab.

To believe this rag-tag band could rout the well-equipped, very professional 550,000-strong Pakistani army, the sixth-largest military in the world, which has already met the Indian colossus in battle, is a ludicrous proposition.

So, what's behind the hysteria being drummed up in Washington?

To start with, what Washington - now under Obama's "Af-Pak" strategy - simply cannot stomach is real democracy and a true civilian government in Islamabad; these would be much more than a threat to "US interests" than the Taliban, whom the Bill Clinton administration was happily wining and dining in the late 1990s. What Washington may certainly relish is yet another military coup - and sources tell Asia Times Online that former dictator General Pervez Musharraf (Busharraf as he was derisively referred to) is active behind the hysteria scene.

.........Moreover, there are canyons of the Pakistani military/security bureaucracy who would love nothing better than to extract even more US dollars from Washington to fight the Pashtun neo-Taliban that they are simultaneously arming to fight the Americans and NATO. It works. Washington is now under a counter-insurgency craze, with the Pentagon eager to teach such tactics to every Pakistani officer in sight.
There are wheels within twisted wheels. The only thing unexplained above is in what ways concretely the US stands to gain from a military regime in Pakistan. What are the larger designs of the US to which a civilian regime would be an obstacle? And, more importantly, where does India figure in the US plan for Af-Pak?


bagdu said...

Ram, the Reader would appreciate if you could provide the link to article you quote. Sometimes the links do break but at least the title and name of the author should be mentioned.

Varun Mahajan said...

Read sometime. I am saying this with utmost respect.

blackadder said...

Most of the Islamic Revolutions in the world had a genesis similar to what we see unfolding in Pakistan currently. The biggest problem is that there may be elements in the Pakistan military who are sympathetic to the cause of the Taliban. The withdrawal of the Pakistani state from the Swat valley was a sign that the Taliban are more than capable of replacing the administration in a significantly large part of the country. I do not share your sense of sanguinity about the ability of the Pakistani state to swat away what you clearly perceive as a minor irritating menace. Even Somalia was once a functioning country with a strong central government and a military, it took less than two decades for it to degenerate into a battlefield of warring fiefdoms, in a manner chillingly similar to what is happening in Pakistan now.

gaddeswarup said...

From another article in Asia Times
"The problem, as Fitzgerald and Gould note elsewhere, is that the US and its NATO allies have, since the invasion of 2001, played a dual game where they carry out "a policy whereby [Pakistan] pretends to hunt for extremists while the US pretends to believe [them] ", (p 298) while at the same time providing the Pakistani military with billions of dollars in aid. Meanwhile, everyone knows that the ISI continues to provide support to the anti-occupation insurgency."
It is not clear when and how these games may get out of hand.

T T Ram Mohan said...

Arun, Sorry, I should have posted the link, it escaped me. I have done it since.