May 18, 2009, Kuala Lumpur
After Sept 11, there was this deal: US-led coalition forces would rain down democracy and the Stone Age to a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan while neighboring ally Pakistan would get generous matériel to create an Eastern Front.
Only the Pakistanis met their objectives though in ways unexpected. Part of the munitions and funds sent to Pakistan were redirected to the Taliban to combat US and British troops. It is a reality that defies 8 years of Pakistan's designation as a "US ally." It was like a hunter handing over his rifle to become the hunted a few clicks away. An estimated 1,100 coalition personnel have died in a campaign that is seeing neither victory nor an end in sight. Afghan casualties have accrued a collateral value in the extra digits.
There was a method and a Pakistani strategy to this madness. For years, it kept the war on the Af side of the Af-Pak theatre.
Af-Pak describes Pashtun lands straddling the colonial-era Durand Line -- the international boundary separating Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under the Taliban umbrella, ethnic Pashtun jihadis have effectively reversed previous coalition surges to restrict 47,000 U.S. and 33,000 non-U.S. troops to their bases, urban zones, and the occasional sortie.
The writ that runs in the Afghan hinterland is the one laid down by the Taliban. Forgotten is yesterday's trinity of terror: Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Muhammad Omar.
Coalition forces may need up to 500,000 troops to pacify Afghanistan, and this number will never be forthcoming. With a semblance of an urban-rural détente in force, the Taliban has had enough wiggle room to train their guns on the Pak side of the Pashtun equation.
Their modus operandi is simple. It is a carrot, stick and Quran approach, perfected by the Pakistani Directorate for Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). First, sow dissatisfaction over pre-existing conditions such as poverty, lack of basic amenities, pandemic corruption and the proximity of "foreign infidels." Then demand Shariah law as the cure-all solution. Suicide bombings and attacks on government targets, including schools, will drive home the point.
With Shariah law in place, the Taliban appoint themselves as judge, jury and executioner to achieve total control. The Swat Valley came under Taliban control in this fashion after the Pakistani government capitulated to a deal on Feb 16, 2009.
According to the New York Times, "the Obama administration, (when) informed of the accord, 'showed understanding of our (Pakistani government) strategy.' "
Appeasement never works. It is costly, retributive and encourages the enemy. The Taliban moved to replicate their success in neighboring areas. The current conflict in the Swat Valley began last month when the army attempted to roll back Taliban inroads into the Buner and Dir districts.
Around 4,000 Taliban militants are battling 15,000 Pakistani troops, just 60 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. The Pakistani army is claiming success, with 1,000 militants killed within the last 48 hours. Neutral observers suspect this figure includes a disproportionate number of civilian casualties. If true, this will fuel the insurgency further.
If these militants succeed, Af-Pak might turn into a Terrorist Central for a future Islamic Caliphate. It will be a Taliban Afghanistan with nuclear weapons and a larger geographic depth, part of which lies on sovereign Pakistani soil.
In reality, these ethnic Pashtun Jihadis have a simple demand: Greater autonomy and virtual independence for Pashtun lands on the Pak side, and ultimately a unified Pashtun-stan unencumbered by international borders and foreign armies.
If these demands are not met, a grand prize of 60-120 Pakistani nukes awaits to be liberated. Any few of them might guarantee Pashtun aspirations across the Durand Line, until of course the Pentagon takes stock and plots the next course of action.