The wrong way to fight the Taliban

Will U.S. pressure on Pakistan to fight a conventional war against the Taliban backfire?

The Americans may yet regret forcing Pakistan to go after the Taliban, said the Singapore Straits Times in an editorial. For the moment, it looks like Pakistani government forces have gained ground in the Swat Valley, where the militants took control several weeks ago. “But a decisive outcome is far from certain.” Some 2 million people have been forced from their homes as a result of the fighting, and they are frightened and angry. “The Taliban guerillas have time, terrain, and no lack of local discontent on their side.” Even if the militants move out of Swat in the short term, they may ultimately gain more recruits. U.S. pressure on Pakistan “to fight a destructive conventional war against the Taliban” could backfire.

The problem, said Kabul’s Arman-e Melli, is that conventional warfare simply doesn’t work against guerillas. The Taliban militants, whether they come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, were trained in military programs in Pakistani madrasas “under the close supervision of Pakistan’s Internal Security Intelligence.” They know how to inflict damage and disappear. The Pakistani army, by contrast, simply blunders about with heavy weaponry, making a lot of noise and injuring civilians. “The army’s recent operation in Swat Valley against the Taliban showed that they are not capable of seriously fighting the terrorists.”

If we can’t fight them conventionally, we also can’t negotiate with them, said Kabul’s Hasht-e Sobh. The U.S. and the international community have sent mixed messages to the Taliban, fighting it in some places while simultaneously talking of the need to negotiate. The militants just use those overtures to buy time. In Pakistan, they have struck deals with the government only to renege on them. In Afghanistan, the Taliban “has not conceded a willingness for negotiations even once.” It looks like our only hope is to “wait for some catastrophe to befall the Taliban fighters—perhaps an earthquake or flood, or maybe swine flu.”

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It’s no joking matter—many innocent people are being killed, said Kabul’s Weesa. The government and U.S. fighters kill and displace civilians, and the Taliban fighters kill and displace civilians. The two ostensibly warring sides, meanwhile, are barely harmed. “A close examination of this tragedy shows that these are the consequences of a deep and dangerous conspiracy.” Most people believe that Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, Pakistani intelligence, and the CIA “are different names and characters of a common game.” Their main objective is “to destroy the pride of a dignified nation,” the Pashtun people whose territory straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan. The so-called war on terror is just a battle “for the economic resources of the region.”

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