The Game of Risk

Posted on April 25, 2009. Filed under: Public Square |

Well, at least things are developing, right? Actually, no news would be somewhat good news right now.

Instead, the Taliban are at it again, and now people are getting seriously worried. Serious as in, 70 miles away from the Pakistani capital serious.

That’s right, after initially attempting and failing to capture the Buner district, the Taliban have managed to come in, take over and keep the small groups of authorities at bay. From the NYT,

Pushing deeper into Pakistan, Taliban militants have established effective control of a strategically important district just 70 miles from the capital, Islamabad, officials and residents said Wednesday.

The fall of the district, Buner, did not mean that the Taliban could imminently threaten Islamabad. But it was another indication of the gathering strength of the insurgency and it raised new alarm about the ability of the government to fend off an unrelenting Taliban advance toward the heart of Pakistan.

This has multiple consequences, and one of the biggest ones that’s yet to be seen is how the Pakistani public will react to this incursion. They’ve been know to favour a certain kind of moderate Islam, without necessarily being against Islamists, until recently. Then, somehow the tide in the country started turning against the Americans (and consequently pro-extremists), despite the tremendous amount of aid and protection from that country. Now, the question is, will this further display of the Taliban’s capability cause more consternation and thus less support for the fundamentalists?

That would be a positive sign, because it might permit the government to open up the borders to American attacks some more. On the flip side, it might cause Zardari to cede more power to the Army which is always, in Pakistan, always looking at taking charge of the country.

So apparently now some of the Taliban have left, but they’re still in strong control of the area.

Meanwhile, America’s questioning the Pakistani government’s ability or will to stop the  Taliban, again from the NYT,

Pakistani authorities deployed just several hundred poorly paid and equipped constabulary forces to Buner, who were repelled in a clash with the insurgents, leaving one police officer dead.

The limited response set off fresh scrutiny of Pakistan’s military, a force with 500,000 soldiers and a similar number of reservists. The army receives $1 billion in American military aid each year but has repeatedly declined to confront the Taliban-led insurgency, even as it has bled out of Pakistan’s self-governed tribal areas into Pakistan proper in recent months.

Obviously, there are issues at the center in terms of settling the cities and fixing the political process, but all that money has to be going somewhere, right? (Other than conventional weapons for the arms race with India).

Whatever happens, this shouldn’t turn into an argument for and against the Taliban in power, like it did in the Swat valley. It should turn into an argument of how best to deal with them, rather than ceding some control for the time being. And hopefully,  the public will see that and support strong measures for fighting the militants, without giving too much to the Army, and be open to letting America help them stop the militancy, without civilian bloodshed.


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