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Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan: The Failure of Military Action


27-09-09, 04:52 PM

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Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan: The Failure of Military Action


Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan: The Failure of Military Action

Many government officials and policy experts regard Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world. Not only is it a politically unstable country with a nuclear weapons program, but it has recently become a safe haven for the Taliban and militant extremist organizations like Al Qaeda. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by radical terrorist groups is perhaps the greatest concern of the United States, and Pakistan is now the most probable location for such fears to be realized. The United States, however, weakened militarily and politically from its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is incapable of defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan independently. Imran Khan, a member of the Pakistani parliament and the chairman of the Movement for Justice Party, visited the New America Foundation on June 17, 2009 to discuss how the government of Pakistan can help defeat these groups.

Imran Khan and His Path to Politics

Imran Khan did not follow the typical path to politics. Though he studied politics and economics at Oxford University in England, Khan rose to prominence as a cricket star. He competed on Pakistans national team for over two decades, from 1971-1992, serving as its captain intermittently throughout the second half of his career. As an individual cricketer he was remarkable, but he is most respected in Pakistan for leading the national team to its only world cup championship in history, an event which brought great pride to many Pakistanis.

Following his retirement from cricket in 1992, Khan focused his efforts on social work in Pakistan. He founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, a charity organization named for his mother. Through the trust, he was able to fundraise over $25 million to build Pakistans first and only cancer hospital, which opened in 1994.

In 1996, however, Khan decided he could serve Pakistan best as a politician. To do this, he founded the Movement for Justice Party on a four point platform: First, advancing Islamic values; second, reducing the size of the bureaucracy; third, fighting corruption; and fourth, instituting a more liberal economic policy. Khan is still the only member of his party to serve in parliament, demonstrating his failure to gather momentum for his policies.

Khans Disagreement

The proposals Khan pitches to parliament, and the opinions he presented in his speech at the New America Foundation, therefore, are regularly at odds with the majority of politicians and the governing coalition. The most significant of these disagreements pertains to the issue of how to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. On one hand, the government sees them as political bacteria, whose radical ideology and influence could easily spread across all of Pakistan if it is not contained and eliminated as soon as possible. Thus, it considers swift, immediate military action in the Swat Valley and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)where the Taliban is now concentratedthe best policy prescription.

Khan, on the other hand, opposes such force because he believes the Talibans radical ideology is not the source of its support, as the government is convinced, but rather its hubris. As evidence, he cites the groups evolution in Afghanistan. In the late 1990s, the Taliban ascended to power because they promised to bring rule of law to a state practically defined by civil war, where people yearned for justice. Afghanis originally accepted the Talibans implementation of sharia law, but when they realized the form it tookperhaps the strictest interpretation ever witnessedand observed their governments harboring of Al Qaeda terrorists, they began to regret their decision. By 2001, just prior to the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban had lost much of their popular support. According to Khan, they were on the way out.

Pakistans Critical Choice

When many of the Talibans and Al Qaedas members migrated to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwestern Pakistan, the Pakistani government had two options. The first was to cooperate with the tribal leaders to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as President Pervez Musharraf attempted to do in 2004, when the United States requested him to provide it with 200-600 members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda residing in the FATA. Musharraf negotiated a deal with the tribal leaders stipulating that they would deliver any member of the Taliban or Al Qaeda to the government if the government could provide substantial evidence for his affiliation to either of these groups. In addition, the tribal leaders also agreed to prevent the Taliban and Al Qaeda from crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The United States, however, pressured Musharraf to reject the offer. He acquiesced and chose the second option, force.

This operation, and further military incursions into the region, may have succeeded in its immediate goals, but violence has only served to strengthen the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the long run. In the same way that the Afghanis support for the Taliban was based on the belief that the Taliban would institute rule of law, a preferable alternative to civil war, many citizens of the FATA now consider the Taliban a better option than the Pakistani government, which has carelessly killed a number of FATA civilians during these raids. Whereas tribal leaders were once willing to surrender members of the Taliban to the Pakistani and American governments, they have since formed an alliance. As more and more of the 1.5 million armed men in the tribal areas join forces with the Talibanwhich they will do if collateral damage risesthe Pakistani government will find it more and more difficult to defeat them.

Taliban in the Swat Valley

The government has also given legitimacy to the Taliban in the Swat Valley. After Swats incorporation into Pakistan in 1969, the sharia laws, which had been in place throughout Swats history as a princely state, were replaced by the secular laws of the Pakistani central government. In the eyes of Swat residents, this was a degradation of their justice system; the murder rate rose from approximately ten per year to seven hundred per year. Thus, they have spent the last 40 years negotiating with the central government to reinstate the sharia, but these talks have repeatedly failed. As a result, the residents of Swat are becoming increasingly welcoming towards groups, such as the Taliban, who they feel will help them restore the traditional rule of law.

Not only did the Pakistani government create the conditions for the Talibans emergence in Swat, but it military operations have also prolonged the honeymoon stage. By killing innocent civilians and spurring the flight of over a million refugees, the government has surrendered the moral high ground to the Taliban. Instead of resenting the Taliban for its radical implementation of sharia law, as the Afghanis began to do, the citizens of Swat are distracted by the violence of the central government, and thus still value the Talibans presence.


In short, the government of Pakistan needs to convince the citizens of these unstable regions that it, rather than Al Qaeda or the Taliban, is their strategic partner. It has not done a good job thus far, killing civilians, forcing approximately one million people from their homes, and destroying the crops of subsistence farmers in the name of combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but there are still opportunities for reconciliation. The people of Swat want to return to their homes and live their lives in peace under sharia law, and the government should cooperate with them, demonstrating that they would be better off without the Taliban. Moreover, in the FATA, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are foreigners; the tribes would not hesitate to abandon them if the government presented them with suitable alternatives.

This is no longer simply a minor, domestic concern about devolving the right to chose sharia law, but rather an issue which threatens the Pakistani state and endangers countries throughout the world. If the government of Pakistan wants to avoid the onset of anarchy at home and help prevent the realization of one of the Unites States greatest fears, it needs to change its path now.





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