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Thursday, February 19, 2009


President Obama’s not entirely unexpected announcement regarding extra troops into Afghanistan has finally been made. This confirms that the President has failed to learn the lessons of previous world leaders that no amount of extra troops in that most rugged of countries, defended by some of the worlds most tenacious people, will ever be able to prevail in an invasion where the invaders are not wanted.

It’s a shame that somehow the US managed to con many of the Western world’s leaders into helping them in their hapless cause. So far tens of thousands have been killed on all sides including thousands of innocent civilians and children and over a thousand coalition forces. And the war hasn’t been confined just to Afghanistan. Many of the Taliban fighters are actually Pakistanis who cross the border into Afghanistan from Pakistan to fight the Westerner invaders and then retreat back into Pakistan when their enemy gets the better of them. It’s classic guerrilla tactics which can rarely be beaten by foreign invaders.

The problem stems from the fact that most Taliban fighters from that region don’t actually regard themselves as ‘Afghanis’ or ‘Pakistanis’ but, rather, Pushtans. To them the border is simply some arbitrary line drawn by a British colonialist, Mortimer Durand, (the border is known as the Durand line) who didn’t have a clue what he was doing (indeed, it has been said that he was drunk at the time he drew the line). These borderlands are extremely rugged, which the Taliban know like the back of their hand, and very ‘porous’ which they use to great advantage knowing that, up until recently, they have been relatively safe once back inside Pakistan territory.

The reality is that the Taliban now has as much influence in the border regions of Pakistan as it does in Afghanistan, if not more, to the point where the Pakistan government, much to the chagrin of the US and their allies, have conceded that Sharia Islamic law may now dominate in the region.

So far, US and allied actions inside Pakistan against the Taliban and their supporters has been, if not quite covert, then very low key with the Western media not widely reporting allied incursions that take place beyond the Afghan borders. In the main, attacks against the Taliban inside Pakistan have been via UAV aircraft that have launched missiles at various targets, many of which have only succeeded in killing innocent villagers sometimes with entire families being wiped out in by a single bomb as it mistakenly hits a family home.

Recently the Taliban have taken to destroying US and NATO supplies that use routes from Pakistan into Afghanistan to supply the allies inside Afghanistan. The Pakistan government had made only half-hearted attempts, at the insistence of the US, to stop the attacks on the allied supply lines but as soon as the Pakistani troops turn up, the Taliban simply melted away and then returned once the troops had gone. But this latest development, whereby the Pakistan government have allowed Taliban dominated areas to have Sharia law, is, crucially, being viewed by NATO, as a truce between the Pakistan government and the Taliban. While, for now, the US has taken a rather quieter stance preferring to not comment on the new relationship between the Pakistan government and the Taliban, it is clearly of considerable concern to the US.

The US need to maintain a rapport with the Pakistani government which clings only tenuously to power in Pakistan. It is this that is of major concern to the allies. Pakistan is teetering on the brink of being governed by a strongly Islamic government that has strong links and sympathies to the Taliban if the present government fails. A nuclear-armed Pakistani government with strong Taliban sympathies horrifies the Western governments. (Recently a very senior Assistant Secretary for International Policy with the Australian Defence Department personally told me that the Australian government have very strong ‘concerns’ about Pakistan and that ‘Pakistan is going to be big, big, trouble for the West in the near future’ though my feeling now is that it is actually going to be the West that is going to be big, big, trouble for Pakistan.)

It is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, of course, that is of the biggest concern to the allies. The US cannot invade Pakistan so its only alternative is to maintain a strong relationship with those elements within Pakistan that are friendly with the US and to provide massive amounts of money to the Pakistani government to keep them on side. In short, the US, if they haven’t done so already, need to pay off Pakistani individuals who would be able to assist US and allied special forces to locate and ‘secure’ all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons before they fell into the hands of a Taliban-sympathetic Pakistani government.

The recent treaty between the Taliban in the North-West of Pakistan and the Pakistani government will certainly not instil confidence in the US administration to feel secure with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the hands of a government that is happy to do deals with the Taliban. It is with this in mind that the troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan may be viewed with more in mind than simply confronting the Taliban with increased force just on Afghan soil.

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