Manipal, India — The Pakistan army, through its spokesperson Athar Abbas, has publicly confirmed that it is in touch with the senior Taliban leadership, including Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden's protector. Abbas has helpfully suggested that the army would be happy to serve as the conduit for negotiations designed to facilitate a cease-fire in Afghanistan.
This cease-fire would give the Taliban unchallenged control over at least one-fifth of Afghanistan, a wedge of territory from which the terror group could send out its agents in preparation for future active hostilities. Thus far, despite the seemingly boundless faith of the Obama administration in the Pakistan army, the U.S. side has not accepted its offer to be a middleman in talks with the Taliban.
Those dealing with Taliban-linked terror groups in South Asia should keep in mind the example of President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Aware that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam invariably called for a cease-fire and negotiations whenever it needed a respite, only to return to the battlefield after replenishing its oxygen, Rajapaksa ignored calls from Britain, India and Norway, among others, to declare an immediate cease-fire. Instead, he stopped the conflict only after the LTTE had been comprehensively defeated after two decades of war.
The Taliban is even more fanatic than the LTTE. Its cadres have zero intention of changing their chemistry to join the flock of Afghani and Pakistani politicians milling around the pickings of office. They seek the re-establishment of a medieval state, and regard terror as a suitable instrument of war.
A cease-fire with them – especially with the still-feared Mullah Omar – would demoralize the Afghan forces battling them alongside NATO forces, and scare more Afghans into acquiescence with their harsh primitivism. In particular, it would deal a blow to the hopes of women in Afghanistan, who dread the return of a misogynistic force that brutalized them at home and elsewhere.
Across the world, groups of extremists are testing the waters, gauging the U.S. will to retaliate. Rather than a cease-fire with the Taliban, what is needed is an intensification of the campaign against it, putting the group on the defensive and causing it to lose territory and loyalty.
Only the high risk of a missile attack by a U.S. drone or other means of retaliation could scare away enough families in Pakistan and Afghanistan from collaborating with the Taliban. Any parleys with them would act in reverse and scare people into helping them out of fear that Mullah Omar's men will return to power in Afghanistan. This point is repeatedly made by the Taliban to the people in those areas they wish to use as a base.
The Pakistan army still lives in hope that the palmy days of the 1980s Afghan war will return, when they were the sole conduit for the "freedom fighters," bringing much profit for many.
Despite his numerous faults, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan is the only one of the top troika of army chief, president and prime minister that is serious about his commitment to run to earth the numerous terror groups operating within Pakistan. Given the Bhutto family's Benazir-linked affinity to the United States, Zardari is aware that his entire family is at risk from such terror elements, who would remain as implacable toward them as the Taliban is toward the United States.
According to moderate officers, more than one-fifth of the Pakistan army has the same world view as the Taliban, while more than three-quarters sympathize with that terror group rather than the U.S.-led forces that defeated them. Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is worried about an extremist-induced revolt in the ranks, should the current campaign against the so-called “PakistanTaliban” – a distinction that is more academic than actual – continue. Hence the urgency in the call for talks that include the facilitator of 9/11, Mullah Omar.
Thus far, despite the generosity his team has shown to Pakistan, U.S. President Barack Obama has, albeit gently, ratcheted up the pressure on the unified Afghan-Pakistan Taliban, sending its commanders scrambling to find safe houses and distracting them from offensive pursuits. Should such pressure ease, the Taliban would be able to expand their war rapidly, given the low morale in the Pashtun south of Afghanistan
Instead of seeking to protect Mullah Omar, Kayani should begin the process of weeding out extremists within his ranks, less by dismissal than by placing them in remote stations that offer fewer chances for mischief. Such elements – given their propensity to leak information to the enemy – should not be joining in the battle against the Taliban.
Unfortunately, Zardari was rendered almost ineffective by what army sources say was the intervention of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the side of Kayani, the Jamaat-i-Islami, Nawaz Sharif and the other member of the Punjabi quartet, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani against Zardari on the question of the reinstatement of dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry. Otherwise, the president of Pakistan could have supervised this effort.
Obama needs to follow through on his rhetoric by ensuring that the generals in Pakistan come under the control of the Pakistan Peoples Party-led civilian government. Until this is done, Pakistan's slide toward disaster will continue, to the detriment of security in the region and very shortly thereafter, the rest of the world.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)
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