Dr. Walid Phares
Taliban's War on Pakistan: Lessons to Draw, Options
October 20, 2009
The war between the Taliban and Pakistan continues
to accelerate. Just last weekend, Pakistan’s army
responded to a long string of Taliban attacks by
launching a massive ground operation in Waziristan.
But through this already-long fight, the press and other observers have
only focused on the continuing bloodshed rather than the fact that the
Taliban continue to launch suicide bombers and other types of attacks
inside Pakistan’s cities against its police and military forces. We
warned that the Taliban’s war on Pakistan’s government and civil society
would widen since the assassination of Prime Minister elect Benazir
Bhutto in December 2007. And so it is today.
It is unfortunate, but nevertheless true, that he most important events
– the worst events -- in this war have yet to happen. And analysts must
focus on the lessons learned so far so that the worrying projections can
be accompanied with parallel policy suggestions.
The jihadi campaign in Pakistan was planned years ago, but the electoral
victory in 2007 of the secular Party of the People, headed traditionally
by the Bhutto clan, triggered an acceleration of the Taliban general
offensive. Initially the Mullahs of the most radical Salafists on the
face of Earth – in partnership with al Qaeda -- wanted to seize Pakistan
gradually, with further infiltration. They were building their "Emirate”
sanctuary in Waziristan and beyond, while penetrating the intelligence
agencies and other segments of the bureaucracy.
But since September 2008 when Benazir’s widower Asif Ali Zardari was
elected as new President and as he clearly pledged to fight "terrorism,”
the Taliban leaped to preempt his designs. In one short year, they
escalated their attacks reaching a point 60 miles from Islamabad last
April. That week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that
Zardari's government was "abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists."
In fact when the Jihadist forces entered the Swat valley and began
heading towards the capital’s suburbs, the country’s Government was
tested strategically. I told Fox News then that this was a "red line.”
Crossing it towards Islamabad meant a Taliban advance all over the
country. But if the Army would cross it in reverse, it would mean a full
fledge war against the Taliban. And in fact it did happen, as we can see
today. So what are the lessons so far?
First, the Taliban and their jihadi allies have clearly shown that they
have cells capable of conducting terror attacks way beyond their
enclaves. Hence one needs to expect protracted violence in urban zones.
The armed Islamists aren’t a new force appearing only this year, but a
network growing for decades. Now is their time to try to take out the
Second, the attacks against the military headquarters and bases, never
performed before, can be copycatted against more dangerous locations,
including nuclear sites: storage locations, launching pads or delivery
systems. It is a question of time before such a scenario could
Third, assassinations are still possible. As with the late lady Benazir,
the Taliban knows that achieving such goals can trigger even wider
clashes inside the country.
Fourth, the present Pakistani government is strategically decided to
fight and dismantle the Taliban enclaves in the Northwest provinces. If
this government fails, such an opportunity will not happen again soon.
All of these factors indicate that this is the last card been played, in
this generation, against the jihadists of Pakistan.
Fifth, the Taliban war on the secular government in Pakistan shows a
determination to take over that country. It also shows that the notion
of a "moderate Taliban” has no connection to reality. Otherwise the
Pakistani Muslim Government would have found these alleged "moderate
Taliban” and mobilize them against the bad guys. It didn’t happen and it
Hence, based on these findings, the following are strategic
recommendations for the US Administration to consider seriously:
A) As Pakistan’s armed forces and its government are waging a counter
campaign on the Taliban, Washington must refrain from regurgitating the
myth of "cutting deals with the good Taliban” as an exit strategy for
Afghanistan. Such a hallucination would crumble the determination of
anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and would weaken the resolve of the
Pakistanis engaged in their own national counter terrorism campaign
against the Taliban.
B) The Obama Administration must help Zardari’s government discretely
and at the demand of the latter. US and Pakistani leaders should
coordinate efforts without exposing this cooperation to jihadist
C) The Obama Administration must rapidly extend resources to General
McChrystal in Afghanistan so that the pincer movement against the
regional Taliban can happen at the same time. Now that the Pakistanis
are on the offensive in Waziristan, NATO and Afghan forces must take the
offensive on the other side of the border. The Taliban must not be
enabled to fight one adversary at a time, by massing all their resources
in two countries against one foe then move to the next.
I am sure US and NATO strategists and Pakistani decision makers have
this in mind. But we need to make sure US decision makers do not have
other plans in mind. Otherwise, if the pincer strategy is not performed,
we may lose not one but two countries in the region to the jihadists,
one of them being already nuclear.