Counter-Terrorism: Pakistan In Peril


April 18, 2009: Media outlets around the world rightly describe Pakistan as an unstable country and the West has watched for several years the establishment of Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in the border regions with Afghanistan. Most people in the West believe the Taliban and Al_Qaeda have gained a foothold in these areas for only a few reasons, the most common reasons given being that the Pakistani security forces, especially the ISI, are in cahoots with them. This is true to a significant extent. But that’s not the whole picture. The truth is that the border regions of Pakistan have a plethora of factors that make the area the perfect operating base for Islamic militants. Some of these have to do with geography, others with corruption, and still yet with Pakistan’s long history of communal violence and hatred of Hindu India. 

The areas bordering Afghanistan are often described as a kind of Wild West, but even this is an understatement. There simply is no law and order that effectively and efficiently operates there on a consistent round-the-clock basis. There are a number of factors for this. First off, Pakistan, like almost all nations in Central Asia, suffers from high levels of corruption within the ranks of its police and security services. On top of that, the police often do not carry out their assigned duties of investigating crime and protecting the populace. Instead, it works the other way around, where the police are often engaged in criminal activities themselves, particularly in remote areas of the country where official investigation of mistreatment is almost unheard of. There is the decades-old problem of collusion with the Islamic militants. This largely has its roots in the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan and the fraternization between Pakistan and the mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War. During that conflict, the Pakistani intelligence services demanded that any weapons destined for the guerrillas pass through them. All in all, Pakistan’s security forces have been sympathizing with and aiding Islamic fighters, whether in Kashmir or Afghanistan, for well over two decades and such sympathies are difficult to simply reverse on a moment’s notice, especially in a nation like Pakistan. 

Finally the government simply doesn’t want to launch a massive overwhelming assault on the terrorists hiding out in its border provinces. Many of its troops are stationed near the border with India and the country is unwilling to deploy tem elsewhere, despite the more pressing danger of terrorists. Many other countries that have faced waves of Muslim terrorism in the past have suffered from some, but certainly not all of these problems. Egypt, for example, has largely suppressed the threat of widespread terrorism in their country through a perpetual state of emergency. It's true that the Egyptian security forces are corrupt in the extreme and frequently resort to torture to extract information, but they differ from the Pakistanis in that they are loyal to the secular (if dictatorial) government and they have no love for terrorists. Thus, they have no problem implementing massive widespread crackdowns in force to suppress extremism. In the absence of such determination, Taliban and related groups have increased their control in the border provinces, subsidized by drug profits from neighboring Afghanistan. The Pakistani government frequently wavers between wanting to wipe out the al Qaeda elements in their country and making deals with them. 

Although the military has been launching operations for years, Pakistanis have proven themselves willing to make alarming concession to the Taliban, such as in 2006 when the government essentially gave up control of large portions of Waziristan to the Taliban and released hundreds of hard-core fighters from their prisons. South Waziristan was under open rule by the Taliban in 2006 after the Pakistanis essential threw up their hands in frustration. Rooting out terrorists from the region is difficult enough, but the prospect of the Pakistani government simply quitting the battle has been a nightmare to US and NATO forces. Sooner or later, depending on how the situation plays out, cross-border strikes may be necessary to deal with the problem once and for all. In the meantime, unable or unwilling to get its act together, Pakistan continues to suffer from routine attacks and the subversion of central authority.     -- Rory Walkinshaw




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