Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Do We Have a Long Run?

Fighting between Pakistan's government and tribal Islamic fanatics is heating up:

Security forces backed by helicopters attacked a stronghold of a militant cleric in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, trading fire with his supporters near the scene of a suicide attack that killed 20 people, police said.

The fighting broke out in the village of Imam Dheri where the cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, has a sprawling seminary. Earlier this week, some 2,500 paramilitary troops were deployed in the surrounding district of Swat to combat his militant supporters.

Solving the problem of Pakistan to defuse the conditions that fuel Islamism when atomic weapons will go to whoever wins the struggle within Pakistan is a balancing act.

This article describes the balancing act with comments clearly highlighting the problems:

At the same time Gen Musharraf's dwindling popularity, his half hearted moves against the extremists and the army's stark failure in defeating the Pakistani Taleban in the tribal borderlands, contrast sharply with Ms Bhutto's determination to confront rather than appease the extremists.

Her defiance goes down well in Washington and other Western capitals, but not with the army which since 11 September 2001 has played a double game of giving sanctuary to some extremists while attacking others.

Moreover other political parties and much of the mainstream media are either too scared to condemn the extremists, or they sympathise with them and do not want to appear pro-American or antagonise that section of the public which has become far more religiously conservative since Ms Bhutto was last in Pakistan nine years ago.

Strategypage puts this situation in the context of a long half-century process of bringing the backward tribal areas into Pakistan and slowly undermining the power of the tribalists who rely on a poor and ignorant population that is fertile ground for Islamist preaching:

You cannot expect the unruliness of the Pushtun tribes to disappear quickly. The violence has been there for thousands of years, and the creeping pacification has been making slow progress over the last half century. It's a process of bringing government control to the major towns, and introducing new industries and businesses. More education causes more Pushtun to migrate out, and non Pushtuns to migrate in. The Pakistani army has recruited heavily among the Pushtun, and educated and changed those recruits, by exposing them to life away from the tribe. Eventually, as this process continues, the Pushtun will change. But it won't happen quickly, or peacefully.

That's fine as far as it goes, but not terribly comforting. In the long sweep of history, forces of modernization are surely advancing. The problem isn't the long run. The problem is that in the short run, even a losing force might have enough remaining strength to seize power. So can the Pakistanis afford ceasefires with these thugs?

Hundreds of civilians used a cease-fire Monday between government forces and militant supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric to flee a scenic valley where violence has killed more than 100 people.

And if Islamist forces capture Pakistan and have nukes, they could turn the region into glass slag.

Really, if it wasn't for the impact of nuclear weapons, there are a lot of places in the world we just wouldn't have to give a damn about. Let the Pushtuns of Pakistan take a decade or a century to integrate into Pakistan. Or if they don't ever do so, who would care?

Unfortunately, we have to care. And take actions to keep jihadis from getting nukes.

Lovely decade we're having.

UPDATE: Ceasefires with these types of thugs are not possible:

Security forces killed as many as 70 militant supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric, the army said Thursday, hours after a suicide attack on an air force bus killed eight and wounded 40.

I've mentioned this before.

UPDATE: And the Pakistani military is eroding as the Pakistani government strings out the conflict, refusing to decisively take action against the jihadis:

The Pakistani Army is "bleeding", and quite profusely at that, in its ongoing bloody skirmishes with extremists in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, with a "high" casualty rate as well as "unprecedented" levels of desertions, suicides and discharge applications.

This is the "assessment" of the Indian security establishment closely tracking developments in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA), especially the Waziristan region, as also the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan.

I'm sure the Pakistanis think they are avoiding stress on their forces by fighting intermittently and at a lower level, but all this is doing is exposing their forces to jihadi propaganda while denying the military victories that could dampen the appeal of Islamism while discrediting the Islamists by showing government strength.

The Pakistanis have to seriously fight these Isamist enemies. The slow and low strategy has just allowed the jihadis to claim they can't be beaten and spread to the cities away from the frontier areas and undermine the government in its strongholds.