PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts


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  1. Synergy? To a degree, but maybe not the one you think. The Pakistani Taliban is almost entirely a product of border-region madrassahs, and the Afghan Taliban are largely Pashtun bleed-over from that, with significant foreign fighter membership left over from the Soviet invasion days (the famous “Afghan Arabs”). Most of the madrassahs were established under Pakistani military dictator Zia ul-Haq’s “Islamization” initiative (and largely funded by Wahhabist Saudi intelligence) largely as a means of boosting his own domestic credibility after his execution of the extremely popular Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The whole idea behind Pakistan was an Islamic homeland for India’s Muslim population, after all, so that kind of thinking makes some sense. The drug/organized crime issue is mainly the result of OBL and al-Qaeda’s influence over time, legitimizing the selling of drugs to “kafirs” in order to fund the jihad against said “kafirs,” whoever they may be at the time.

    Thing is, the Taliban isn’t really the same beast on either side of the Durand Line. Granted, the Durand Line is largely imaginary in actual practice since Pashtuns don’t recognize that British-drawn “border” as legitimate, but there are differences. The only way the region makes sense is to consider Afghanistan and Pakistan as historically the same (old maps of the Durrani Empire have a lot of explanatory power today, in looking at where Taliban unrest happens). In Afghanistan, there has never been a functionally strong central government for any length of time. It’s always been a very loose confederation of independent fiefdoms that chafes and revolts against any attempt to establish centralized authority. A weak figurehead in Kabul that minds its own business is fine, but anything more than that historically won’t last long. The only real unifying ideology in Afghanistan is “expel the invaders;” a nation-state just isn’t in the cards. On the Afghan side, the Taliban are kind of an overlay resting upon pre-existing Afghan culture, and are largely focused on regaining lost ground from 2001. They’re not particularly interested in (or competent at) governing it, mind you — just in tearing down whatever gets built so they can roam free. The Taliban are the ultimate in small-government ideology. Getting rid of Kabul’s mayor Karzai (who unhelpfully happens to be a Durrani himself) and his government is more of this traditional Afghan beef with centralized authority. The empire concept was popular as a Pashtun enterprise, but the Durranis rendered themselves unpopular by — you guessed it — trying to centralize too much power.

    In Pakistan, the Pashtun (nominally but not necessarily ideologically Taliban) motivation is largely that “chafes and revolts” thing, but it’s up against a more-or-less functional state with a large and highly trained military force. The Pakistanis view Afghanistan as their “strategic depth” fallback against an Indian invasion that will likely never come, and Pakistan has long had the ISI funding militant lashkars and similar “irregulars” for Kashmir purposes. The militants have been useful in the past, and the military may well see them as strategic assets for the future, too. The loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was probably a strategic gain overall, but they will likely never see it that way.

    The difference this time is that civilian president “Mr. 10%” Zardari is domestically only barely more popular than the Taliban. By taking them on, he is not only addressing the biggest threat to Pakistan’s security (despite their 3 wars, the India “threat” is completely overstated), he is attending to his own longevity. Since militants killed his wife Benazir Bhutto, and since the military under Zia was responsible for her father’s death, Zardari has a very interesting (and personal) tightrope to walk, no?

    Comment by Leonard — Sunday, August 30, 2009 @ 10:24 am

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