When Will Pashtun Taliban Win Pakistani Panjab? What Does The Obama Administration Think?

Last August, we wrote, “Yet, the Pakistani establishment keep looking the wrong way. The bulk of the Pakistani Panjabi Army faces India, while behind their backs, the Pashtuns are increasing their control over Pakistan. If this goes on unchecked, we might see a struggle break out for control of Panjab between the Panjabis and the Pashtuns marching southward as they have done for the past 1000 years.” (See our article “Afghanistan-Pakistan – Will the Sins of England be visited Upon America?” – August 9, 2008 – http://www.cinemarasik.com/2008/08/07/afghanistanpakistan–will-the-sins-of-england-be-visited-on-america.aspx  ).

Little did we realize how soon this struggle for Pakistani Panjab would begin.

Recently, the Pakistani government gave away governing rights to the Swat district in Pashtunistan to the Pashtun Taleban. How did the Taleban force the government to do that. What was their strategy?

Since 1947, both Pakistani Panjab and Pashtunistan were governed in a feudal manner by wealthy upper class landlords who kept their vast holdings while its workers remained subservient. The various Pakistani regimes have consistently  failed to enact any land reforms or take any steps to improve the conditions of the rural poor. The Taleban strategy has been to exploit this class rift to make inroads into the rural parts of Pashtunistan. These inroads were then used to expand the struggle into urban areas. 

The conditions in rural Pakistani Panjab are as bad as those in rural Pashtunistan. This is why an article in the New York Times warns that “the strategy executed in Swat is easily transferable to Punjab” because rural Pakistani Panjab, where militant groups are already showing strength, is ripe for the same social upheavals that have convulsed Swat and the tribal areas.”  (see “Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan” – April 16, 2008 – 
www.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/world/asia/17pstan.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=taliban&st=cse&scp=3 ).

In fact, the article quotes Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, 
as saying  “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”

Another article in the New York Times writes about warnings from police officials, local residents and analysts that “if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency.” 

This article, titled “United Militants Threaten Pakistan’s Populous Heart” quotes a senior police official in Panjab (who declined to be identified) “I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue.  If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.” (see
www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/world/asia/14punjab.html?pagewanted=1&sq=taliban&st=cse&scp=6 ).

This article also quotes an admission by Bruce Riedel that “Taliban now had extensive links into the Panjab”. (Bruce Riedel led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan)

Panjab is Pakistan’s heartland geographically, demographically and mentally. Pakistan cannot survive without Panjab and whoever controls Panjab, owns Pakistan.  As we wrote two weeks ago on April 4,” the only institution in Pakistan that can stop the Pashtun Taliban is the predominantly Panjabi Army.  So far, despite its promises to America, it has not even begun to fight the Taliban. We will know that Pakistan is serious about fighting the Taliban when it deploys its Panjabi divisions .. against the Pashtun Taliban.” (see our article “If Attock Falls, Can Lahore Be Far Behind?” – April 4, 2009 – http://www.cinemarasik.com/2009/04/04/if-attock-falls-can-lahore-be-far-behind.aspx  ).

Because the Pakistani Army does not care, the police are left alone to stop the advance. As the police officials told the New York Times, the police in Pakistani Panjab are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Pakistani Panjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected.

What about the Government? The New York Times article quotes Mr. Ali, a local landlord “The government is useless. They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”

Neither the Pakistani Government nor the Pakistani Army seem willing to fight the Taleban. Instead, the Pakistani establishment appears ready to confront the Obama Administration. Media articles have quoted sources as stating that recent developments, including the new Obama strategy, are “completely unacceptable to Pakistan’s military establishment”.

The Pakistani newspaper “‘Dawn” has quoted a diplomat as saying “there are very few options left for the two allies – if neither conceded some ground, they will enter into an all-out confrontation.”. (source “Strains in US-Pak ties ‘more serious than meet the eye’,” –
www.indianexpress.com/news/strains-in-uspak-ties-more-serious-than-meet-the-eye/446468/3  ).

The good news is that the increased American military presence in Afghanistan is beginning to generate results. Recently,  an American platoon ambushed the Taleban in Afghanistan killing at least 13 Taleban fighters (see  www.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/world/asia/17afghan.html?pagewanted=1&sq=taliban&st=cse&scp=5 ).

The bad news is that, as the Obama Administration builds up its strength in Afghanistan, the real battle is shifting to the south, into Panjab, the heartland of Pakistan. This is a battle for control of Pakistan with seismic shock effects across the Indian Subcontinent, Central Asia and the Middle East. 

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