In late April, the Taleban entered the province of Buner from their stronghold in the neighboring province of Swat, which had been “given” to the Taleban by the Pakistani Government. Since Buner is only 70 miles from Islamabad (Pakistan’s capital), alarm bells rang in Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the US Congress that the situation in Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”. Then Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that relations with the United States will be threatened unless Islamabad combats the rise of the Taleban.
So under intense pressure from the United States, Pakistan’s Generals began a military offensive against the Taleban. First they ousted the Taleban from Buner and then they attacked Swat.
Normally, the Army of a country takes great care to ensure the safety of its people when it battles an insurgency in its own country. Sometimes, even the foreign occupiers also take care of the people they occupy. The USA was a foreign occupier in Iraq and faced a widespread lethal insurgency for 3-4 years. But the US Army never bombed a major city in Iraq to root out the insurgents and the US Army never forced a mass evacuation of the Iraqi people to fight the insurgents. Instead, US forces battled the insurgents in close urban combat taking one neighborhood after another.
Contrast this with the manner in which the Pakistani Army is fighting the Taleban in the town of Mingora in the Swat province. They are using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery instead of engaging the Taleban on the ground.
The result is that over 1.3 million citizens have been forced to flee their towns and become refugees in their own country. The exodus is one of the largest migrations of civilians in the region since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, when as many as 14 million people left their homes for one of the newly independent countries. (see the New York Times article Pakistan Says 1.3 Million Flee Fight With Taliban )
This sea of humanity is now staying in makeshift tents and surviving on whatever aid that manages to reach the refugees. The conditions are so bad that a UN agency has warned that Swat could end up being worse than Darfur.
The BBC map above shows the pervasive presence of the Taleban in Pashtunistan or NWFP, as Pakistan calls it. Swat is a relatively small part of this area. The Taleban can easily move from Swat to other areas under their control or influence (red and orange areas in the map above). According to the New York Times article, the Taleban are already shaving their trademark beards and escaping with the refugees to neighboring provinces.
So to really defeat the Taleban, the Pakistani Army would have to go after the Taleban in all the red and orange provinces in the above map. If the offensive in Swat alone created 1.3 million refugees, how many refugees would be created by an anti-Taleban offensive in all of Pashtunistan?
No country does this to its own people. But this sort of human tragedy is typical of ethnic wars, of longstanding fights between different ethnic groups.
Just look at Sri Lanka where the Red Cross says its staff are witnessing an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe” in the area where Lankan troops have trapped Tamil Tigers. This is a 25 year old ethnic battle between the majority Sinhalese people who dominate the Government and the minority Tamils. Sri Lanka sees the opportunity to end this long ethnic war and the Government is moving against the Tamil Tigers regardless of the human tragedy inflicted on the civilian Tamils.
We have argued on several occasions that the battle between the Taleban and the Panjabi Government-Army of Pakistan is a racial conflict and not a religious conflict. (See Section II.a of our April 25 article Will The Obama Administration Occupy Pashtunistan Or All Of Pakistan? ).
The Army and the Government of Pakistan is predominantly Panjabi while the Taleban and the civilians in the North West Frontier Province are predominantly Pashtun (which is why the area is better known as Pashtun-i-Stan). These two ethnic races have fought each other for over 1,000 years. So, no one should be surprised that the Panjabi Authorities show total lack of concern about the human suffering of the Pashtun civilians in Pashtunistan.
No sane person can believe that this offensive can succeed after creating a human tragedy of such massive proportions. The Pakistani Army is playing its usual game of trying to show the Americans that it is committed to fighting the Taleban when it is actually creating conditions which will force the UN to request a cease-fire. Then, the Pakistani Army would be satisfied, the Taleban will survive to fight another day and get new recruits from families who have suffered in this fight. Only the innocent Pashtun civilians will suffer as they have suffered for the past 60 odd years.
It seems that the Obama Administration is not fooled. A senior US Intelligence officer noted that the Pakistan military is over-relying on air and artillery strikes instead of engaging the Taliban. “This is like a bad movie we’ve all seen before. Pakistani military levels large areas, claims success, and thinks we’ll be conned into believing it if they pump up the Taliban body counts,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying. (see the Indian Express article Pak’s claim on Taliban casualties ‘wildly exaggerated ).
So if the Pakistani Army is committed to making the situation worse, what should the Obama Administration do?
Three weeks ago, we described a cost-effective, quick and decisive military solution. We reproduce some excerpts below.
This military solution is a part of a complete strategy to achieve the Political, Legal and Military Goals of a campaign to vanquish the Taleban and to bring peace to the troubled land of Pashtunistan. For a complete description of this strategy, read Section III of our April 25 article Will The Obama Administration Occupy Pashtunistan Or All Of Pakistan?
We believe that this is the only solution that has a chance of success.
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