NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Peshawar “could fall” to the Taliban

The Taliban’s advance threatens Pakistan

“The security situation in Peshawar is grim. Officials in the home department, who evaluate the situation on an almost daily basis, believe declaring a state of red alert is now only a matter of time,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported on Tuesday.

“With militants knocking at the gates of the capital of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), even the more circumspect government and police officials now grudgingly concede that Peshawar, too, could fall in a few months.

“‘Peshawar is in a state of siege and if Peshawar falls, the rest of the districts in the NWFP would fall like ninepins’, a worried senior government official told Dawn.”

Pakistan’s Daily Times noted: “These days Taliban fighters do not sneak in to Peshawar. They arrive in broad daylight on the back of pick-up trucks, brandishing automatic weapons, and threatening owners of music stores to close down. ‘They had long hair and flowing beards, and were carrying Kalashnikovs. They told me to close down the shop or face the consequences,’ said Abdul Latif, a clean-shaven 20-year-old, whose video store received a visit from the vigilantes last week. ‘I asked police for help but they said they are helpless,’ he said.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The Democratic Party national security posture has for several years been to claim that a clear-eyed Democratic president would “finish the job” that George Bush started in Afghanistan and from which he got distracted by Iraq.

In 2009, assuming Obama wins the election, the Democrats and the rest of America will be in for a rude awakening. A war in Afghanistan — originally dreamed up by Zbigniew Brzezinski as the Soviet Union’s Vietnam — is destined to become for the US more like Vietnam than even Iraq has been. But whereas Vietnam had the natural containment of Vietnamese nationalism, Afghanistan has no such boundaries.

The fantasy of a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan — the Durand Line — is the reason the war in Afghanistan is so difficult to prevent becoming a deeper regional conflict. With the Pakistani side of the “border” defended largely by the Frontier Corps, it’s not hard to understand why the NWFP and FATA provides the Taliban with a comfortable refuge. Created by the British, the FC retains a colonial structure: 80,000 soldiers drawn from the local population, commanded by officers from outside the region who apparently often “disdain the assignment.” FC soldiers are naturally ambivalent about fighting fellow Pashtuns, but the more heavy-handed the Pakistani Army becomes, the more the concept of Pakistan comes under threat.

American pressure on the Pakistan government to crackdown on the militants, risks provoking a civil war. In that event, the chances for NATO finishing the job in Afghanistan will be reduced to precisely zero.

A useful question to pose both presidential candidates might be this: Where do you anticipate American troops fighting for the longest? Iraq or Afghanistan?

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