A day after many pundits followed Bill Roggio freaking out about Pakistan's status as a "failed state" because the Taliban were - gasp - only 60 m
April 24, 2009

A day after many pundits followed Bill Roggio freaking out about Pakistan's status as a "failed state" because the Taliban were - gasp - only 60 miles from Islamabad, comes this from Reuters.

"Our leader has ordered that Taliban should immediately be called back from Buner," Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told Reuters. He said there were only around 100 fighters in Buner.

Government and Taliban representatives went to Buner, along with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical Muslim cleric who brokered the Swat deal, to tell the fighters to vacate the district.

Fazlullah's aide Mehmood Khan said the militants were returning to Swat, and witnesses saw them leaving Buner in the early evening.

It was unclear whether the Taliban's withdrawal was in response to a carrot or a stick, and worries abound over whether Pakistan lacks the capacity and intent to fight militancy.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani issued a statement aimed at dispelling those doubts and calming a mounting sense of crisis.

The army "will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan," the statement quoted Kayani as saying.

Kayani's comments, issued after meeting with his commanders, reinforced expectations of an imminent offensive in Swat, analysts said.

100 Taliban. Five hours travel away from Islamabad on Pakistani roads on a good day, i.e. one where you have a working truck that isn't being bombed and shelled by Pakistan's huge military. Some threat. Want to bet me there's 100 militiamen ready for the rightwing revolution somewhere within 5 hours of D.C.? By some lights, that puts America on the verge of being a hollow state.

Pepe Escobar got it exactly right in a recent piece for Asia Times:

Islamabad controls most of Pakistan - Sindh and Punjab provinces - with an iron fist. Pakistani police and army control most of NWFP. In "separatist" Balochistan there's only 5% of the total population. For Washington to believe that a small, rural, Pashtun tribal agglomeration of bands of a maximum of 30 fighters, with no air force, no heavy artillery and no tanks, could take over a Pakistan with a 650,000-strong well-trained army is an absolutely ridiculous notion. And for Washington to believe - as Holbrooke implied - that a few Pashtun tribals and a few expat jihadis can take on Western civilization as a whole is also an absolutely ridiculous notion.

The Pakistani military also directly controls over 50% of Pakistan's economy and the civilian government is just a facade to keep US military aid coming. The military has let the Taliban have those bits of Pakistan it isn't interested in running itself, that's all. If they were a serious threat to military supremacy they'd be crushed. A potential deal where the Taliban get Sharia in return for keeping the populace off the military's back...that's maybe a different story...

But calling it a "failed state" if the military are back in charge, in a return to the status quo ante, deal or not? That's just fearmongering for escalation even if the prospect of an overtly military-run Pakistan isn't a palatable one. It's linguistic slight-of-hand framing the issue the way interventionists want it framed. "Failed States", it is implicitly assumed, don't have the sovereign right or ability to say no to American COIN ops. More, describing a nation as a "Failed State" brings in a whole load of implicit assumptions about the moral right to meddle, to "protect non- failed states".

And the one thing we can be sure about Bill Roggio is that he's a reliable stenographer for the Pentagon's spinners.

Still, none of this helps Obama's atrocious strategy for the region one bit, especially given that the Pakistani military has no intention of decimating a Taliban movement that still provides it useful proxies against it's real enemy, India. But even by the logic of pro-escalation types like Roggio and David Kilcullen, surging in Afghanistan when they call Pakistan's "imminent" collapse the real threat doesn't make sense. If an army larger than the entire US military can't stop the extremists on what they now say is the central front, what's a piddling amount of troops in the country next door supposed to do? If that massive army simply refuses to stop the extremists, again what's to be done by waving a far smaller "big stick" next door? Worse,a large military presence in the region, with that military using force and causing civilian casualties while the US tries to bend the Pakistani government to our will against its regional interests, isn't going to help stabilize Pakistan. Quite the reverse.

It just doesn't add up. And it doesn't add up because it has added fearmongering, designed to bolster waning domestic support for Bush's mismanaged occupation now that Obama has gone with the neoliberal hawks and decided to double down. It's far more likely that the Taliban aren't a realistic existential threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan or even America. Even in Afghanistan, only 8% of the populace think they've any chance of successfully re-seizing power and 84% say there's no Taliban problem in their area. The Taliban are simply a thorny problem that can be contained by counter-terrorism and law enforcement, rather than massively lengthy and expensive COIN surges.

Crossposted from Newshoggers, by request.

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