President Zardari gets serious in fighting terrorism. But though he has a good chance of succeeding on the ground, his plan has flaws.
When the border to Afghanistan was still quiet. (via talkradionews, Flickr)
Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari has finally stepped up gear: In the past few weeks, the army has started to fight Taliban strongholds in the Bajaur tribal region. This comes after the United States had harshly criticized the Pakistan government for doing little to stop insurgents from finding shelter in Pakistan and entering neighboring Afghanistan.
Mr. Zardari’s move is also a reaction to the repeated violation of its borders by American forces to kill insurgents. As this is unacceptable for Pakistan’s people, he tries to get back into the driver’s seat of this conflict. In another move, probably also influenced by the U.S., Mr. Zardari replaced the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), the secret service that has been suspected to secretly support the Taliban for a long time.
Mr. Zardari seems to have the trust of the Chief of the Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to finally take on extremists in the FATA-region and the silent support of extremists in the Army’s ranks. But on the ground, the government will not make friends: Like the Taliban, the army fights recklessly, the number of refugees may be as high as 250,000 now. The government does not publish any numbers about civilian casualties and angers the local population by not holding the army accountable for civilian casualties.
Instead, Mr. Zardari’s government promotes the spin that local tribesmen support them in their fight against the Taliban now; the validity of this claim is less than certain. Indeed, as the USA has continued to attack on Pakistani soil and the civil war gets more aggressive in the next few days, resentment against the central government may continue to grow.
Failure is not an option: If the army fails in the FATA-region, it may be lost for the next years, probably as a de-facto-independent region without any influence of authorities except the extremist leaders already residing there. Mr. Zardari is right to take the problem seriously and there is a chance the military will succeed. But if the president wants to lastingly pacify the place, he has to do more than send fighters and clean up the security service: To win he needs give the tribes of the region a perspective and spare the local people scot-free attacks by the Pakistani forces.