Apr 27, 2009
Pakistan's Craven Government
60 Miles From Islamabad
New York Times
April 27, 2009
If the Indian Army advanced within 60 miles of Islamabad, you can bet Pakistan’s army would be fully mobilized and defending the country in pitched battles. Yet when the Taliban got that close to the capital on Friday, pushing into the key district of Buner, Pakistani authorities sent only several hundred poorly equipped and underpaid constabulary forces.
On Sunday, security forces were reported to be beginning a push back. The latest advance by the Taliban is one more frightening reminder that most Pakistanis — from top civilian and military leaders to ordinary citizens — still do not fully understand the mortal threat that the militants pose to their fragile democracy. And one more reminder to Washington that it can waste no time enabling such denial.
Pakistanis don’t have to look far to see what life would be like under Taliban rule. Since an army-backed peace deal ceded the Swat Valley to the militants, the Taliban have fomented class revolt and terrorized the region by punishing “un-Islamic” activities like dancing and girls’ attending school. The more territory Pakistan cedes to the extremists, the more room the Taliban and Al Qaeda will have to launch attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
And — most frightening of all — if the army cannot or will not defend its own territory against the militants, how can anyone be sure it will protect Pakistan’s 60 or so nuclear weapons?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right last week when she warned that Pakistan was “abdicating to the Taliban.” American military leaders in recent days have also begun to raise the alarm, but for too long they insisted that Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of staff of the army, did recognize the seriousness of the threat. We certainly have not seen it.
On Friday, even as Mr. Kayani insisted “victory against terror and militancy will be achieved at all costs,” he defended the Swat deal. On Sunday, government officials insisted again that the deal remained in force despite obvious Taliban violations. Mr. Kayani complains that his troops lack the right tools to take on the militants, including helicopters and night-vision goggles. The army should have used some of the $12 billion it received from Washington over the last seven years to do just that, instead of spending the money on equipment and training to go after India. The next round of aid should include these items but also require that they be used to fight the militants.
Pakistan’s weak civilian leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari and the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, are complicit in the dangerous farce, wasting energy on political rivalries. They must persuade General Kayani to shift at least part of his focus and far more resources away from the Indian border to the Afghan border.
Things are not going smoothly on the American side either. President Obama was right to recognize the need for an integrated strategy dealing with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But his team has a lot more work to do, including figuring out ways to strengthen Pakistan’s government and its political will.
Congress is mulling two different bills increasing aid to Pakistan. Whichever prevails should set clear benchmarks, especially on military spending. Like Pakistan, Washington cannot afford to waste any more time figuring out the way forward — not with the Taliban 60 miles from Islamabad.