Foreign Policy Blogs

Afghanistan/Pakistan Conflict Developments

Today I would like to go over recent developments in the conflict spanning the Afghan-Pakistan border as the conflict's many sides (NATO, Afghans, Taliban, Pakistan military, Al Qaeda, and local tribes) have all recently been in the news for various reasons: The Bush administration has authorized even greater use of missile/drone attacks inside of Pakistan, the Pakistan army has made some headway into the tribal region of Bajur, Tribal leaders have attempted to once again rise up and challenge the Taliban, and Afghan and Pakistan tribal and political leaders have moved ever closer to negotiations with elements of the Taliban.

US forces have been using drones to target Al Qaeda and Taliban units since the beginning of the war, but this strategy has increased greatly of late and has moved ever deeper into Pakistan sovereign territory. Slate's William Saleton catalogs many recent attacks, including one yesterday in which 20 people were reportedly killed, and argues with evidence from a New York Times article that despite claims from Pakistani officials, their government tacitly supports this tactic.

What the Pakistan government is adamantly against in the presence of US/NATO troops on their territory, as their officials argue it undermines their legitimacy. This is indeed true, but the US needs to see some results from the Pakistani military that these border regions are being governed and policed. While it appears that the Pakistani military, long accused of making deals that favor the Taliban, has made some progress in the Bajur area of the tribal belt. The region has been deemed a ‘mega sanctuary’ for the Taliban militants and after two months of hard fighting the Pak military has caused an outright fleeing of militant elements from the area. However, the holding of this strategic region will be the true test of the will and ability of the Pak military, this is indeed a welcome development.

23lasker-600.jpgAnother encouraging sign is the slight reintroduction of lashkars, or tribal militias, into the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal regions. These tribes and their leaders have been decimated, first by the Pakistani gov in the 1980s (with US help) in their fight against the Soviets, and recently by the Taliban since 2001, who have strongly challenged their rule in the tribal regions. Despite great mortal threat to their lives, many lashkars are rising up, and supporting the Pakistan army in removing the Taliban from their regions. It seems impossible to imagine the Taliban defeated without the help and reemergence of these lashkars.

Lastly, a delegation of Afghan and Pakistani officials met in Islamabad to approach the issue of reconciliation with elements of the Taliban who would recognize both state constitutions and renounce violence. The US remained quiet on this issue, weary of former Pak gov deals with the militants, but has stated that it supports reconciliation with those elements who give up violence. Here is an excerpt:

Pakistani and Afghan leaders vowed Tuesday to seek dialogue with Taliban insurgents, saying the “door is now open” for reconciliation.

The declaration by political and tribal leaders adds force to existing moves in Afghanistan and Pakistan to talk to the militants amid what appears to be growing international recognition that dialogue with moderates is key to ending the violence.

Former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said both countries would talk only with those militants who “accept the constitutions of both nations,” but did not explicitly say they must first disarm.

Another delegate to the two-day talks between political and tribal leaders in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad said that the offer was not open to al-Qaida members blamed for some of the worst violence in both countries.

Just like the reemergence of the lashkars and more strategic uses of attacks in border tribal areas, negotiations with elements of the Taliban that are willing to live peacefully in the region will be necessary for a conclusion to this current conflict.

What do this new, and old, developments and strategies mean for the future of this conflict? Are these positive developments or just one more part of a long, sad story?

(Photo Source: New York Times: Tribal Militias with the Pakistani Army)



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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