Foreign Policy Blogs

Subverting the Argument for a Separate Peace with the Tehrik-e-Taliban

If it wasn’t sufficiently clear before, it should be now: the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik e- Taliban) are out to bring down the ‘apostate” government in Islamabad, piece, region by region, piece by piece.  It were as if the Taliban were only moved to refute the writ and authority of the central government, which it thinks a still born child.  Remove that child then from the mother’s womb (Pakistan’s belly, its nucleus and power base, Islamabad); amputate a sickly arm here, remove the choking umbilical cord and  through many minute cuts, grizzly in each operation, dispatch the unwanted fetus, unleashed to unwanted memory.

Consider the deadly suicide attack that killed over 50 people today.   A bomber attacked a meeting of tribal elders in Mohmand , around the Khyber-Pahkhtunkwa Province, the former, aptly named North-West Frontier Province.  The New York Times reports (and I’ve excerpted the piece at some length):

“The attack was aimed directly at the civilian authorities who are supposed to be helping ordinary people resist the Taliban. The Pakistani Army has been involved in a battle against the militants in Mohmand for nearly two years but has been unable to defeat them.”

“The assistant political agent, Rasul Khan, who is the second ranking civilian official in Mohmand, said children were among the dead and that rescuers were still searching for bodies in the rubble hours after the blast.”

“Many of the injured were taken for treatment to Peshawar, the nearby capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province, formerly known as North-West Frontier Province, Mr. Kahn said.”

“More than 70 shops in the small township of Yakaghund were destroyed in the blast, further discouraging civilians who had fled Mohmand because of the two years of fighting, from returning.”

There are two serious problems associated with combatting the tremendous outgrowth in Taliban capability and strategic weight.  In the first instance, the solution to the Taliban contagion in Pakistan is not the extension of central government authority–though were it so!  The government in Islamabad seems entirely impotent, unable to stretch its unwieldy jurisdiction into the tribal areas of Pakistan, the historic birthplace of the Taliban.   Hence, the problem of the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan does not seem to have a reflexive solution; the enemy of the Taliban, the government, cannot easily destroy it.  Rather, it is the people of the region who must be the first and final defense against the Taliban. In that sense, the only way to defeat the Taliban is to appropriate some mix of the Petraeus, McChrystal counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy.

Approving and implementing such a plan, by the Pakistani government–lets leave NATO out of this, for argument’s sake– might well prove to be more difficult in Pakistan than it has proven, so far, in Afghanistan.  It is not entirely clear, for example, that the allegiances of tribal leaders in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan have shifted irrevocably, ultimately away from the Taliban.  Moreover, supposing there is a shift away from the Taliban, it is also not certain whether the allegiances of those leaders will shift toward the central government and its associated allies.

Second, any argument that views a separate and strategic peace with the Taliban must require, axiomatically so, that the Taliban be considered an agent that is open to  strategic moderation.  That is, the argument must follow something like the argument that demarcated a path to peace in Northern Ireland through the unilateral moderation of the IRA and the Provisional IRA.

The only trouble with an attempt to clearly track that argument in Pakistan (and Afghanistan) is that it fails, completely, and with elan.  The IRA had run aground of its own failure to win strategic ground during “the Troubles.”  Consider also that the IRA had a record of political moderation that, over the years, supplanted militant activism with political and social works. Indeed, unlike the IRA, the Taliban has not drawn a sufficiently clear line demarcating its militant and political wings; it is nearly impossible to  separate out the Taliban’s political goals from its ethic of militant violence.

The Taliban, clearly have marked themselves an existential threat to the central government.  Though it often fights the central government to a draw, it sometimes wins outright.  Finally, the Taliban have not demonstrated any interest in moderating its political or social views.  How can moderate action follow?  How can one foresee a stable, separate peace in Pakistan?

The military has finally awakened to the threat posed by the Taliban. Still, the military’s lumbering steps are quite insufficient to halt the Taliban’s moves.  The only bright light in this morass is the dim sense one gets that the Pakistani people are tired of the Taliban’s societal, political attacks.  None of that may matter, unless the tribal leaders of the border regions begin to think that standing with the Taliban is against their best interests.  In that case, the combined effort of the military, tribal militias and foreign associates might finally begin to take the steps to crush all those loosely organized powerful bands of bandits.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link: