Reports out of Pakistan indicate that the government’s peace deals with pro-Taliban insurgents in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan are falling apart amidst a new military offensive designed to secure the city of Peshawar.
The government’s near-term objective is to push back the militants of a group called the Army of Islam headed by Mangal Bagh. This pro-Taliban group had been asserting itself near Peshawar and there was increasing concern among the residents that Peshawar might even fall to the Taliban-backed forces. Pro-Taliban warlords like Mangal Bagh, Haji Namdar, and Baitullah Masood have effectively taken control of the tribal areas and now threaten to destabilize settled areas of the North West Frontier Province.
The Pakistan Government has been in denial about the situation and lacks a strategic plan to deal effectively with the burgeoning threat from the pro-Taliban elements. The peace deals the government has pursued over the last two months appear to have only strengthened the grip of the pro-Taliban elements. The current Pakistani military operation in the Khyber Agency and Peshawar environs will only be successful if it is sustained and if government forces remain in the area for an extended period of time.
The Pakistan government needs to wake up to the reality that it is fighting a loosely coordinated insurgency among various pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda groups that threaten stability of the province. The only way forward is for the U.S. and Pakistan to cooperate to address what has become a global threat as well as a threat to the state of Pakistan. Instead of arguing in Washington over whether US special operations forces should be inserted into Pakistan to hunt down Usama bin Laden and his cohorts, Washington should focus on developing a diplomatic approach to convince the Pakistanis that working together in joint military operations and employing all of Pakistan’s instruments of power is necessary to defeat the terrorist scourge in Pakistan.
Neutralizing the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan now also provides the best chance of avoiding a potential future devastating war in Pakistan that might become inevitable were there a major terrorist strike on U.S. soil originating from Pakistan’s tribal areas.