Anyone Following This?

A terrifying story on the front page of the NY Times:

In the last two months, Taliban militants have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for high ransoms.

The militants move unchallenged out of the lawless tribal region, just 10 miles away, in convoys of heavily armed, long haired and bearded men. They have turned up at courthouses in nearby towns, ordering judges to stay away. On Thursday they stormed a women’s voting station on the city outskirts, and they are now regularly kidnapping people from the city’s bazaars and homes. There is a feeling that the city gates could crumble at any moment.

The threat to Peshawar is a sign of the Taliban’s deepening penetration of Pakistan and of the expanding danger that the militants present to the entire region, including nearby supply lines for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.

Unlike Iran, Pakistan actually has nuclear weapons.

28 replies
  1. 1
    ThymeZone says:

    Your government will issue a press release:

    See, we told you the WMDs were there.

    Don’t worry, they have it under control, I’m sure.

  2. 2
    GSD says:

    More blowback. Peshawar was the beg city for Afghan refugees from the Soviet war in the 1980’s.

    The US screwed the pooch by not finishing the Taliban and not enacting a serious, heavy duty Marshall Plan to help restore Afghanistan into a viable state.

    Now many of our former allies are switching sides.

    Chimpy should have read Sun Tzu instead of Archie comic books.

    Heckuva job.

    -GSD

  3. 3
    nightjar says:

    Unlike Iran, Pakistan actually has nuclear weapons

    But no oil and Mushariff is our best bud in fighting terroistsssss. We must keep him in power at all costs or else things could go badly. Oh, and we’re beating AQ in Iraq, the central front in the war on terra.

    Hurry up November and January.

  4. 4
    Wilfred says:

    It’s staggering. Trenches around Peshawar?? During the Catastrophe, nearly every Pashtun family took in refugees, often giving up half their houses to women and children. The boys grew up to be Taliban after their fathers and older brothers were killed fighting the Russians. Every village in Swat Valley and the Malakand suffered and they were more than ready to accept any friendship from the United States. I testify to this from my own experience as I traveled for the most part unarmed throughout the NWFP and tribal territories.

    Instead of friendship and help they got J-dams and ‘oops! Sorry!’ bombing campaigns from the defender of the free world. These people are as tough as fucking nails and afraid of nothing. They could have and should have been our friends. This is a disaster.

  5. 5

    Also unlike Iran, they have al-Qaeda.

  6. 6
    Jay C says:

    @ GSD:

    I think you are about half right in your comment @ 10:25: the US/NATO failure to completely “finish” the job in Afghanistan in 2002 was a major pooch-screwing of the first order; but it’s an iffier proposition that even a massive Marshall-Plan-style program would really do much to “pacify” Afghanistan – a backward, anarchistic cesspool of violence for hundreds of years – and in any case, wouldn’t deal (much) with the Taliban, per se.

    The Taliban, as most Americans seem to forget (if they ever even knew) were/are an ethnically-based movement (Pashtun – the biggest tribe in Afghanistan IIRC); and, thanks to British colonialists who, in the 1890s, divided the Pashtun territory between India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan, now have two countries to be provided safe havens in. Which should have been taken into account by any even moderately competent (US) government. Should have been: but instead, we got the Bush gang.

    Oh, and John: in answer to your title question:
    Generally: NO.

    Afghanistan, for whatever reason, has pretty much fallen off the American media’s radar; and probably will stay so unless/until the whole place blows up (again). Whereupon I’m sure that the rightwing blogosphere will erupt in a frenzy of outraged fury: blaming Democrats, or Dirty Fucking Peacenik Hippies, or Barack Obama (or all three together) for the mess.

  7. 7
    KXB says:

    Peshawar is a largely Pashtun city, which means that many residents have relatives in Afghanistan. In fact, many Pashtuns consider their Pashtun identity paramount, as Pakistanis are associated with the Punjabi majority.

    However, many of the Pakistani troops in this region are Pashtun, and the idea of fighting their co-ethnics will not go over well. To avoid that, the Pakistani army may use mostly Punjabi soldiers. If it begins to look to the locals like a Punjabi vs. Pashtun fight, the last seven years will be considered the good times.

    The nuclear issue does not concern me – the Pashtuns cannot take over the rest of Pakistan, but they can fight fiercely enough to earn a degree of autonomy that will be destabilizing to the region.

  8. 8
    MattF says:

    The theory is that blowing up various things & people introduces a salutary uncertainty into people’s lives, thereby prompting them to turn to good old Uncle Sam for help and advice. Or something like that.

    Well, it worked in New Orleans… right?

  9. 9
    Deckard Cain says:

    The nuclear issue does not concern me – the Pashtuns cannot take over the rest of Pakistan, but they can fight fiercely enough to earn a degree of autonomy that will be destabilizing to the region.

    So we’ve got these restless natives who won’t get in line and who are fucking over my country’s stability. And we’ve got these low yield nuclear weapons that’ll shut’m up but quick.

    I see a problem with a very quick, easy, and fucking disastrous solution.

  10. 10
    dr. bloor says:

    No one could have foreseen that bailing out on a half-done job in Afghanistan so Georgie could have his vanity war in Iraq would produce a meaner, bolder and more virulent version of the Taliban.

    But hey, don’t those newly painted schools in Iraq look great?

  11. 11
    Chris Johnson says:

    Did they paint over rot, like with the army barracks?

  12. 12
    jake says:

    In fact, many Pashtuns consider their Pashtun identity paramount, as Pakistanis are associated with the Punjabi majority.

    Pashtun? Punjabi? I thought they wuz all Pakistani!

    /pResident Gackass.

  13. 13
    dbrown says:

    So the pakistans who set up, supported, and gave refuge to the taliban are suffering – well, big surprize. Maybe the Iranians will help since they hate the taliban and would love to wipe them out but pakistan is our allie in terror and bushwhack’s friend. Iran bad – people that help the terrorist who lanuched 9/11 are good … bushwhack logic is great.

  14. 14
    Joe Max says:

    This just demonstrates exactly WHY the Iranians want to wave the nuclear banner – Bush doesn’t attack countries with nukes. A pissant little country like North Korea has the Bushies by the nuts ONLY because they have a credible nuke threat. The lesson is clear and other countries understand it: the way to keep the USA from going all preemptive on your ass is to front a believable threat of a response involving mushroom clouds.

  15. 15
    Brachiator says:

    In the last two months, Taliban militants have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for high ransoms.

    The surge is working. Only in this case, it is a Taliban surge that no one has been paying attention to.

    The Taliban were Pakistan clients. They have proved that they cannot easily be manipulated or controlled by their supposed masters. Pakistani hubris. US hubris. In the past, British hubris. In every case, a major power just can’t imagine that their weaker allies might have their own national interests, and might be able to pursue them effectively.

    The interesting twist here is that while Pakistan has sponsored Islamic fundamentalists, Pakistan is more fiercely nationalist than it is religious.

    Unlike Iran, Pakistan actually has nuclear weapons.

    This creates a problem more for India than for anyone else, because India has nukes also. Not everything that happens in this region is about the US or the phony “war on terror.” Related to this is that the Pakistan military has never been very effective, even when propped up by the US. But this is the first time that Pakistan’s viability as a state has been seriously challenged. Look for Bush Administration (if they are halfway intelligent) to scramble to look for a surrogate (the British, the UN) to try to help Pakistan and to prevent India from getting involved in a serious military conflict.

    On the other hand, this conflict is taking place in a fringe area of Pakistan (not easy to understand, given the uneven quality of the NYT piece). The Taliban’s major objective may be to provide a more secure base for operations against Afghanistan than to threaten Pakistan.

    The BBC news site provides an expanded perspective on this (Pakistan army attacks militants).

    nightjar Says:

    Unlike Iran, Pakistan actually has nuclear weapons

    But no oil and Mushariff is our best bud in fighting terroistsssss. We must keep him in power at all costs or else things could go badly. Oh, and we’re beating AQ in Iraq, the central front in the war on terra.

    Uh, Mushariff is no longer a major player, and the new prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gillani, has shown an interesting degree of independence from the old power network.

    Hurry up November and January.

    Be careful what you ask for. I’m not seeing a lot of Pakistan/India expertise anywhere in Washington or the State Department.

    And I am not sure that the American people would long accept a greater US involvement in Afghanistan even if our involvement in Iraq declines.

  16. 16
    Wilfred says:

    The whole area around Peshawar was always part of the Afridi fiefdom – nothing can happen there unless their leaders want it and I don’t think they like Musharraf very much -maybe it’s more of a pusbback against him than anything else. Darra, near Peshawar, for example, is not in the tribal territories and the Pakistani Army or police never had any authority there.

    Other questions are what’s happening in Chitral and Quetta. I suspect this a surge in religious nationalism within Pakistan, coupled with a lot of Pashtun anger with US bombing in the tribal territories, where bin Laden must be. Pukhtunwali would demand revenge in those cases. Further, there is the undying hope for Pushtunistan, of which P’hore (Peshawar to Pashtums) is the ancestral capital.

    In any case, ignorance + arrogance = Bushism. Heckuva job.

  17. 17
    Punchy says:

    The US screwed the pooch by not finishing the Taliban and not enacting a serious, heavy duty Marshall Plan to help restore Afghanistan into a viable state.

    I don’t think there’s much we coulda done. The peeps make their scratch making and refining heroin, for chrissakes. Pacify, maybe. Viable long-term? I personally dont think that can be done.

  18. 18
    nightjar says:

    And I am not sure that the American people would long accept a greater US involvement in Afghanistan even if our involvement in Iraq declines

    Oh, I think they would. Americans are impatient but usually when their being bullshitted. I think they basically get the importance of the Afghan. and the Pakistani effect on it.

    Be careful what you ask for. I’m not seeing a lot of Pakistan/India expertise anywhere in Washington or the State Department.

    My standards are set low, therefore, if there is improvement I’ll be surprised. Seven years of Bush style diplomacy , or non diplomacy, starts the bars pretty low. Only time will tell if it gets raised by Obama.

  19. 19
    Zifnab says:

    I don’t think there’s much we coulda done. The peeps make their scratch making and refining heroin, for chrissakes. Pacify, maybe. Viable long-term? I personally dont think that can be done.

    Afghanistan has a number of valuable natural resources. Karzai, the current Prime Minister, is in very tightly with Unocal and a number of other energy firms. There’s more to do in Afghanistan than just farm heroine.

    What’s more, heroine farmers don’t exactly make a killing any more than their rice-farming or corn-farming counterparts in the states. But if Afghanistan has all that arable land, there is something to be said for turning it into the breadbasket of the Middle East. A serious agricultural revolution in the country could potentially turn regular farming profitable enough to drop the drug trafficking trade.

    But that wasn’t the goal of the US occupation. Rebuilding Afghanistan was never on the agenda. And you don’t turn a profit as an arms dealer by watching your prime purchaser deliver peace to the region. It’s in the interest of the parties currently acting in Afghanistan for us to have continued low-level chaos and violence. And even if it wasn’t, the Bush Admin doesn’t know how to do it any other way.

  20. 20
    nightjar says:

    But that wasn’t the goal of the US occupation. Rebuilding Afghanistan was never on the agenda. And you don’t turn a profit as an arms dealer by watching your prime purchaser deliver peace to the region. It’s in the interest of the parties currently acting in Afghanistan for us to have continued low-level chaos and violence. And even if it wasn’t, the Bush Admin doesn’t know how to do it any other way

    And this, in the long term, may have been one of GWB’s biggest fuckups. As I think most Americans will sustain support for our presence in Afghanistan, it’s not clear whether the Afgani’s will allow it. And once the general populace of that nation says it’s time to go, then whatever occupying country had better hightail it out.

    If Bush had used a fraction of the money and effort put into Iraq, there could possibly, or even likely have been long lasting good results in Afgan.. Rebuilding or building basic infrastructure of schools, med clinics, roads as well as developing the agra potential would have gone a long way toward giving the general populace something to fight for, which in the end is how you win an insurgency war.

    Maybe it’s not too late.

  21. 21
    opit says:

    “Rebuilding Afghanistan was never on the agenda”. You can write that 100 times as a penance. Ditto Iraq.
    There is appalling poverty in Afghanistan. They live so close to the edge there is no slack : death is near. Right now there is a shortage of opiates for medical use in the Third World.
    What has been happening is that ‘foreign troops’ ( that includes NATO ) have been shooting up the place and aid has not been immediate nor adequate. Starvation is a nasty way to die: which is what happens as a result of foreign incursions for the past 200 years. Not to mention bombing villages and towns : target practice ?
    I’ve been kibitzing with a vet who served there : he has written a couple of nice short pieces on Afghanistan.
    http://www.exmi.blogspot.com/

  22. 22
    Brachiator says:

    nightjar Says:

    And I am not sure that the American people would long accept a greater US involvement in Afghanistan even if our involvement in Iraq declines

    Oh, I think they would. Americans are impatient but usually when their being bullshitted. I think they basically get the importance of the Afghan. and the Pakistani effect on it.

    Afghanistan is symbolically, but not strategically important to the US. And the Taliban are more intent on establishing a backwards patriarchy in Afghanistan than they are intent on threatening the US. Iraq was a modern country, even if a despotic one. The Taliban yearn for a primitive, religious fundamentalist entity. The US cannot afford to be sucked into this on a long term basis.

    Be careful what you ask for. I’m not seeing a lot of Pakistan/India expertise anywhere in Washington or the State Department.

    My standards are set low, therefore, if there is improvement I’ll be surprised. Seven years of Bush style diplomacy , or non diplomacy, starts the bars pretty low. Only time will tell if it gets raised by Obama.

    The challenges remain without regard to your standards. Without skillful diplomats and others, Obama could get sucked into an Afghan quagmire just as nasty as the Vietnam mess that stymied John Kennedy’s best and brightest.

    Afghanistan has a number of valuable natural resources. Karzai, the current Prime Minister, is in very tightly with Unocal and a number of other energy firms. There’s more to do in Afghanistan than just farm heroin.

    What’s more, heroine farmers don’t exactly make a killing any more than their rice-farming or corn-farming counterparts in the states. But if Afghanistan has all that arable land, there is something to be said for turning it into the breadbasket of the Middle East. A serious agricultural revolution in the country could potentially turn regular farming profitable enough to drop the drug trafficking trade.

    What you are missing here is that the Taliban don’t care about economic development, or modernity, or agricultural revolutions. Like the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, they want to return their country to Year Zero, but here with Islam instead of Marxism as the core.

    Neither the Us nor any Western power can install a friendly or even a tyrant puppet. And even Pakistan is finding that they cannot easily find compliant allies among the Taliban.

    The situation in Zimbabwe is instructive in this regard. That country is extremely wealthy in terms of resources, and could be the breadbasket of Southern Africa. But the leaders of the thugocracy there are not interested in developing the country’s resources, and they have a paranoid distrust of any outsiders who might come in and develop them, especially the material wealth, especially if promises of development look like the old imperialistic exploitation.

    Mugabe and the Taliban are much like The Joker in the upcoming film, “The Dark Knight.”

    Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

    A people who brushed off a $25 million reward offer for bin Laden are not likely to be charmed by the material trinkets offered by Unocal.

    You could send Dick Cheney into Afghanistan with a Halliburton task force to fight or negotiate for access to the country’s resources. They’d get chewed up and spit out in six months.

  23. 23
    nightjar says:

    Afghanistan is symbolically, but not strategically important to the US. And the Taliban are more intent on establishing a backwards patriarchy in Afghanistan than they are intent on threatening the US. Iraq was a modern country, even if a despotic one. “The Taliban yearn for a primitive, religious fundamentalist entity.” The US cannot afford to be sucked into this on a long term basi

    Are you kidding me? “The Taliban yearn for a primitive, religious fundamentalist entity . Fuck the Taliban, most Afghani’s hate them and want nothing to do with them, except maybe Pashtun’s. What the Taliban yearn for is Islamic hegemony, same as AQ. The question is has Bush piddled too long causing the US to wear out it’s welcome, whereby the average Afgani decides our presence isn’t helping. Then we’ll have to go, or get caught in a quagmire. That hasn’t happened yet and unless radical changes are made to actually rebuild their country, at some point it will happen.

    The challenges remain without regard to your standards. Without skillful diplomats and others, Obama could get sucked into an Afghan quagmire just as nasty as the Vietnam mess that stymied John Kennedy’s best and brightest

    Vietnam didn’t engineer an attack on US soil that killed 3000 people, as did AQ and their Taliban allies. That makes it utterly unlike Vietnam. And my standards and the diplomatic challenges Obama will face worldwide are not related. Maybe the past 7.5 years have left you feeling pessimistic with a fading reference point. I believe Obama will recruit competent diplomats and give them the leeway to re-establish US credibility, and for now that is good is enough for me.

  24. 24
    Brachiator says:

    nightjar Says:

    Afghanistan is symbolically, but not strategically important to the US. And the Taliban are more intent on establishing a backwards patriarchy in Afghanistan than they are intent on threatening the US. Iraq was a modern country, even if a despotic one. “The Taliban yearn for a primitive, religious fundamentalist entity.” The US cannot afford to be sucked into this on a long term basis.

    Are you kidding me? “The Taliban yearn for a primitive, religious fundamentalist entity . Fuck the Taliban, most Afghani’s hate them and want nothing to do with them, except maybe Pashtun’s.

    The Afghans who hate the Taliban are powerless against them without US assistance.

    What the Taliban yearn for is Islamic hegemony, same as AQ.

    Uh, no. The Taliban once controlled Afghanistan. AQ currently lacks the ability to form itself into a powerful coherent political force anywhere. They were outsiders in Afghanistan, just as they are outsiders in Iraq.

    The question is has Bush piddled too long causing the US to wear out it’s welcome, whereby the average Afgani decides our presence isn’t helping.

    Your idea of an “average Afghani” does not adequately reflect the complexity of the situation there.

    Then we’ll have to go, or get caught in a quagmire.

    The quagmire already exists. The US backed Afghan government does not even control all of the territory. We have so far fought the Taliban to a draw, but the situation there has not substantially improved from our first incursion there.

    That hasn’t happened yet and unless radical changes are made to actually rebuild their country, at some point it will happen.

    The Taliban are actively working to demolish the country even as we try to rebuild it. It is not a matter of simply investing in the country.

    The challenges remain without regard to your standards. Without skillful diplomats and others, Obama could get sucked into an Afghan quagmire just as nasty as the Vietnam mess that stymied John Kennedy’s best and brightest

    Vietnam didn’t engineer an attack on US soil that killed 3000 people, as did AQ and their Taliban allies. That makes it utterly unlike Vietnam.

    The similarity is in the US response, and in the continued blindness by people in the West that they can ignore the national interests of Pakistan, the Taliban, or even Al Queda. The similarity is in the response of dithering idiots like Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush that they could just be tough, kick a little ass, and bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, right now, some of these same fools are advisors to Obama.

    And my standards and the diplomatic challenges Obama will face worldwide are not related. Maybe the past 7.5 years have left you feeling pessimistic with a fading reference point. I believe Obama will recruit competent diplomats and give them the leeway to re-establish US credibility, and for now that is good is enough for me.

    It’s not just the past 7.5 years. One of the things that contributed to Ms Bhutto’s death in Pakistan was a Washington Beltway mentality that goes across party lines that arrogantly misread the situation on the ground. I am actually somewhat hopeful that Obama may be able to change this situation, especially if people with expertise and better ideas are inspired to work for him. But I also see many of the same old realpolitick crowd and the economic reductionists try to establish their toeholds in a potential Obama Administration. And I see Obama giving them more time than he should because most Americans don’t know crap about India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and are easily comforted by people whose fancy “foreign policy credentials” don’t mean a damn thing in the real world.

  25. 25
    Hume's Ghost says:

    Sorry, I was too busy watching the “bombshell” news on CNN HN that Barack Obama has exhchanged e-mails with Scarlet Johansson to be to bothered with junk news like the destabilization of a nuclear powered country full of al Qaeda sympathests. The gym I was in didn’t have audio on, but the image on the screen was of her in low cut red dress. The importance of this news seems to be directly proportional to the size of her breasts – given that this Pakistan story doesn’t involved Hollywood breasts, it’s obvious which is of greater merit.

  26. 26
    nightjar says:

    The Afghans who hate the Taliban are powerless against them without US assistanc

    And the Taliban would not have become powerful in Afghan without the Pakistani ISI that essentially created them, and the early funding by OBL. The US assistance to anti-Taliban Afghans presents some balance.

    Your idea of an “average Afghani” does not adequately reflect the complexity of the situation there

    Pashtun’s make up 42% of the population and not all of them support the Taliban. The rest of the country is mostly an ethnic mix from the surrounding “STans”. A Disparate mix for sure, but few who like the Taliban. These are the Average Afghani’s I was mostly referring to.

    The similarity is in the US response, and in the continued blindness by people in the West that they can ignore the national interests of Pakistan, the Taliban, or even Al Queda.

    Your starting to worry me Brachiator. I don’t know what national interest AQ has, but mine is to kill every last one of them. Pretty much the same goes for the Taliban, who were more than just hosts for a vacationing OBL, at his many fun camps dedicated to causing the violent destruction of the western world.

    And the response in Vietnam was to a NV gunboat attack that didn’t happen. And that’s like 9-11 how? Further that rebuilding Afghan. alone won’t change the place, but it is a vital ingredient along with a better military response. May not work, but the alternative is worse.

  27. 27
    Catfish N. Cod says:

    Well, let’s step back a moment from recent history and review a few fundamentals.

    1) Peshawar is not only a major city in Pakistan — it controls the Khyber Pass, the main route from northern Pakistan into Afghanistan. Neither state can afford to have bandits raiding a major trade choke point.

    2) Excepting jailbreak raids and suicide attacks in Kabul, all — ALL — of the fighting in the area since we entered the conflict post-Eleventh has taken place in Pashtun territory. This is true on both the Afghan and Pakistani sides of the mountain range. Pashtuns live on both sides, and see the border as an external artificiality that has nothing to do with them… and have for centuries.

    3) There are two basic and simple ways to shut Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Pashtuns down —

    a) Control both sides of the Hindu Kush and place the whole area under economic siege. Yeah, good luck with that — numerous powers have tried and failed. The logistics are a nightmare, and the cultures on either side of the range are VERY different.

    b) Bite the bullet and create Pashtunistan. The Pashtuns, bereft of an enemy and with power to divide, would turn on each other in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, this would put the new border WAY too close to Pakistan’s uranium mines, so it’s really not a strategic option.

  28. 28
    Delia says:

    Here’s the overall thing to keep in mind. No outsider has permanently controlled the region now known as Afghanistan since before the time of Alexander the Great. (“Kandahar” is a local form of the name “Alexander,” but the Greek reign didn’t survive his death.) If anyone thinks we can beat those odds, then American exceptionalism has truly run amok.

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