Can Pakistan Survive The Taliban?

After a week of devastating violence, threats to the country's security leave much at stake

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A week of devastating violence in Pakistan has raised concerns over the country's ability to survive the ever-growing Taliban threat. Taliban attacks, the most alarming of which hit Pakistan's cultural capital of Lahore, have left dozens dead. Pakistan's dozens of nuclear weapons and ongoing territorial conflict with India over Kashmir mean that the security of the more than one country is at stake. As the White House and Pentagon reevaluate Afghanistan, the Taliban's role in Pakistan could soon be seen as equally dangerous.

  • Taliban Fight Has Ethnic Overtones  Juan Cole suggests an ethnic divide between the Taliban and Pakistani state. "There is a sense in which the Pakistani army's struggle against the Taliban is increasingly an ethnic war between radical Muslim Pashtuns and more traditionalist or secular Punjabis. (Punjabis are 55% of the population and dominate the army; Pashtuns are more like 12% of the population and disproportionately rural and poor)," writes Cole, an author and Middle East expert.
  • Pakistanis Turning Against Taliban  Steve Coll testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban. "The relationship between the Pakistani security services and Islamist extremist groups - Al Qaeda, the Taliban, sectarian groups, Kashmiri groups, and their many splinters - is not static or preordained. Pakistani public opinion, while it remains hostile to the United States, has of late turned sharply and intensely against violent Islamist militant groups. The Pakistan Army, itself reeling as an institution from deep public skepticism, is proving to be responsive to this change of public opinion," said Coll, a New York writer and the head of the New American Foundation, a think tank. "Moreover, the Army, civilian political leaders, landlords, business leaders and Pakistani civil society have entered into a period of competition and freewheeling discourse over how to think about the country's national interests and how to extricate their country from the Frankenstein-like problem of Islamic radicalism created by the Army's historical security policies. There is a growing recognition in this discourse among Pakistani elites that the country must find a new national security doctrine that does not fuel internal revolution and impede economic and social progress. The purpose of American policy should be to create conditions within and around Pakistan for the progressive side of this argument among Pakistani elites to prevail over time."
  • Pakistan Cares More About India  Bruce Riedel, of the liberal think tank Brookings Institute, told Al Jazeera English that Kashmir is key. "There's not a direct pay-off, but clearly if you want to change the strategic direction of Pakistan, you've got to deal with the issues that motivate Pakistan, and those are India and in particular Kashmir." Kashmir is the hotly disputed region between Pakistan and India. Riedel says this makes India just as important for Afghanistan. "If you want to try to stabilize Afghanistan you need to stabilize Pakistan. And the same is true in reverse."

    Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, holds a similar view. "Their history is defined by their relationship with India," Holbrooke told the New Yorker's George Packer. Packer reported that Holbrooke "was going to India almost as often as he was going to the two other countries." General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, agrees as well. "If we fail here, Pakistan will not be able to solve their problems — it would be like burning leaves on a windy day next door. And if Pakistan implodes, it will be very hard for us to succeed," he told the New York Times.
  • Tackle Pakistan Before Afghanistan  Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson argue in Survival, a policy journal on global affairs, that Pakistan could be more important to U.S. interests than Afghanistan. "The question is whether counter-insurgency and state-building in Afghanistan are the best means of executing it. The mere fact that the core threat to U.S. interests now resides in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan casts considerable doubt on the proposition," they write. "The realistic American objective should not be to ensure Afghanistan's political integrity by neutralizing the Taliban and containing Pakistani radicalism, which is probably unachievable. Rather, its aim should be merely to ensure that Al Qaeda is denied both Afghanistan and Pakistan as operating bases for transnational attacks on the United States and its allies and partners."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.