Friday, May 8, 2009


This is a happening map, if I do say so myself.  Via Google Maps mashups, you can see not only the borders and main cities of Pakistan, but also the population density and, outlined in blue, the Pashtun areas.
The Americans seem to have gone nutty about Pakistan in the last few weeks.  The New York Times, in particular, has been fear mongering like its 2003 again.  There have been articles as full of paranoia, guilt by association, speculation and unrealistic worst case scenarios as anything they printed in the run-up to Iraq.  This article is a good example. Here is another.  
The first thing is that the Taliban are an expression of Pashtun nationalism.  They have no traction whatsoever outside Pashtun areas.  Where they do have a presence, like Karachi, its based on the city`s Pashtun community.  They operate there like a crime gang, not an ideological force.  Even if most Pakistanis wanted an Islamist government, they wouldn't stand for one run by the Taliban.  Punjabis are not going to be ruled by Pashtun.  Despite the Times' assertions, there is no public evidence of a connection between the Taliban and other creatures of the ISI like Lashkar-e-Taiba.  The only things they appear to have in common are radical interpretations of Islam, a love of violence and their paymaster.  In addition, the city that the Times identifies as an outpost of the Taliban in Punjab is Dera Ghazi Khan.  A look at the map above shows this city is on the border of Pashtun territory.  It would be more surprising if they didn't have a presence there.  Tell me when they are taking over Lahore.  
Second is that the Times details some pretty tenuous associations to say that Punjabi groups are linked to Al-Qaida.  They insinuate that elements of the Pakistani government share these links.  The last operation unambiguously carried out by Al-Qaida was 9/11.  They are more of a bogyman than a real threat these days. The survivors would all be dead if it weren't for the Pashtun code (see Pashtunwalli).  This is the kind of thing you'd expect The New York Times to know about.
Forth, the Taliban are not going to take over Pakistan.  They do not have the capability.  Besides the ethnic issues noted above, there is the Pakistani Army.  They are a well trained and well armed conventional military.  The Army may not have much enthusiasm fighting the Pashtun in the tribal areas, but would feel a lot different if the Taliban came out of the mountains and tried to take Punjabi cities by force.  That`s not their only problem, India, Iran, China and Russia would be very unhappy with a Taliban takeover and might intervene to prevent it.  
Last, there's much crazy talk by the Times and many others about terrorists getting their hands on some or all of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.  The Taliban have no more chance of getting Pakistani nukes than I do.  The Americans seem to have forgotten everything from the Cold War.  One of the key things is that the most dangerous nuclear weapons are you own.  Anyone with a credible second strike capability doesn't need to worry about being attacked.  The worst thing that can happen is one of your own people sets one off either locally or against another country.  That was the main story in Doctor Strangelove.  No matter what their religious or ideological leanings, the Pakistani Armed Forces are going to retain 100% control over those weapons at all time.  The Pakistani Air Force has especially close relations with the US on nuclear weapons control.  Believe it, even if the Taliban were able to take over Pakistan, the last thing they`d want is to lose control of the nukes.  That would be, at the least, a career limiting move. 
What this looks like is a preparation by the Americans to move into the Pakistani border areas.  This would be an effective military move, but fraught with so much political downside that it would seem to be impossible.  Don`t think for even a second that countries like Qatar (home of the US 7th fleet), Saudi Arabia and even Iraq would support a US invasion of another Muslim country.  The only ones who would cheer would be Iran and India.  In all, this looks like a worse idea than invading Iraq, and that was one of the worst ideas a US President ever had.