That Pakistani Shift

David Rohde reviews two recent books on the Taliban (neither of which I’ve read; but the review reminds me to order the Zaeef memoir that Alex Strick van Linschoten assisted on) and his warning would have sounded a whole lot more dire if the review was published last week:

[T[he books leave the reader to conclude that hard-line Afghan Taliban are unlikely to agree to a negotiated peace settlement, unless the surge of thirty thousand additional American troops in Afghanistan coincides with a serious military or political drive by the Pakistani government to pressure the Afghan Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border.

While American troops are on their way to Afghanistan, however, Pakistani military officials are refusing to confront the Afghan Taliban inside their borders. For years, Pakistani officials have differentiated between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups, insisting that Afghan militants pose no threat to the Pakistani state. They also say that they hope to use the Afghan Taliban as proxies to prevent attempts by India to gain influence in Afghanistan after the Obama administration begins withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan in 2011. As long as they persist in this view, it appears that the Afghan Taliban will continue to enjoy a sanctuary in Pakistan.

Well, cool. Since Rohde wrote those words — lead time is a bitch — the Pakistanis have aided in the capture of the deputy commander of the Afghan Taliban andthe subsequent arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s shadow governor of Kunduz. Whatever the Pakistani motives are for such cooperation, and they’re as significant as they are opaque right now, the cooperation is preliminary evidence of a shift in the direction that Rohde identifies as crucial.

Add something else to the picture. I have many problems, strategically and morally, with the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan. But the frequency with which they have accelerated in the past two years, alongside these recent arrests, testify that our intelligence capabilities in Pakistan are on the rise. Even if we assume for the sake of healthy skepticism that they’re bad right now, clearly they’ve gotten better, or the targeting information wouldn’t be there. It is impossible to credit the idea that the U.S. intelligence community has improved its Pakistani collection capabilities without significant assistance from the Pakistani ISI. Couple that with the Swat and South Waziristan offensives that cost the Pakistanis so much (yes, against the Pakistani Taliban, but if the Pak Taliban are as inextricable from the Afghan Taliban as Rohde writes, that still tells you something), and the caricature of an obstinate, intransigent Pakistan breaks down.

None of this is to say that such a positive Pakistani shift is inevitable or irreversible. But there is clearly an opportunity here that the Obama administration (and, let’s be fair, the Bush administration in its waning days) has used to its advantage. Cleaving the Pakistani government from the Afghan Taliban is a very big task. It’s unrealistic to expect it to occur either rapidly or without the U.S. paying some serious cash money. But the indicators of its existence are there.

One last thing. Rohde writes about Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef’s memoir:

Zaeef’s memoir offers valuable insight into the Taliban’s worldview. Imprisoned for three years in Guantánamo Bay and now living in Kabul, Zaeef is considered a relatively moderate Taliban. But still he rails virulently against the United States, accusing it of unfairly invading Afghanistan in 2001 and wantonly killing 25,000 Afghans in aerial bombardments. (While several thousand Afghan civilians have probably been killed in NATO and American air raids, the figure of 25,000 seems grossly exaggerated.) And he sheds very little light on how the Taliban leadership functions. He never addresses the Taliban’s role in allowing Al Qaeda to plan and carry out the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001.

Is it really so unreasonable to consider that spending years imprisoned at Guantanamo fucking Bay would make someone have a less than nuanced view of the U.S.? I don’t expect Rohde, who endured the hell of capture by the Haqqani network, to labor for a subtle explanation of his captors’ worldview, and the fact that this essay doesn’t just say “Murder the Sons of Bitches” is testament to Rohde’s clearly remarkable character.

Previous post

Joseph Andrew Stack's Reputed Suicide Note

Next post

New Systemic Risk Council Proposed

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman