Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are in Washington today to meet with President Obama about working together to combat militants in both countries. Surely headlining the meeting will be the recent news that the Pakistan government has abandoned its peace deal with the Taliban over control of the Swat Valley area.
Many, including The Guardian, expect a major military offensive in the region:
Pakistani security forces launched artillery and rocket attacks on Taliban positions in the Swat valley this morning amid growing expectations of a major military offensive. The government is indicating that an organised army offensive against the Taliban is imminent, while provincial officials say they expect 500,000 refugees to flee the valley, adding to another 500,000 people displaced by earlier violence.
The Taliban has been tightening its grip in the Valley over the past week, and has been successful in resisting the Pakistan military’s efforts so far. A recent ANI report claims that it is doubtful the army has the stomach for a sustained fight against Taliban forces, and is still focusing the majority of its resources on what it considers the more important problem currently: India.
“The militants have resolve, determination, focus and ideology. On the other side, I don’t see any of those,” said Aftab Khan Sherpao, a former interior minister and a member of Parliament, who comes from northwest Pakistan. “The army understands the threat from the militants, but they are more permanently worried about India. They are waiting for civilian leadership and direction, and there isn’t any,” he added.
The U.S. has accused the Pakistani government in the past of not doing enough to fight the militants in the region. Many senior government officials have charged Pakistan with endangering the U.S. operation in Afghanistan. Zardari met with the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday and attempted to play down Sherpao’s comments, and reassure the Committee about Pakistan’s efforts to fight the Taliban. It seems he was unsuccessful, as many members left the meeting confused and disappointed about Pakistan’s commitment. Zardari spoke very little about his government’s plans to battle the militants, and compared his plea for financial assistance to the government bailout of beleaguered insurance giant AIG.
Despite this, U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar have introduced a bill to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, policies closely aligned with those recommended in the Council’s recent Pakistan report [link]. At an Atlantic Council event last month, Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani and Afgan ambassador Said Jawad asked specifically for a long-term commitment of resources for state-building. It seems that lawmakers in Washington are finally listening to this call, as it is also expected that President Obama will offer billions of dollars in aid in return for firm military commitments from both governments.
However, it is critical to note that during that same event, Ambassador Jawad felt that the fight against the Taliban is being won. The Council’s own James Joyner wrote about Jawad’s comments:
Further, on more than one occasion, Jawad cited the fact that Taliban leaders were willing to negotiate with his government as a sign that — contrary to the emerging outside consensus — the fight against them is being won. Further, while fully agreeing that “democracy can not be imposed” from the outside, pluralism is essential to achieving the core mission of opposing “tyranny and terror.” He argued that this was not the pipe dream many Westerners imagine, noting that his country had democratic elections and even women in parliament as early as the 1960s.
With the ensuing struggle in Swat Valley, and the complete termination of any peace agreement that once existed, one has to wonder how far negotiation can go in the region. Particularly, it will be interesting to see how much effect the breaking of this has on both Ambassador Haqqani and Ambassador Jawad’s hopes for a Taliban negotiation.
A mere week ago, Ambassador Haqqani penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal where he called for employing the ‘pacification’ model that was used in Iraq, in Afghanistan. With the events of the last few days, we will see how much Ambassador Haqqani’s views have changed.
Ahmed R. Bhadelia is web developer at the Atlantic Council.