Cloaking the retreat

The Pakistani army manoeuvres for the next round

Having to prepare for an unlikely war with India is an excellent excuse to mask the Pakistani army’s total defeat—at the hands of the Taliban—in Swat, Bajaur and the Waziristans. If not for the tensions with India, General Kayani would have had to answer uncomfortable questions as to why after one whole year of “operations” in Swat, for instance, that picturesque tourist paradise is now entirely under Taliban rule.

The alacrity with which the Pakistani Taliban were presented as patriots in the common war against India, even before the Mumbai siege was brought to an end, suggests a deal whereby the army surrendered people and territories in the Frontier to the Taliban, and in return, secured promises of safe passage and an end to attacks on its interests elsewhere in Pakistan. [See silencing a dead whistleblower]

Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, welcomed the government’s decision to withdraw some troops from the tribal areas. “We will not attack the convoys of army withdrawing from tribal areas as it is a good development,” he said, adding that the Taliban would help defend Pakistan against any aggression. [WP, emphasis added]

An outbreak of military hostilities would have been more convincing—and would perhaps have helped bring pressure on India to yield ground to Pakistan on bilateral disputes. But even without it General Kayani has successfully fooled the Pakistani people with this manoeuvre. And he might have even changed the tenor of the relationship with the United States. Why? Because there are two possibilities: First, the United States will understand that it has no choice but to solicit the Pakistani army’s support if it wishes to fight on in Afghanistan. (The Khyber squeeze makes this point a little less politely.) And that this will bring back the good old al-Faida times where US money will keep Pakistan afloat and the military-jihadi complex well taken care of.

Second, the United States will find that since it is impossible to fight on in Afghanistan under these circumstances, it will head for an exit. Since the world will fear nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of al-Qaeda and Taliban, Pakistan will continue to receive foreign assistance and kid gloves even after this. It can then make arrangements for a return to the good old 1990s where it controlled Afghanistan and prosecuted the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir (whose inhabitants had lost faith in the Kalashnikov)

At this point, it is unlikely that the incoming Obama administration would take the second option. So the question for US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus is whether they will be satisfied with their success being circumscribed by General Kayani.