Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?
June 13th, 2014
03:44 PM ET

Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?

By Daniel Markey, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

On Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. drones fired missiles in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan for the first known strikes since late December. In the wake of this week’s two terrorist attacks on Karachi’s airport, the drone strikes mean one of two things. Either Pakistan’s leaders have finally decided to launch a long-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan, the home base of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), or U.S. officials have grown so frustrated with Pakistan’s dithering that they decided to take the fight into their own hands.

Let’s hope that Pakistan has finally decided for war. The next six months offer what is likely the best – and quite possibly the last – chance for Washington and Islamabad to work together against a terrorist group that threatens the peace in Pakistan, has extended its operations into Afghanistan, and would undoubtedly attack the United States if ever given the chance.

Any further delay would be costly. As President Barack Obama announced last month, all but 9,800 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by year’s end. That drawdown in military power will also mean reduced CIA operations along the Pakistani border, including the sort of surveillance and drone strikes that would give any Pakistan military operation a greater lethal punch.

Had they been wiser, Pakistani leaders would have launched a North Waziristan campaign several years ago, when U.S. forces were present in greater numbers. Indeed, Islamabad and Washington used to speak of a “hammer and anvil” approach to striking terrorists all along the rugged and porous border, but despite frequent American entreaties, Pakistan’s leaders were never willing to strike. Over the past year, Pakistan’s civilian government, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has preferred fruitless, on-again-off-again peace talks with the TTP to war.

Better late than never, though, because the TTP has shown itself to be a resilient adversary with every intention of bringing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of nearly 200 million people, to its knees. Karachi is but the latest of the TTP’s many atrocities, and not the first time the group has hit a high-profile and presumably well-defended target.

In addition to several attacks on major Pakistani military bases, Taliban operatives also allegedly murdered former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, shot the young student activist Malala Yousafzai and were linked to the blowing up of Islamabad’s Marriott hotel. Although the TTP is not yet as sophisticated an enemy as al Qaeda, its leaders are opportunistic and believed to be eager to take their fight to distant shores – Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who in May 2010 attempted to blow up his SUV in Times Square, collaborated with the TTP.

To their belated credit, Pakistan’s generals now recognize the TTP as their greatest immediate security threat (although India always looms just over the horizon). The trouble lies in the way the army has handled its disagreements with Pakistan’s civilian government about when and how to confront that threat. Rather than accepting Sharif’s authority and influencing his policy decisions through a normal advisory process, the military has resorted to nasty tricks, like shutting down the nation’s biggest television network, Geo. Geo’s ties to the prime minister run deep, and the military’s muscle flexing sends the unmistakable message that Sharif could be the next to go.

In short, Pakistan’s generals are stoking the flames of a civil-military dispute at precisely the time when the nation’s leaders need to pull together against the TTP. Although few Pakistanis anticipate a Thai or Egyptian-style coup in the offing – if only because Pakistan’s army has learned through experience the downsides of trying to run the country itself – rumors abound that the top brass is looking to install a more pliable civilian replacement for Sharif.

Unfortunately, none of Pakistan’s realistic alternatives to Sharif hold great promise as statesmen or administrators, and by riding into office on the back of the military, the next government would be born tarnished by democratic illegitimacy. That combination of ineffective and unpopular rule is a classic recipe for state failure. The Pakistani Taliban could hardly hope for more.

For its part, the United States should not speak only the language of drone strikes, which will be of only tactical utility if not followed by a serious ground campaign. Limited as Washington’s diplomatic leverage with Pakistan may be, billions in U.S. economic and military assistance still buy sufficient access to deliver tough messages to Pakistan’s generals and politicians. Pakistan’s army needs a quick, stiff warning to stop hounding the media and government. The civilian government, in turn, would benefit from outside encouragement to mobilize public support for a ground campaign against the Taliban in North Waziristan, likely to be long and costly under even the best of circumstances.

Such messages would be strengthened if delivered in coordination with Pakistan’s other close friends in China and Saudi Arabia, both of whom would also prefer to see a unified Pakistani state seize its best chance to bring the Taliban insurgency to heel.

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. chri§§y

    The US would be very foolish to believe Pakistan would take any action AGAINST the taliban! Look how long they hid Bin Laden and the retaliation they've displayed to the doctor that aided the US in flushing him out!

    June 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
    • naveed

      Osama Bin Laden was CIA Agent in 1980s he was not in abbottabad it was just a drama american foolish made...

      June 14, 2014 at 9:27 am |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Hopefully Pakistan won't succeed if they do decide to launch a new offensive. Pakistan has never been anything but a U.S. satellite state for a long time. The Pakistanis need to quit talking orders from Washington and sue the Taliban for peace.

    June 13, 2014 at 6:18 pm |
    • First Class Pakistani

      First of all, Pakistan has experienced great amount of refugees since USA took action on Afghan. These immigrants illegally infiltrated Pakistan, up to 3.5 million are currently and illegally residing in this country. Secondly, due to their weak financial background, lack in education an knowledge, they've apparently took on jobs as construction workers, farmers, miners etc, out of which "90%" are deemed to be terrorists since they have no interest in become legal and working in the interest of Pakistan. We are struggling to negotiate and remove them from our soil. Furthermore, more than 20,000 Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Tajki's etc and many more foreign occupants have decided to live in Pakistan, our greatest efforts is to have them removed completely as these people due to their lack in finance, education, common knowledge and religious knowledge has always proven to be the key problem. They've managed to conduct in extort, human trafficking, target killing, drugs and narcotics, terrorism, rebellion and theft the most. Probably, in relation to earn some dough so they may be able to save up and either move to some other country or live in ours. Their never were any ethnic Pakistani found to be terrorists. Even Osama Bin Laden was of Saudi Arabia origin. People should think hard and trace the terrorists back to their ethnicity and which routes they come from. That is all. Carry on folks.

      June 14, 2014 at 11:52 pm |
  3. chri§§y

    Lmao @ fake Joey...sue the taliban??? Yea ok like thats gonna happen lol.

    June 13, 2014 at 6:36 pm |
  4. George patton

    nope. Pakistan and Taliban terrorists are inseparable siamese twin.

    June 13, 2014 at 7:02 pm |
    • George patton

      I agree with Joey above, Phunnie boy. I'd love to see peace return to Pakistan once more but that won't happen as long as Pakistan is under the thumb of Washington D.C.! Pakistan needs to recover it's true independence.

      June 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
      • George patton

        to be precise "peace won't happen in Pakistan as long as Pakistan army is under the thumb of Washington D.C."; Weak Pakistan government is just a front for Pak army to avoid US Economic Sanctions against them, Phunnie boy.

        June 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm |
      • Dark Passenger

        First man to speak the truth,God bless you!

        June 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm |
  5. chri§§y

    Lol he aint the only phunnie boy @ George! Pakistan isnt under the thumb of those in Washington...its more like "lets not p i s s off our banker!" They like havin a cash cow like the US. Face it money talks and BS walks.

    June 13, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
  6. chri§§y

    Lol @ George Patton...wherever did you get this "phunnie boy" thing anyway? And yea you're probably right about the sanction theory, i hadnt thought of that! Good observation!

    June 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm |
    • rupert

      Never mind that phunnie girl.

      June 14, 2014 at 10:30 pm |
  7. Ferhat Balkan

    The Taliban is simply too powerful for the Pakistani government or military. I believe Pakistan should concentrate on protecting their schools and provide more education opportunities for women. In time, with educated youth the Taliban will be a thing of the past. Confronting the Taliban directly will only lead to civil war.

    June 13, 2014 at 9:54 pm |
    • rupert

      Yes Fermat. So true.
      I miss RZ. Are u he?

      June 14, 2014 at 10:27 pm |
    • son of the soil

      building schools and educating girls is a bit difficult when the taliban are incessantly targeting these schools and the children who study in them. The taliban have to be removed and only then can Pakistani children be educated (which will ensure that the taliban doesn't re-emerge.)

      June 17, 2014 at 5:22 am |
  8. Syed

    Pakistan is a country which does not trust even its Chief of Staff because of himself being Muhajir (migrated from India). Muhajirs sacrified all for the creation of Pakistan but they shot dead its first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan being muhajir. The biggest problem of nawaz and his aim of life is now to suck blood of a muhajir general who was also being killed on plane by nawaz. At a time when Pakistan is sorrunded by enemies, it has many complicated internal problem, nawaz is only adament of getting rid of a muhair general. He will never book any Punjabi general. Nawaz never bothers for Karachi, no circular railway (although funds were allocated), no local bodies election, no water, no basic amenities. Ironically all Punjabi judges and journalists (even Javed Ch.) will favor him because Punjabies are very narrow minded when muhajir cause is in front. This is the crux of problem and this is Pakistan. Musharraf got rid of IMF, he was holding dollar on 60, HEC was on peak, he boldly represented Pakistan everywhere, he was being killed on plane but he is hated because of being muhajir.

    June 14, 2014 at 3:01 am |
    • Fahad

      Syed, stop this ethnic crap that you are saying, you should be ashamed of yourself for talking this crap,

      Who told you that Pakistanis don't trust their own Cheif of Army staff, Is General Raheel Shareef a Mohajir?

      90 percent of the people in Pakistan are with its army because they know how traitors like you and some of the bad elements within the government of Pakistan and especially the politicians of Pakistan are causing problems.

      Stop coming here and talking about this and stop barking.

      June 14, 2014 at 4:39 am |
      • naveed

        Taliban should not be Blamed!!!!

        June 14, 2014 at 9:29 am |
      • First Class Pakistani

        Naveed, Taliban should be blamed. It's uneducated people like you that don't analyze data and statistics carefully. First of all; all the terrorists that were killed, captured were noted to be of tribal regions, and were not ethnic Pakistani, they maybe the first generation entrants, but the true Pakistani are of third generation which have a long history living here and are deemed to be settled with adequate and moderate jobs and property while located in proper societies. The ones we see as infiltrators are those located at tribal regions; which are likely the culprits at every case.

        June 15, 2014 at 12:01 am |
    • Aamir

      very distasteful Syed!
      the Urdu speaking should consider themselves Pakistanis first.
      if they themselves refer to themselves as Muhajirs (immigrants from India) then don't blame anyone else but yourself.
      this is not the forum for discussing family matters anyways...have some respect for yourself at least
      urdu speaking people should stop listening to Altaf's FIKRI NASHIST style politics borrowed from Russia.

      June 14, 2014 at 10:01 am |
    • Faran

      Stop this nonsense! I am an urdu speaker, my parents keep telling me to think how muhagirs were discriminated against. But the truth is that all losers who couldn't accomplish anything in life claim this. I agree there was some discrimination, but that happens every where in the world. I have come to realize that my ancestors were unreasonable people, ex. I went for a job and they gave the job to the punjabi guy because the interviewer was a punjabi. This is the lamest excuse in life, here in USA, we learn directly at University level that you must build connections, a network, this helps you advance your carrier, you cannot believe in utopia.
      And I guess you are MQM supporter like I use to be many years ago, the reality is that there was only one discrimination and that is the quota system, but our so called leaders never tried to campaign against it. That why all educated urdu speakers left the party and the only ones which remain are people who couldn't do any thing in life or are theifs ( you know the mobile thieves, dacoit, and gangsters) off course no one says it out loud that they don't like MQM, common no one wants bhai to come after them.

      June 14, 2014 at 2:51 pm |
      • son of the soil

        Faran..your insight is fantastic. Kudos to you sir

        June 17, 2014 at 5:29 am |
    • Ahmed

      Mr. Syed Nawaz's parent came from india ( Muhajir ) and his family settled in Punjab like many other immigrants. During his first term as prime minister he build roads in the village in india where his parents immigrated from off course with Pakistani money. MQM, Taliban and Nawaz sharif are gifts of Zia-ul-Haq with US blessing.

      June 16, 2014 at 11:56 pm |
    • son of the soil

      what in God's green earth are you rambling on about!

      June 17, 2014 at 5:25 am |
  9. Syed

    What caused MQM's creation. Only one example. If Punjabi police or ranger catches a muhajir and Punjabi student together for bribe and punjabi student introduces himself as Punjabi they clearly spare him in front of all in a broad day light.

    June 14, 2014 at 3:09 am |
    • Aamir

      go back to India then.
      most of Muhajirs came from India LONG AFTER independence anyway.
      everyone knows Muhajirs are the most racist people in Pakistan see how they treated bangla people in Bihar India
      even in India they hate Muhajir people so be grateful that Sindhi people accepted you with open arms.

      June 14, 2014 at 10:05 am |
      • mimi

        no thank you . we don't need any more mooslems in India. should have sent all the pigs packing in 1947.

        June 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
      • Ø

        Mimi, watch your language. It's uncivilized to place statements while calling people who happen to be Muslims as pigs. Please seek advice from some adult and make sure to remain as far away from the keyboard as you can.

        June 15, 2014 at 12:14 am |
  10. BetterTime

    No, Talibans will finally take over Pakistan … exactly same way in Iraq. And that ISLAMIC WASTELAND will be soon non-existent in world map.

    June 14, 2014 at 8:39 am |
    • Ø

      The strategic location of Pakistan is of most highest concern and of great benefit to Asia. You should really study up the terms "Globalization and the Global Economy". Their are many points set within the context that explain why countries with rich resources are of great importance to those countries that are resource hungry and how productive potentials and balance in trade can benefit all of the world economy, lowering inflation, unemployment and stabilizing while providing welfare returns to the investors. Having just one economy in the world experience disaster is enough to off-set the global economy. For example, consider the situation of influx of Afghan nationals to Europe right after USA's operation over there. Just think of the number of burden on your social security and welfare system just because of one insecure country. I'd advise you to consider your wording carefully, and do research more often, rather than placing posts that may be deemed narrow-minded and non-strategic.

      June 15, 2014 at 12:21 am |
  11. j. von hettlingen

    Indeed, it looks as though Pakistan's military wants to undermine Nawaz Sharif's authority. If he were "the next to go", the military had somebody else in mind to replace him : Imran Khan. The author might not see Khan as a "realistic alternative" to Sharif, but this is how military does politics – they have often no long-term policies.

    June 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  12. dovyhawk

    It is the Pakistan army that wanted to lauch an attack on Taliban in the winter when they had been cornered in the snowy mountains. It was Nawaz Sharif who did not allow and started talkking with Taliban. The army knew they were buying time till summer and as the snow melts they will come doen the mountains in hordes and lauch terroriat attacks on Pakistan. This is exactly what happened.

    Army was right. Sharif was wrong.

    It is time for US to stop supporting Nawaz Sharif and the so called sham de,mocracy and support Pakistan Army in its efforts against Taliban.

    It is the Pakistan Army that has sacrificed 10,000 officers and soldiers in war against Taliban and not the politicians like Nawaz Sharif. US should support the Army.

    June 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
  13. chri§§y

    @ Dovyhawk, the US Military is also the ones that sacrifice soldiers and officers also! Not the warmongering elected clowns that keep pushing for this country to be involved in all these battles. Those like McCain and Graham! I think McCain's thoughts on it may be in relation to his service so he may have honorable intentions even though they are ill advised! As for the other warmongers....i believe their motivation is pure greed! Possibly McCain is motivated by greed as well but he should be given the benefit of doubt because of his service history. Thats only my opinion though.

    June 14, 2014 at 2:27 pm |
  14. john rocha jr

    The Taliban are a significant force operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. With this, the tug-of-war across the line-of-control in Kashmir take up significant amounts of time in negotiations to preserve what peace Pakistan has. Whether a person is mujahadir or not should be nonsignificant as long as they are operating for peace and the security of Pakistan. Pakistan is technically not part of the Middle East but they are right at the cusp of involvement and thus have some say about what happens there, and in Afghanistan. These activities alone mean that Pakistan is a place to watch.

    June 14, 2014 at 3:34 pm |
  15. kalpak

    I suspect that the TTP are fighting for their cut of protection money which Pakistan extracted from the US.

    June 14, 2014 at 10:09 pm |
  16. rupert

    RZ. Where are u. Banasy and chrissy miss u.
    come back

    June 14, 2014 at 10:28 pm |
  17. chri§§y

    I agree @ rupert! I do miss him he had the best sense of humor didnt he?

    June 14, 2014 at 10:45 pm |
  18. rupert

    Yes. Great Witt too. Just an awesome guy. I think he was very knowledgeable like joey and George Patton troll.
    I think he left because he prefers other chat rooms.
    but hey cutie patootie, we still have u.
    And that makes us all winners here♥

    June 14, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
  19. chri§§y

    Hmm is that sarcasm? Lol

    June 14, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
  20. Lulumon

    Pakistan has decided to take on the Taliban and take the country back to normalcy. It is a policy decision of its military. And while there will be innumerable costs associated with it it has to be done.

    June 15, 2014 at 6:55 am |
  21. rhs

    Let's see the whole scenario in its proper perspective. First of all TTP is different from Afghan Taliban. It is TTP fighting Pakistan while Afghan Taliban are Pakistan's assets. North Waziristan Tribal Agency is a landlocked area surrounded on west by Afghanistan which is currently occupied by USA. There are numerous Indian consulates in Afghanistan especially in cities close to Pakistan border. Now, to sustain a war against a nation state, TTP need finances, arms and ammunation, logistic support and numerous sustenance paraphernalia. The only way TTP can have access is through Afghanistan where USA and Indian influence is present. The first TTP chief was released from guantanamo prison by USA and sent over to Waziristan. He was even provided with a state-of-the-art prosthetic limb! As Pakistan resisted US dictates that were against its national interest, it paid a price in the form of TTP. How can TTP get arms and ammunition and logistic support from Afghanistan when US forces are occupying the territory. US satellites can read a number plate so it cannot see a truckload of supplies? Mullah Fazallulah who escaped into Afghanistan is under Afghan Govt santuary and Afghan Govt is under USA sanctuary. What we need to see is the actual issue. Pakistan, just like Israel came into being in the name of religion. Like Israel, Pakistan is pitched against a bigger enemy, India in Pakistan's case. Indian influence in Afghanistan means constant destablisation of Pakistan by India. It goes back to Mukti Bahini rebels in East Pakistan in 1971 where these rebels were supported by India. Pakistan does not want Indian influence in Afghanistan. US wants India to have its influence in Afghanistan and this creates the whole mess. You remove India from Afghan equation and you will have peace. India fears, and rightfully, that once US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Taliban will move into Kashmir as since 1979 entire generations have only seen war and nothing else. The best way to sort out the whole situation is to keep India out of Afghanistan. Peace will be restored everywhere.

    June 15, 2014 at 2:10 pm |
  22. Danial

    Well clearly the action and the attack on the Taliban is real. More pakistani soldiers have lost their lives and have had to bury their comrades with their heads chopped off by Taliban than any other country. The article makes it sound like the army is trying to take over but its simply trying to place pressure on the government because Sharif and TTP links are really strong too. Thats why the government isn't willing to attack TTP.

    The reality is that Pakistani special forces have been guiding the american drone attacks but have been denying it in the media because these heavily armed Taliban can seriously damage the vulnerable Pakistani infrastructure. Also, the reality is that the Pakistani ISI gave America the location of the place Bin Laden was living at. Keeping a terrorist leader under house arrest and making him do things is better than having some other psycho take his place. The people who came after Bin Laden are worse and are globally expanding.

    We have provided Iraq as a new foundation for the terrorists and we need to control it now. Al Qaeda and Saddam never got along but by taking out Saddam we have created a void that is now ripe for a new terrorist state.

    June 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm |
  23. MomadMonkey

    Hoping Pakistan will fix its terrorism problem is like hoping that the Muslum's will fix their violence problem, or a heroin addicted schizophrenic to fix himself

    June 15, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
  24. AA

    This rambling article by Mr. Milks has some historical points on relationship between good and naive old USA and characterless pakistan are correctl

    June 16, 2014 at 5:18 am |
  25. Haroon

    The US should now appreciate and not let the opportunity slip away, should also finally stop the terrorist entering in their territory (afghanistan) and trace the terrorist hiding in afghanistan that cross the border and create chaos in Pakistan.

    June 16, 2014 at 6:47 am |
  26. Bahadur ali

    We are not muhajir , sindhi, blochi nor we are pakistani first we are MUSLIMS first. And we will teach lesson to usa and ttp that they will never forget.ALLAH AKBAR

    June 16, 2014 at 2:40 pm |
  27. Muslim

    Talibanization -or talibanic thinking is now every where in Pakistan and Indian states, as Deobandis are everywhere. they do not think to use science and technology to make life better, they only think for Jannat (paradise) this idiotic thinking making very narrow minded extremist people, even they are doctors and engineers but they have in their mind this wrong islamic way. Come back to point- Quran is the only book muslim should follow not hadith, hadith are the problems as they are not true reflection of saying of prophet. I must say here if all muslim want to follow only quran and hadith and have problem and conflict with western countries then ( all those who have this narrow minded state) should not use computers,TV, should not use motor cycle, cars even bycycle, should not use any medicine and should not use Gellite blue 2 to shave under arms and under dick as these all things have been invented by non-muslims, think please think read Quran properly-it gives you an indication of Evolution theory, it gives indication of how to spend your life, it does not say that kill people , how taliban can make bomb and kill hundreds of innocent people....Taliban should be vanished from this world, May Allah give us all muslim a sight to see the real life. All molvees use mobile phones , the device invented by non-muslims, ok you have right to use it but you do not have right to declare other non-muslim people a fuel of hell. !!!

    November 2, 2014 at 7:50 pm |

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