To beat Taliban, Pak must contain political instability, improve economy: STRATFOR

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Washington, Aug.14 (ANI): Since the start of the U.S. Vs ihadist war in late 2001, and particularly since the rise of the Taliban rebellion within its own borders in recent years, Pakistan has been seen as a state embroiled in a jihadist insurgency threatening its very survival, a report by the intelligence think tank STRATFOR says.

Indeed, until late April, it appeared that Pakistan was buckling under the onslaught of a Taliban rebellion that had consumed large chunks of territory in the northwest and was striking at the country's core, but now according to STRATFOR, in the last three months, the country has staged a dramatic comeback, beginning with an offensive in Swat and adjacent districts that has resulted in Pakistan Government regaining control over most of the affected areas.

According to the report, while many observers still view Pakistan as a state beset by a jihadist insurgency, the government's counter-insurgency campaign has clearly taken center stage. At the same time, the Pakistani authorities are aware that the jihadists are and will remain a significant threat for the foreseeable future.

For the moment though, the state has the upper hand in the struggle.

The question that arises in most people's minds is how has the government of Pakistan been able to turn the situation around?

The dual security threats from domestic and foreign jihadists, coupled with political instability and an economy on the verge of collapse, created intense pressure on the Pakistani state. This pressure led to a consensus within the military-intelligence establishment that regaining control over Islamist militants was critical to the survival of the country.

Therefore, according to the STRATFOR report, the first order of business for Islamabad was to deal with the renewed pressure from Washington and defuse tensions with New Delhi in order to avoid war.

"This required going after rogue elements of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) - aka Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) - which, Pakistan acknowledged, masterminded the Mumbai attacks.... Getting tough with LeT/JuD required the military-intelligence leadership to make further personnel changes within the country's premier spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, a process that had been under way since army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani appointed the current ISI director-general, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in September 2008."

"Pakistan was able to ward off the threat of war with India but, in the process, the Pakistani Taliban assumed a more menacing posture. The crackdown against LeT/JuD was useful in that it was the first major move against a former proxy," says the report.

That paved the way for a wider campaign against Taliban forces in Swat and FATA.

The stakeholders in Islamabad realized there was no alternative to fighting the Taliban rebels, and admitted that this, too, was a daunting task.

Initially, the fear of turning more and more Pashtuns into Taliban, prevented the state from taking meaningful action.

Therefore, the state concentrated on buying time, held negotiations with the Taliban group in Swat that resulted in the peace deal.

Emboldened by their victory in establishing a Taliban emirate in the greater Swat region, the Taliban group there decided to push farther eastward, sending its fighters into Buner district and demanding that Shariah be imposed not just in the greater Swat region but also in the entire country.

The move on the part of the Swat Taliban to try and project power beyond their turf proved to be the turning point where the state finally realized it needed to take a firm stand against the rebels.

It was at that time, in late April, that the government embarked on Operation Rah-i-Rast with the goal of eliminating the Taliban stronghold in the Swat region. Though the offensive was limited to Swat and its adjacent districts, the state took advantage of the budding public opinion against the jihadists and launched a major media campaign against "Talibanization" that proved extremely useful.

In the three and a half months since the Swat offensive began, the government has successfully cleared Taliban fighters from most of the region.

"Indeed, the Swat Taliban network has been disrupted and its war-making machine degraded to the point where it no longer has the capability to regain control over the area," claims the STRATFOR report.

TP leader Baitullah Mehsud's death has initiated a power struggle among his associates for control of his group that Islamabad will exploit.

Though the Swat Taliban have been damaged, they have not been entirely defeated. This, according to STRATFOR, will only happen when their leadership is captured or killed.

"Restoring the writ of the state entails the re-establishment of political administration and local law enforcement. Any counterinsurgency campaign in the tribal areas is going to be exponentially more difficult than the offensive in Swat. This is why the military is now aligning itself with pro-Pakistani tribal and militant forces to try and root out those waging war against the state," says the report.

Therefore, Pakistan's ability successfully to press ahead with this multidimensional effort will depend on its ability to contain political instability within tolerable limits and improve economic conditions. (ANI)

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