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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swift action needed in Pakistan to protect its nuclear arsenal

If foreign intervention was necessary to force regime change in Afghanistan, why not foreign intervention in Pakistan? After all, rooting out Taliban and terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan is critical to success in the Afghan war. And while I doubt regime change is the answer in Pakistan, perhaps foreign air support with special forces on the ground will be needed to help Pakistan defeat the insurgency in its western region that borders Afghanistan.

It is doubtful Pakistan could allow large numbers of foreign military personnel on its soil—no government that did would survive. However, commando units operating in the areas in which the Taliban and al-Qaida are concentrated could be used to track the enemy and guide air strikes.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has called Pakistan the most dangerous place on earth. No overstatement this, for according to the United Nations nuclear agency, Pakistan has 30 to 40 nuclear warheads. And the increasing success of Taliban and al-Qaida militants pose a very real threat to the safety of this nuclear arsenal.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, accused Pakistan this week of “abdicating to the Taliban,” which “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”

Pakistan’s President Zardari recently made a deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley, allowing them to establish a fundamentalist enclave there in exchange for laying down their arms. The Taliban have not disarmed, however, and during the past week its fighters poured out of Swat into the neighbouring district of Buner. There they have taken control of government buildings and dug in at strategic positions. This brings the Taliban militants to within 100 kilometres of the capital, Islamabad. A chilling development indeed.

It is not likely that, even with a much stepped up military effort, Pakistan can defeat the insurgency on its own. This is especially so since its own spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, is said to have elements that are sympathetic to the Taliban.

And what of the other nuclear power in the region, India? India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the disputed Kashmir region. And last year’s attack by Pakistan-based terrorists on Mumbai resulted in thousands more Pakistani troops being sent to their border with India to guard against a counterattack.

If Pakistan is to concentrate on their border with Afghanistan as opposed to their border with India, then the West must convince India to set aside its animus towards Pakistan, at least, until the danger to world peace represented by the Taliban and by al-Qaida terrorists has been dealt with.

Since India depends on the West for much of its increasing prosperity, one would think enough diplomatic pressure could be brought to bear to get it to back off and allow Pakistani troops to be concentrated in Pakistan’s tribal belt on the Afghanistan border. There, with Western air support, Pakistan might be able to root out the Taliban and others who are threatening its national security.

In the longer term though, something has to be done to counteract the spreading religious fanaticism in Pakistan, and to replace the role played by the hundreds of fundamentalist religious schools, madrassas, that indoctrinate young jihadists. This will take an major international effort and bags of money to fund the development necessary to win the hearts and minds of the young people so that they are persuaded not to join the insurgency and international terrorist organizations.

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  1. I suspect the eye in the sky is keeping watch. Any chance of the Taliban getting anywhere near the nukes will be the last thing they do.