Leading article: The advance of the Taliban is a threat to the Pakistani state

The one consolation is that the US administration appreciates the risk

Share
Related Topics

There are reasons why reports that the Taliban have advanced within 70 miles of Pakistan's capital may not be quite as alarming as they at first appear. One is that Islamabad is, relatively speaking, not so very far from the tribal areas where the Taliban has long been powerful. Another is that the Taliban is adept at playing cat-and-mouse games, advancing only to withdraw when it encounters determined opposition, and, by dispatching troops to the area, the Pakistan government has shown that it intends to draw a line.

But it must also be admitted that this is scant, and probably temporary, consolation. If, as it appears, Taliban forces have taken over the district of Buner, this is a significant advance and one that will not be easy to reverse. It threatens to alter the balance of advantage between the Taliban and the Islamabad government. Pakistan's future, both as a democracy and as a unitary state is at risk – even if it remains a very flawed example of both.

With hindsight, it may be asked whether the concessions made by the government of Asif Ali Zardari that agreed a military truce and sanctioned the introduction of Sharia law into the Swat Valley were mistaken. Both moves undoubtedly signalled a retreat by the central government. And it was a retreat that has lamentable consequences, not only for the lives of many people, especially women, in the region, but in facilitating the Taliban's advance. No longer threatened closer to home, its forces could move towards Islamabad.

Realistically, though, when the government agreed the truce, it had little choice. Borne to power on the wave of sympathy that followed the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, Mr Zardari was a weak president from the start. His failure to honour his election promise to reinstate the judges sacked by his predecessor, until he was forced by popular pressure to do so, demonstrated the extent of that weakness. The truce was as much as anything a recognition, however undesirable, of the status quo.

There is little to be optimistic about, when contemplating the immediate prospects for Pakistan – except perhaps in one respect. President Obama has been clear from the start of his presidency that he sees Pakistan as the key to the stability – or, currently, instability – of the region. In appointing the highly experienced and straight-talking diplomat Richard Holbrooke as his special envoy to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he showed the seriousness of his intentions. During his recent trip to Europe, he also stressed his awareness that military force alone was no answer – in either country. The assistance he has earmarked for Pakistan, particularly for education, was a creditable start.

One difficulty is that, by endorsing continued bombing raids in Pakistan's tribal areas – for the sake of enhancing security in Afghanistan – the Obama administration is at once alienating Pakistanis (not only Taliban sympathisers) and undermining what authority remains to Mr Zardari. This is a contradiction that needs to be addressed.

At least, under this administration, the US has no illusions about the dangers emanating from an unstable Pakistan. In testimony to Congress this week, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced fears that Pakistan's government was abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists and described the situation as "a mortal threat to the safety of our country and the world". Only by starting from such an unadorned diagnosis, can there be any chance of a solution.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power