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

Primary Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teach...

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: low pay, E and non-E online, and the pointlessness of chess

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style