Pakistan’s impending ‘Cambodian Moment’ (Comment)

May 3rd, 2009 - 11:37 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Harold A. Gould
The latest news from the Hindu Kush makes one thing painfully apparent: The Taliban/Al Qaeda jihadistani quasi state, “Jihadistan Emirate”, has achieved critical mass. It has now metastasized into a killer disease that threatens the survival of Pakistan’s fragile democracy.

The decisive indication that coherent political integration has been achieved by the Taliban is their successful conquest of Swat. This initial incursion outside their montane territorial fortress now shows that Taliban/Al Qaeda can call the shots regarding subsequent targets. This is evident from their deliberate and systematic expansion from Swat into the contiguous portions of Malakand Division, commencing with Buner district.

What is striking is that they are undertaking the latter in blatant defiance of agreements that were ostensibly ratified between them and the Pakistani government. It is clear, in other words, that the Taliban/Al Qaeda leadership view understandings and agreements that have been made with government authorities in the course of their politico-military expansion purely in tactical terms.

They sense the weakness and paralysis of the Pakistani government, and its consequent willingness (nay eagerness!) to engage in political appeasement, as a golden opportunity to gradually overpower and gain control of the Pakistani state.

The signs are everywhere that the Taliban/Al Qaeda strategy is working, and the authority of the Pakistan government is gradually waning despite official assurances to the contrary. Pakistani officials insist that the situation is under control when all the evidence points in the opposite direction. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alluded to the “existential threat” to Pakistan’s survival posed by the extremists, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, replied that “we do not have a situation in which the government or the country of Pakistan is about to fall to the Taliban.”

His statement exemplifies the state of denial the democratically elected government of Pakistan is in. Clearly, President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and even army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani are in a state of paralytic inaction.

If one is searching for an analogy to what may be forthcoming from the Hindu Kush, in the face of the breakdown of popular government in Pakistan, it might not be far fetched to look no further than the Pol Pot phenomenon and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. There are disturbing similarities between the two cases.

As the Khmer Rouge germinated and perfected their retrograde Maoist extremism in the remote jungle backwater of Cambodia, so the Taliban and Al Qaeda have honed their brand of doctrinal extremism and their accompanying organizational apparatus in the remote valleys of the Hindu Kush. As in the case of the Khmer Rouge, the Americans and the purportedly more advanced segments of Pakistani society at first took the extremists lightly, slighted them strategically, and indeed played political footsie with them until it became apparent that they were a serous threat.

When it seemed to then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger that the Khmer Rouge could be useful in opposing the North Vietnamese, in January 1968 the US Army helped the Khmer Rouge establish the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea, which materially strengthened them. Much as ISI and the CIA from time to time bolstered the Taliban when it seemed they might be of value to both countries’ regional strategic interests.

There is another horror scenario waiting in the wings should a political collapse result in a “Cambodian Moment” for Pakistan. A Taliban regime in Pakistan would not only tear at the social fabric of Pakistan and plunge millions of Pakistanis into fratricidal conflict, it would potentially place nuclear weapons in the hands of lunatics like Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar!

This would impose on US President Barack Obama a moral dilemma beyond anything he could have imagined or contemplated when he assumed office. The only option open to him would be to take out the Pakistani nuclear facility at Chagai Hills in much the same manner, but on a grander scale, than Israel did when it feared that Saddam Husain’s Daura reactor near Baghdad would go critical by July or August of 1981.

The ramifications this would have for South Asia and indeed the entire world boggle the mind.

Yet this is a scenario whose occurrence cannot be dismissed as long as Pakistan’s civil society acting through its elected secular government, in consonance with the United States and the UN, move decisively before it is too late.

(03.05.2009 - Harold A. Gould is visiting scholar in South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia. He can be contacted at harold.gould4@verizon.net)

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