Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Islamabad: The Next Hotbed of Terrorist Activity?

What could only be described as a "nightmare scenario" for the U.S. and the rest of the world could very well be unfolding in Pakistan at this very moment. Earlier this month Taliban forces took over a region in Swat Valley in Pakistan. Swat Valley is a poor, rural region not too far from the ultra-modern capital city of Islamabad. With concessions and "peace treaties" from the Pakistani government, specifically Asif Ali Zardari, the Taliban saw the government's inability (or refusal) to take a strong stance against their advances as an invitation to plunge further into the heart of the country. CNN reported that Taliban forces have recently taken over the Buner region, which brings them one step closer to implementing their perverted version of Shariah (Islamic Law) in Islamabad and the rest of Pakistan.

I put the blame of this squarely on Mr. Zardari, who isn't even a real President, since he fraudulently took over the post following the elections. The Taliban situation would be unthinkable under Musharraf. During the time that Musharraf was in power, the Taliban was relegated to the far reaches of the Northern Frontier and the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Taliban training camps and meetings were held in secret, and their militia hid in caves that dotted the border. Members of the Taliban were afraid to even be identified in public, or in the media. The situation in Buder is such that "heavily armed men openly patrolled the roads in pickup trucks" and the Taliban is out in full force, in defiance of the Pakistani government.

Though I am not a proponent of U.S. involvement in foreign nations when the intervention is unwarranted and unwanted, it would be in our best interest to get involved as soon as possible, to prevent another possible Afghanistan situation to occur again. Pakistan and pre-Taliban Afghanistan have many similiarities: both have similar topographies, including a shared mountainous border, large swaths of poor, rural communities desperate for resources, pockets of educated but largely apathetic communities with access to all the country's resources, and a government unresponsive to the needs of the poor. All these factors provided the Taliban with a fertile recruiting ground in Afghanistan's rural regions. The only diference between Pakistan and Afghanistan is that Pakistan has a significant arsenal of nuclear weapons and the technology to produce more.

The U.S. and Pakistan should work together on ways to target and weed out Taliban influence and operations. Zardari needs to be held accountable and meet benchmarks for success. Should he fail to do so, the U.S. should withhold aid to Pakistan and Zardari should step down and allow a more competent leader to take on the post. Involvement in Pakistan is a necessity at this point. The extent of our involvement should be dictated by the Pakistani goverment's willingness to take responsibility and action for the problem on their own. If Zardari fails to take strong stance against Taliban clerics and military action against Taliban forces, the U.S. should intervene to take action against the Taliban on Pakistani soil.

But a more necessary action would be to cut of Taliban funding at the source. The Bush Administration made much adieu about prosecuting anyone in the U.S. who funds terrorist activities. Yet these funds coming from the U.S. are a paltry sum compared to the millions and millions and perhaps, billions of dollars that go to fund the Taliban from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries. The Saudi government is quick to provide funds for Islamic centers and activities that propagate Wahabbism, which is the root of Taliban ideology, whether in the U.S. or abroad. When we signal to Saudi Arabia that this is no longer appropriate and that we will end diplomatic relations until it stops, then and only then will we see the Taliban shrink back into the caves that they were previously hiding in. Until then, the Taliban will continue to be richly funded by Saudi oil money, (provided generously by oil consuming nations, such as the U.S.) and they wil continue to threaten our security and the security of the rest of the world.