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September 15, 2006
Now This Is Surrender

Pakistan has removed all doubt about its tenacity in fighting terrorism. The London Telegraph reports that Pervez Musharraf has released thousands of Taliban fighters caught in the five years since the US drove their government out of Afghanistan:

Pakistan's credibility as a leading ally in the war on terrorism was called into question last night when it emerged that President Pervez Musharraf's government had authorised the release from jail of thousands of Taliban fighters caught fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Five years after American-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom, United States officials have been horrified to discover that thousands of foreign fighters detained by Pakistan after fleeing the battleground in Afghanistan have been quietly released and allowed to return to their home countries.

Pakistani lawyers acting for the militants claim they have freed 2,500 foreigners who were originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qa'eda or the Taliban over the past four years.

The mass release of the prisoners has provoked a stern rebuke to the Musharraf regime from the American government. "We have repeatedly warned Pakistan over arresting and then releasing suspects," said a US diplomat in Islamabad. "We are monitoring their response with great concern."

This doesn't just call into question Pakistan's stomach for opposing radical Islam, it calls our entire relationship with Pakistan into question. We had worked with Musharraf because he promised to take a hard line against the terrorists, and for five years he had pretty consistently met that expectation. That hard line allowed us to rely on his forces to contain and capture jihadists in his territory, which until now meant that they stayed out of the fight.

The release changes the equation. We have a more natural affinity to India than Pakistan, especially considering the autocratic nature of the Musharraf regime. While Musharraf kept faith with the terror war, we engaged his regime and maintained military and diplomatic assistance. Now that Musharraf has essentially surrendered to the jihadists, we will feel much less constrained towards pursuing our natural alliance with an established and credible democracy.

It may also mean that we will cease our deference to Musharraf's borders. While a full-scale invasion from Afghanistan would not be in the offing, we have refrained from sending any forces across the frontier to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda elements fleeing Afghanistan. The Bush administration worried about undermining Musharraf by creating restiveness among the hard-line Islamist tribes. With Musharraf gone squish, we will care much less about his continued political health. That could mean hot-pursuit missions and perhaps more effective suppression of the AQ terrorists.

If we get word on Osama bon Laden's location, you can bet we'll cross the border now, even if some may have advised against it before. In that sense, Pakistan didn't just free up the Taliban fighters, it freed up options for US forces in Afghanistan. If that undermines Musharraf, then that's his problem and apparently ours no longer.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 15, 2006 5:49 AM

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