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January 17, 2008

Not Covering Themselves With Glory

The Pakistani military suffered a humiliating defeat today on the Afghan frontier, as Taliban elements raided a fort and killed several soldiers before falling back on their own volition. Although the fort remains in the hands of the Pakistan military, the loss gives the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies enhanced credibility -- and exposes the Pakistan army's weakness:

In an embarrassing battlefield defeat for Pakistan's army, Islamic extremists attacked and seized a small fort near the Afghan border, leaving at least 22 soldiers dead or missing.

The insurgents later abandoned the fort and melted away into the hills, said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. "There is no occupation of the Sararogha Fort. Militants have gone from there," he said. ....

Nearly 100,000 soldiers are now in the area, supported by heavy artillery and Cobra helicopter gunships, but they have had little success in stopping militants from infiltrating into Afghanistan or in quelling Pakistan's own worsening Islamic insurgency.

The Taliban and the Islamists have become emboldened after a long series of fights and appeasements. After years of conducting mostly ambushes on military patrols, the rebels now attack fixed positions in organized and moderately successful fashion. The army set up this particular post with a blend of local men, attempting to do what the US has more successfully done in Iraq by involving the local tribes in the security forces. It hasn't worked, and the failures of the army have weakened their standing among Pakistanis.

The result of the recent string of bolder attacks by the Taliban, including suicide bombings, may make it easier for Pervez Musharraf to ask for outside intervention. As ABC reports, American military analysts now believe that the leadership in Pakistan sees the Taliban now as an existential threat, one that they may not be able to handle on their own. They may soon be willing to pay the political price of American assistance and intervention, figuring that the alternative may be the end of their regime and the collapse of Pakistan into a failed state or worse.

It would be far better if the Pakistani Army could defeat the Taliban on its own, but that would require a determination to fight that Musharraf has yet to demonstrate. He created this situation himself with his repeated attempts to appease the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The results are instructive for anyone who thinks that they can negotiate for peaceful coexistence with radical Islamists.


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