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Belmont Club

One country’s nightmare experience with engaging the Taliban

April 23rd, 2009 - 8:31 pm

Pakistan’s. The Dawn is describing the pell-mell retreat that followed the government’s negotiatated agreement with Islamists. The province of Swat is now doubtful and the retreat continues towards Islamabad. The Dawn asks what happens if “the center cannot hold”.

The instrument of surrender in Swat was more or less unanimously endorsed following a perfunctory parliamentary debate — and even that gesture appeared to spook the Awami National Party and its leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan, who threatened to pull the ANP out of its alliance with Zardari’s PPP in the event of the bill being presented for discussion to the National Assembly. There appears to be a relatively simple explanation for the ANP’s nervousness: it is very, very scared of the Taliban and their allies. Which says a lot about the state of affairs in the NWFP. …

‘The government,’ according to a report in The Guardian at the weekend, ‘is urging foreign embassies to move into a diplomatic enclave that may soon resemble Baghdad’s green zone.’ Almost everyone acknowledges, however, that adequate precautions against suicide bombers are hardly feasible. The vulnerabilities of Lahore and Karachi — to say nothing of Quetta and Peshawar — have already been demonstrated, while the likes of Baitullah Mehsud are free to hold press conferences, evidently with little fear of interception.

Defeat begins in the mind. It starts in the way we think; or rather when we don’t: when it is no longer possible to call things by the right names. When the enemy becomes a “militant” and pirates become “raiders”. It continues when car bombs become romantically characterized  as the “poor man’s F-16″. The end nears when mass murderers can don the mantle of victims who “progressive” lawyers hasten to defend; and indeed demand compensation for. Finally it reaches the stage when political organizations sworn to the destruction of everything become, through some alchemic passage of the Nobel Prize magic wand, esteemed “partners for peace”. The farcical part of the any catastrophe often lies in what people are urged to want; the tragic part occurs when they get it.

The Dawn concludes on a chilling note. But can things be this bad?

If the centre cannot hold, things will inevitably fall apart. Every now and then the odd flicker of hope can be glimpsed, but chances of redemption are fading fast. Once India concludes its drawn-out electoral process, it might be well-advised to make contingency arrangements for a wave of refugees driven by Islamist anarchy.

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