Did We Just Lose?

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I don’t think people are getting the seriousness of this.

In a move that some say appears ‘a total capitulation’ to pro-Taliban forces, Pakistan signed a peace deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan Tuesday, and is withdrawing military forces in exchange for promises that militant tribal groups there will not engage in terrorist activities.

To understand what this means, go back to our original purpose in invading Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, had an intimate relationship with Al Qaeda in the years leading up to 9/11. The Taliban gave Al Qaeda a safe haven in which to train and house recruits, a ‘home’ where Al Qaeda leaders could meet and plan.

After 9/11 we set out on a course of punishing the Taliban and denying Al Qaeda the use of this safe haven. Our purpose was not primarily to bring democracy to Afghanistan, or build schools for Afghan girls, but to improve our own security by denying Al Qaeda a secure base of operations.

The Taliban were overthrown. Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri escaped, along with a number of Taliban, over the border (we believe) into the Waziristan region in southern Pakistan. The Pakistani government — formerly the chief Taliban sponsor, but now an ally-of-convenience in the War on Terror — vowed to root them out, while forbidding us to do any of the rooting ourselves.

Now, after five years of futile efforts by the Pakistani government, they’ve signed a deal in which they promise to walk away if the Taliban behave themselves. It is a Pakistani surrender. They got beat, and now they are walking away.

But Waziristan — Talibanistan — is still legally under Pakistani sovereignty. So any US military action there will be a violation of same, and any tacit acquiescence by Pakistan’s military dictator, General Perfez Musharaf, would most likely bring down the general’s government.

In other words, Al Qaeda and the Taliban have traded Afghanistan for Waziristan, and gained this huge advantage: we dare not attack them there for fear of bringing Musharraf down.

Why are so we worried about General Musharraf? Because the Pakistanis have at least 15, and perhaps as many as 100, nuclear warheads. These aren’t maybe-in-five-years nukes, these are right now, tested, mounted-on-functional-missiles nukes. That single fact alone (and other factors as well) means we have to tread carefully in Pakistan because we cannot be sure that Musharraf’s replacement would be an improvment, and it’s quite likely we’d get something worse. Maybe a lot worse. Maybe about as bad as you can get.

Our goal was to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven in the near east. If this deal is what it looks like, we appear to have failed.

If this deal is what it looks like, we aren’t even back at square one: we’re wishing we could get back to square one.

In fact, if this deal is what it looks like, we just lost a war.