A major question people have with regard to all this business of the Taliban and the military is whether the Pakistani military is physically capable of taking on the Taliban. There are people who doubt the Pakistani military can. Many operations in the past have been Pyrrhic – the military faced massive casualties. Incompetence is exacerbated by the geopolitical aspects of this issue: not only is the military fighting the Taliban but also the Pashtuns who support and harbor the Taliban. As such, people doubt whether the Pakistani military has the capability or wherewithal to fight the Taliban. The fact that they’re always asking for more money and materiel also makes one question whether they have what they need. (But if they keep asking for stuff, will they ever have what they need?)
Another issue that plays a crucial role is that of willingness. Assuming that the military has the ability to take on the Taliban, does it have the desire to do so? I say that answer is, “No,” for two reasons:
1. The Pakistani military is not unitary. That is, it is not united. It is divided into factions. One faction is more Islamist than the prevailing authorities. The military, whether itself or through intermediaries or through the ISI, provides support for militants. Some do it out of personal allegiance (a sort of solidarity with defenders of Islam) and others do it for geopolitical purposes (to keep Pakistan relevant, to keep India on its toes, to extend Pakistan’s influence in the northwest region). Other soldiers are not wholehearted in the military’s operations because they don’t want to have to open fire on fellow Pakistanis, as they see it. They don’t like this Pakistani-on-Pakistani violence. So, even if the military were capable of taking out the Taliban, there’s no guarantee that the soldiers sent to do the work would do their job.
2. In order to effectively take on the Taliban and eradicate them, the military would have the take drastic measures that could instigate a veritable civil war. Various military groups, outfits, and militias would have to be eradicated. (The legal system won’t work: they would have to be physically disarmed or sent to their 72 virgins.) This also means taking on the vast number of people, civilians, who will undoubtedly rise up against the military in defense of these militant outfits. The popular reaction to the very needed and justified Red Mosque operation shows that the public can and will turn against the military when it carries out needed operations against militants. The military would rather slay a head of the hydra, allow others to grow, than the slay the monster itself. for one thing, it prevents the great turmoil going after the monster would elicit, and the more heads means more targets, which means a more precarious situation, which means the ability to milk Pakistan’s allies for more money and materiel.
If militancy were eradicated in Pakistan, the West’s interest in Pakistan would wane. I do not think it is a coincidence that Congress unconditionally approved a massive amount of money for Pakistan (namely, Pakistan’s military) while the military and its PR apparatus have been engaging in various operations against militants, as if to say, “Look! We have this great threat to deal with! It is a difficult fight! Send help, please!” Where was the military a few months ago? Why now, all of a sudden?
It seems our only ally was the military. But it is undependable. It cannot be our ally. Or, rather, we should not depend entirely on Pakistan’s military to ensure the Taliban threat is dealt with adequately.