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May 29, 2017

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Afghanistan: On the edge with no solution -- PART II

The situation has become even dicier as Islamabad goes through a difficult political transition. With the recent resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, a seeming ally of Washington on terrorism, the course his successor Ali Asif Zardari, the widower of slain presidential candidate, Benazir Bhutto, will take is open to question. However, Zardari's early rhetoric regarding terrorism has been encouraging.

With the change in government in Islamabad, it is not even clear who — or even which government organization — is currently calling the shots regarding security operations along the Afghanistan border.

Many experts assert the Pakistani military under Gen. Asfaq Parvez Kayani — not the elected political leadership — is now directing and controlling the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida in the FATA. (Supporting this notion are the high-frequency visits to Pakistan of senior U.S. military officials such as Adm. Mullen.) Adding to the challenges, American cross-border Special Forces raids and Predator drone strikes into Pakistan have raised political hackles in Islamabad, potentially jeopardizing counterterrorism cooperation in the border area or leading to an unintended engagement between U.S. and Pakistani forces.

Making matters worse, Pakistan's controversial Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a military entity that helped establish the Taliban in the 1990s, is reportedly still supporting them to retain influence in Afghanistan, which has caused lots of bad blood with both Kabul and Washington.

Taliban problem

Unfortunately, the Taliban have found a welcome sanctuary — and kinship — on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border among the ethnic Pashtun tribes, which dominate that region.

The Taliban are no match for American or NATO forces on the battlefield, suffering huge losses when confronting coalition forces head-on. But the Taliban appear to have taken some pages from the Iraq-insurgency playbook.

They have turned to asymmetric tactics, such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car and suicide bombings, and attacks on civilians, to advance their goal of regaining control of Afghanistan. Indeed, the Taliban are reportedly setting up a parallel government in some areas of the country.

Like in Baghdad, the insurgency has also increasingly turned its sights on the Afghan capital, where attacks are sharply up, hoping to generate propaganda-worthy news and undermine confidence in the government at home and abroad.

Taliban forces are not large in conventional army terms, ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 dedicated combatants, but their size is significant relative to the number of coalition forces — not to mention the force-multiplier effect of their guerilla and terror tactics.

State-sponsorship also helps the Taliban thrive. Beyond Pakistan, based on recovered Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan, Iran is believed to be providing arms to the Taliban, too, just like it has supplied Shia insurgents in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the Taliban also find fellow travelers in other militant groups such as Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Pakistani terror groups — not to mention al-Qaida.

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