Counter-Terrorism: Pushtun Politics and the Pakistani Predicament


July 28, 2007: On July 24th, Pakistani police surrounded, and tried to arrest Pakistani Taliban leader Abdullah Mahsud. They did capture several of Mahsud's staff, but the man himself committed suicide rather than give up. Pakistan hailed Mahsud's death as a great victory in the war on terror. But it was several other things as well. Abdullah Mahsud was captured in late 2001, while serving as a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. Since he was a Taliban leader, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he was interrogated for over two years. He was believed to be hard core Taliban, but the Pakistani government convinced the U.S. to let Mahsud go. The reasoning behind this was that Mahsud came from a Pushtun family that was loyal to the Pakistani government (he had a brother and brother-in-law that were officers in the Pakistani army). The Pakistanis promised that Mahsud would no longer be a problem. When Mahsud got back to Pakistan, he rejoined the Taliban and became a big problem for the Pakistanis. The U.S. urged Pakistan to arrest Mahsud, but there were always excuses. The real reason Mahsud was not picked up was that the Mahsud family had influence with the Pushtun tribes, and grabbing Mahsud would cause more bad feelings. But with the growing aggressiveness of the Taliban and al Qaeda, Pakistan finally felt they were better off taking Mahsud down.

The U.S. has a long list of Pakistani Taliban that they want to see arrested, or killed. The Americans know why some of these guys are, or were, untouchable. CIA and U.S. Army Special Forces have spent the last six years compiling lots of information on Pushtun politics, on both sides of the border. They also know that Pakistan would rather not take on their Pushtun tribes. Pakistan already has a rebellion going on in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan), and doesn't want to have a war with the more numerous Pushtuns, to the north, at the same time. But the more radical Taliban are all for dragging the Pushtun tribes into a war with Pakistan. The trouble with that scenario is that many of the tribes do not like the Taliban or al Qaeda. A tribal war would be messy, and could drag on for years. It looks like the Taliban radicals are going to have their way, destroying themselves, and much else in the tribal territories, along the way.




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