Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Bad Journalism Has Big Consequences

I have a piece up over at the Afghanistan-Pakistan channel on Foreign Policy's website. Here's a snippet:
A report published on is titled "Pakistan's Noncampaign Against the Taliban," which is a title quite curious in its own right, given the recent four-month military campaign against the Taliban which succeeded in routing the entrenched presence of the Taliban from Swat and the rest of the Malakand division, removed the Taliban threat from the major urban centers of Pakistan's north and north west (at least for now), provided the security necessary for the return of more than a million internal refugees to their homes, and boxed the Taliban back into the Waziristan corridor from which they had spread over the last four years.

The report fails to provide this context in the least; indeed, an uninformed observer reading the piece would conclude that the first strike in this conflict was from the American drone that about a month ago killed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Though few doubt that significant work remains to be done in this war, the suggestion that what the Taliban have been dealing with is a 'noncampaign' is simply erroneous.

The report itself is scarcely better than the title. The basic argument proffered in the piece is that Pakistani decision-makers do not wish to fight the Taliban any further because the militant group remains a useful pawn for both external and internal considerations.

Externally, some elements of the Taliban could be used to impose Pakistani influence in post-NATO Afghanistan. Internally, according to Bruce Riedel, whom Time quoted, the Taliban could prove to be useful "to keep civilians appreciative of the need for the army to be getting resources and priority attention." Instead of capitalizing on Baitullah Mehsud's death and fighting the Taliban, we are told, the Pakistan military would like to cut deals with the Taliban, essentially suing for peace from a position of strength only to serve parochial interests, at the cost of Pakistani -- and perhaps American -- security interests.

There are a number of problems with this view. The most obvious one is that the reason for the Pakistan military not going gung-ho in North and South Waziristan is most likely a problem of capabilities, not intentions. In other words, it is not that the Pakistan military does not want to fight a war in Waziristan, it is that it cannot fight a war in Waziristan, at least right now. The last time the military went into Waziristan was in 2004, when it was defeated badly, suffered substantial losses, and accomplished precious little.

Go read the whole thing.


Rabia said...

good post! it'll be interesting to see how the current offensive in Khyber turns out.

Ali said...

Check out:

this has to be the funniest shit that's made it into the papers in a while...