Well past time, actually, but this Daily Mail piece has had me on edge since morning. The Kardari government gave the Taliban an inch by signing away Swat so now they’ve decided to take a mile in Buner. The wages of appeasement:
There are fears that the Taliban, who have already been handed control of the Swat valley, could now take Islamabad and topple the government.
Militants are believed to be just 60 miles away – and edging closer by the day…
Many in Buner are now too frightened to speak to reporters.
However, one judge said that the militants had entered the district in ‘large numbers’ and started setting up checkpoints at main roads and strategic positions…
Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, said the Taliban may have concluded from the Swat deal that authorities will cave in to violent demands for Islamic law elsewhere.
‘They have natural allies in the religious political parties in other parts of the country,’ he said.
The Taliban takeover of Haripur would put the Taliban on the doorstep of Islamabad and would also put two major nuclear facilities at risk.
Haripur borders the Margala Hills, a region in the Islamabad Capital Territory. Haripur also borders the Punjab districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
Attock hosts two major nuclear facilities in Pakistan: the Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex and the Kamra (Minhas) Airbase. The Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex host three sites where nuclear weapons and components are stored and assembled and aircraft and missiles are modified for use in nuclear attacks. The nearby Kamra Airbase is thought to host attack aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Rawalpindi is the “garrison” city for Pakistan’s military. The city hosts the headquarters of the Army and Air Force, and several nuclear weapons research facilities are also located there.
I remember reading last year somewhere that the Pentagon has emergency contingency plans to seize Pakistan’s nukes if things go haywire, but I’m naively hoping against hope that Zardari and the military leadership will voluntarily surrender them to keep them out of jihadi hands if they think they’re about to be overrun. Obama would have to guarantee Pakistan’s security against an Indian nuclear attack, though, and even then national pride might stop them from giving up the bomb — assuming, that is, that the leadership still has sufficient control over the military to get them to carry out an order like that. A horrifying possibility here is that there are Taliban sympathizers among the Pakistani troops safeguarding their nuclear arsenal. The more leverage the jihadis get, the greater the risk of defections.
Pakistan’s sent a few troops to Buner and Hillary’s begging them to redeploy more from the eastern border with India, but given past practices, I assume some sort of “treaty” is in the offing whereby the government cedes Buner in exchange for a, ahem, Taliban promise to stay out of Islamabad. The analogy, obviously, would be Lebanon, where the terrorist outfit that dominates the country keeps a secular government in place to handle the mundane civic business with which it can’t be bothered. (See also Robert Kaplan’s piece yesterday about why Palestinians don’t really want a state.) What it means in practice is a terrorist base in the heart of the country, a la the U.S.’s worst fears about Anbar circa 2006, except with better communications and infrastructure than the jihadis currently have in the tribal areas.
TNR’s already whispering about the prospect of The One having to send in bombers and special forces, presumably to get the nukes and then get out, but I’m wondering at what point India gets involved and how. They’re the ones who face the most immediate threat from a nuclear Taliban; if Islamabad is on the brink, they have to decide whether to invade and go for the kill before the jihadis have established themselves as a government or hold off and let the Pakistani military focus on the internal threat. And if they wait and the Taliban takes over anyway, what then? Can’t wait to see what time it is on the clock next issue.
Update: Another factor re: Indian invasion is that it would instantly transform a Pakistani civil war into a common cause against the Indian enemy under Taliban leadership, thereby bolstering jihadi authority. If they go for it, they’d better be absolutely sure they can win.