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Old Sunday, January 13, 2008
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Default Words, Not Bullets

Words, Not Bullets

The tribal areas along Pakistanís border with Afghanistan have rarely submitted to outside rule. That is why Taleban and Al-Qaeda leaders are there. This, in turn, is why US Special Forces and the CIA have been talking openly about conducting covert operations in Pakistan. That idea has been rejected robustly by President Pervez Musharraf who warned that any such attack by the Americans would be seen as a violation of Pakistanís sovereignty ó and consequently resisted. As Musharraf himself pointed out, it is for the Pakistan authorities, and them alone, to deal with the tribal areas.

Yet there is something rather contrived about this whole exchange. Why should the Americans have started thinking aloud about covert operations? Why should they seem to say that they have not yet actually mounted an anti-Al-Qaeda operation in Pakistanís tribal areas when there is strong evidence of at least two incursions? And having publicly raised the possibility that they might violate Pakistanís borders, the Americans were then able to put forward a senior officer who said that, of course, such incursions could only happen with the blessing of Islamabad.

The affair has also given Musharraf the opportunity to publicly talk tough to the Americans, even alluding to the possibility that Pakistani troops might take on any invading Americans. The reality, however, is that the areas in which US Special Forces might operate are empty of Pakistani troops. Some might, therefore, suspect that this whole exchange was a not-too-sophisticated piece of political theater dreamed up by Washington to make them sound good while boosting Musharrafís domestic political stock.

None of this, of course, addresses the issue of what can be done to deprive Al-Qaeda and the Taleban of their refuges in Pakistan. If the Taleban cannot be defeated militarily in their mountain fastnesses any more than they themselves will again be able to march back to power, then it is clear that only negotiations can bring peace. The Americans donít agree to talks with the Taleban. British attempts to do deals in Afghanistan have angered Washington, especially when the Afghan elders later reneged. Yet it was precisely because the Americans opened dialogue with Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq that these men turned against Al-Qaeda and began to swing the tide of violence in favor of the Iraqi government and their American backers. The same common sense needs to be deployed in Pakistan. If the Taleban are included in the Afghan political process, are talked to and listened to, they will no longer need the refuge offered, generally by their fellow Pashtuns, along the frontier. At that point the Al-Qaeda bigots would once again become exposed as their former covering support would be removed.

All the covert operations in the world are not going to break the Taleban in Pakistan. Indeed, the greater the military pressure, the tougher and more obdurate they will become. Words ó not bullets ó are the only way to stop this violence.
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