Will Pakistan Toughen Up on the Taliban?

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AFP / Getty

Taliban fighters stand on a hillside at Maydan Shahr in Wardak province, west of Kabul

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Pakistan has cooperated extensively with U.S. efforts to target al-Qaeda militants on its own soil, facilitating the capture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and scores of other operatives. Its army has lost several hundred men in clashes with various Pakistani Taliban groups in the tribal areas and the Swat Valley. Still, it's no secret that the Afghan Taliban's leadership continues to operate from the Pakistani city of Quetta, and reports of ongoing Pakistani backing for Taliban efforts in Afghanistan have surfaced regularly in recent years.

Pakistan expects that the U.S. will leave Afghanistan sooner or later, and it's not likely to trust Washington to secure Pakistani interests there. As long as Pakistan remains locked in strategic competition with India, it will seek influence in Afghanistan — an objective that arguably aligns it more closely with the Taliban than with the Karzai government.

None of this necessarily puts the U.S. and Pakistan on a collision course. The Obama Administration has begun to talk of reconciliation with moderate Taliban elements, and some in the Pakistani leadership may be hoping to move Washington closer to the approach urged by Musharraf at the very beginning of the war: separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda.

Those in Pakistan's security establishment who maintain ties with the Taliban may, as Musharraf did in 2001, see Pakistan serving as a useful interlocutor with a movement that remains central to Afghanistan's fate. When the New York Times reported last week on the ongoing links between the ISI and the Taliban, it also reported that the British government "has sent several dispatches to Islamabad in recent months asking that the ISI use its strategy meetings with the Taliban to persuade its commanders to scale back violence in Afghanistan before the August presidential election there."

For now, though, there's a lot more fighting to be done. The U.S. won't engage the Taliban from the U.S.'s current position of weakness in the face of the insurgents' momentum. First, it will try to reverse that momentum on the battlefield. And the Pakistani brass faces the reality that after more than seven years of war, the Taliban has morphed and grown in ways that make turning it into a Pakistan proxy increasingly improbable. Still, despite the less forgiving posture of the Obama Administration and absent a resolution of six decades of conflict with India, Pakistan is not likely to change its orientation toward the Taliban anytime soon.

With reporting by Omar Waraich / Lahore

Read "A Pakistan Police Academy Under Fire."

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