To observers in America it may seem puzzling how a relatively small number of lightly armed religious extremists can be having so much effect in destabilizing and threatening the government of Pakistan. After all, Pakistan has over a million troops in its armies and has one of the 10 largest and relatively modern armies in the world. The Taliban, by comparison, has a ragtag network of religious fanatics with mostly small arms, mortars, pick-up trucks and limited training.
The problem in Pakistan appears to be that the structure of their military makes it difficult for them to fight effectively against insurgent forces. In addition to the main Pakistani Army, much of their military strength is made up of militia-like units like the Frontier Corps and Frontier Constabulary whose personal loyalties are more to tribal and regional interests than to the national government. As a result, the government lacks confidence in the loyalty and reliability of these units. The constabulary is already suspected of collaborating with the Taliban, and the fear is that if they are put under too much pressure to fight the Taliban, the better trained and more heavily armed Frontier Corps will be provoked into changing sides.
This causes the government to be reluctant to direct its potentially overwhelming military force against the Taliban out of fear that it will spur internal conflict in the military and have the result of actually strengthening the enemy by pushing units with weak loyalty into siding against the government.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army is launching a large-scale assault against Taliban forces which are concentrated in the Swat valley and have been terrorizing the population, robbing banks and businesses and putting up barricades to stop civilian refugees from escaping so they can be used as human shields against government forces.
The army has sent about 15,000 men into the area supported by helicopter gunships against about 4000 lightly armed Taliban whose main advantages are situational, as they already control strongpoints and have a panicked civilian population to hide behind.
Despite the concern about the chaos in Pakistan and the oft-repeated concern that Taliban forces are within 50 miles of the capital, the truth is that the tribal and ethnic divisions in Pakistan are geographical, and the unsettled conditions in the north of the country and particularly Waziristan are unlikely to spread farther south so long as the government remains in control of the army and continues to have the support of the civilian population in the Punjab and Sindh regions.
However, with the Taliban having almost free reign over the very long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, their ability to spread chaos and violence is not going to go away unless something is done to bring Afghanistan under control, and the longer conflict continues the more ineffective it renders the Pakistani government and military whose participation is essential to bringing peace to the region.Powered by Sidelines