Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Coming War

The New York Times has a front page story saying that President Obama is considering expanding the "American covert war in Pakistan" from the "unruly tribal areas" to Baluchistan, "where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan."

I'm sure a diligent researcher can find an exact analogy to that story in the Vietnam era: President Kennedy/Nixon/Johnson considering expanding the war to get at an elusive enemy.

For India, the story is the clearest warning yet that a generalized war is coming. If we want to avoid it, we'd better start paying attention to some ground realities.

The "Taliban" in Pakistan exists only with the help of the faction of the country's power structure that is in cahoots with Afghan drug traffickers. That is to say they have very poweful links to the part of the British Establishment that has traditionally been enaged with drug trafficking (they started the business back in the 19th century and merely took it underground at the beginning of the 20th century).

The British control Helmand province, the main opium producing area of Afghanistan. They laid claim to it as soon as the NATO force was introduced into the country after the 2001 invasion. In that position, they have been key to the amazing capacity of the Taliban to sustain fearsome losses and keep coming back. Unless they are removed from that province, and preferably from Afghanistan altogether, the Taliban cannot be controlled.
Neither India nor the United States can be shy of raising this issue publicly. Britain is angling to humble both countries, as it feels it was itself humbled after the end of Empire. Speaking out on this issue might be the cheapest option to head off the war that that is otherwise certainly coming.