- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

The story about “nutria” explains the law of unforeseen consequences.

Nutria are large, beaver-like rodents inhabiting much of our Southern wetlands. Imported from South America decades ago and bred in Louisiana for pelts, they became valueless when the fur market crashed in World War II. Rather than slaughter the animals, they were released into the wild. Fast-breeding, they fared well, initially in Louisiana’s bayous, and later in broader U.S. Southern wetlands. Now numbering in the millions, consuming vast quantities of vegetation, nutria have devastated the wetland’s ecology.

Such is the law of unforeseen consequences: For every action disrupting balance there may be one or more unforeseen consequences.

This law applies to the destruction wrought in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Key to understanding the situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and why failing in Afghanistan is not an option requires understanding the role this law has played.

The fertile ground within which Taliban’s seed now grows developed over time, influenced by several factors.

We look first not to Afghanistan, where Taliban now thrives, not to Pakistan where it continues to be nurtured, but to India long before its split with Pakistan. We must go back centuries earlier as Britain sought to control an untamed region, then part of India and later part of Pakistan, today known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — where Taliban received protection, first from tribes and then the government.

A colonial power administering authority over FATA, Britain tied its success to controlling local tribal leaders, or “maliks.” Totally independent of central Indian government control, maliks enjoyed authority over their tribal areas, limited only by British oversight — for cash payments.

Such a system of semi-autonomous tribal control survived British colonialism, remaining intact after India won independence and India’s heavily populated Muslim northeast region split from it in 1947 to become Pakistan. It is upon this system Taliban targets its brutality today.

The 1947 India/Pakistan split left influence over Kashmir, a city located inside India but bordering Pakistan, split as well. A struggle for influence and Islamabad’s designs on acquiring Kashmir and its large Muslim population fueled Indian/Pakistani hatred.

In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, fighting Islamic extremist freedom fighters known as mujahideen. Here, a series of initiatives by U.S. and Pakistani governments first gave play to the law of unforeseen consequences.

Pakistan became a conduit by which Washington provided financial support and weapons to the mujahideen. Pakistan’s president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, endeared himself to the most extremist mujahideen leaders, giving them U.S.-funded cash payments. Pakistani support for Afghanistan’s Islamic extremists continued, even after Moscow’s withdrawal in 1989, as well as for Kashmir’s foreign fighter extremists seeking independence from India.

Thus, the law of unforeseen consequences resulted in U.S. and Pakistani actions — intended to negate the Soviet threat — eventually strengthening a greater Islamic extremist threat that later would return to haunt both.

Moscow’s withdrawal left Afghanistan in civil war. Seeking to end it, the late Benazir Bhutto, then Pakistani prime minister, intervened on behalf of a relatively small group of former anti-Soviet extremist called “the students” — today’s Taliban. With Pakistan’s support, Taliban gained control of Kabul in 1996. Mrs. Bhutto saw a pacified Afghanistan leading to Pakistani influence in Central Asia - but the law of unforeseen consequences struck again. Pakistan’s well-intentioned act seeking peace in Afghanistan only gave life to a deadly extremist group.

As Taliban began establishing training camps there — assisted by Pakistan’s intelligence organization — it attracted various Islamic extremists, including al Qaeda. Islamabad viewed Taliban a necessary evil - a useful tool in countering India, a country Pakistan distrusted over Kashmir and with which it had fought three wars.

Accordingly, following Sept. 11, 2001, and U.S. pressure, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf — an “ally” in the war on terror in theory but not practice — sought to promote his image as an ally by occasionally launching ineffective military offensives into Taliban’s FATA refuge, thus continuing to afford them protection.

But the Taliban cancer Islamabad had fed was spreading. As NATO operations drove Taliban out of Afghanistan over the border into Pakistan’s FATA, the maliks became increasingly opposed to Taliban imposing their will over that of tribal authority. Taliban’s response was to kill hundreds of maliks - disrupting the tribal system upon which FATA had relied for centuries.

Now operating from FATA at will, Taliban warlords split their efforts: some returned to Afghanistan to attack NATO forces; others remained in Pakistan to fight Islamabad for control of nearby towns. Through bombings and other violence, Taliban sought to disrupt Pakistan’s balance, replacing democracy with Islamic fundamentalism. Such violence only increased after Islamabad’s successful siege of the Lal Masjid mosque in 2007.

Lal Masjid was a wake-up call for Pakistan — it realized an Islamic extremist cancer had reached Pakistan. This realization led to the first successful Pakistani military offensive into FATA earlier this year against Taliban — inflicting a major blow on them and causing the extremists to seek a deal with Islamabad. While terms remain secret, it is believed Taliban — fearing the Pakistani army’s bite — agreed, if left alone in FATA, not to direct violence internally (i.e., Pakistan), tacitly leaving them to direct violence externally (i.e., Afghanistan). Thus, NATO can anticipate increased levels of violence in Afghanistan in 2009.

After the agreement, Pakistan forces had to re-enter FATA recently to put down a pro-Taliban cleric’s violent campaign seeking to establish Islamic Shariah law.

Hopefully, Islamabad now knows no deal with Taliban is possible. If not, it will give the law of unforeseen consequences yet another play. Similar to an agreement reached almost 70 years ago, Pakistan will have bought into Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” - failing to consider, should Taliban prevail in Afghanistan, its next target will be Pakistan.

And, should Islamabad fall, Washington will witness the law of unforeseen consequences play its deadliest card yet - giving Islamic extremists control of nuclear-armed Pakistan.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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