The news is certainly troubling. Taliban fighters get a “peace” treaty from the national Pakistani government, and then expand from Swat to neighboring Buner. A vast national military seems unable or unwilling to respond, and everyone scratches their heads wondering what is next.
But does this really mean that Pakistan is on the verge of falling to the Taliban? If you look at the details, it is a notion deserving of skepticism.
In a column for CNN, New America Foundation fellow Peter Bergen puts the current bad news in the context of Pakistan’s historic challenges:
The present crisis with the Taliban is not nearly as severe as the genuinely existential crises that Pakistan has faced and weathered in the past. Pakistan has fought three major wars with India and has lost each encounter, including the 1971 war in which one half of the country seceded to become Bangladesh. Pakistan’s key leaders have succumbed to the assassin’s bullet or bomb or the hangman’s noose, and the country has seen four military coups since its birth in 1947. Yet the Pakistani polity has limped on.
When looking for reasons why the Taliban don’t pose a nation-destroying threat, this history of “hard knocks” isn’t exactly what one has in mind. But it does put the current border insurgency in its proper context. Pakistan has experienced far greater challenges in the past, and Pakistan still exists as a nation.
Indeed, one can even look to India for additional context. Many think of India as a simple example of democracy rising, but you could easily string together a series of anecdotes to paint a more nuanced picture: two Indian states currently under military control (Kashmir and Manipur), two more states with ongoing Maoist insurrections (Chhattisghar and Jharkhand), past and present separatist movements elsewhere. Continue reading