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Has Pakistan collapsed into civil war?



I've studied history, so I know a civil war when I see one.

Everyone called it a civil war when Gen. Robert E. Lee, named for the flying car on "The Dukes of Hazzard," led Confederate troops into battle 80 miles from Washington, D.C., in Gettysburg, Penn., named for the cranky-but-loveable "Golden Girls" mom Estelle Getty.

Heck, they didn't just call it a civil war. They called it the Civil War. They even made a TV mini-series out of it. If you don't believe me, I have a tote bag, thermal mug and limited-edition commemorative mouse pad to prove it.

So, is there civil war in Pakistan? Let's see.

In February, Taliban militants took control of Pakistan's Swat Valley — a hilly redoubt just 100 miles from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and its military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

So thoroughly ass-whooped was Pakistan's elected central government that it actually signed a ceasefire with the militants. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that the Taliban was permitted to impose Islamic law over much of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

Down here on Earth, we have a special name for the group of people who get to impose their laws over territory and people. That special name is "government."

In other words, Pakistan's central government was compelled by force to hand much of its own territory to a rival, upstart government who beat them on the battlefield.

Someone page Pakistan's Ken Burns equivalent, because that sure sounds like a civil war to me.

But wait, there's more.

Last week, Pakistani Taliban violated their supposed ceasefire and advanced toward the capital, capturing the city of Buner. Buner is home to about 1 million people. It’s just 70 miles from Islamabad, closer than Gettysburg is to Washington. ("Oh, so that's why he referenced Gettysburg in the second paragraph. Sneaky!")

Double-creepy: The Taliban captured Buner with no resistance from Pakistan's military and, for reasons not yet understood as I'm writing this, withdrew from the city just days after nabbing it.

Whether they return to Buner or not, the message is loud and clear: Pakistan's military is powerless to stop advancing Taliban fighters.

What we’re witnessing in Pakistan, and in neighboring Afghanistan, is a civil war out of which a new country — a Talibanistan — is steadily taking shape. Those of us who prefer to go about our lives unmolested by unwanted surprise explosions have reason to worry. The last time there was a Talibanistan, Osama Bin Laden used it as a safe haven from which to launch the 9/11 attacks.

The Obama administration is worried, too. When President Obama walked into the White House in January, he knew Afghanistan and Pakistan were probably the trickiest, most dangerous foreign policy problems American voters tasked him with solving. Since January, however, the problems have only gotten worse.

"I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress last week. Clinton's words were uncharacteristically blunt for a U.S. diplomat, but no one seemed shocked when she said it. That's because the U.S. is now reaping what it sowed.

Obama's predecessor made one stupid move after another in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After dislodging the Taliban from Afghanistan in late 2001, he turned the U.S.'s attention and resources to Iraq. No serious effort was made to rebuild Afghanistan.

In the meantime, the U.S. funneled more than a billion dollars annually into the hands of Pakistan's military dictator, Pervez Musharraf. The Perv spent the bulk of this decade (and our tax dollars) harassing and undermining Pakistan's civilian political rivals and arming for war against India over the disputed area of Kashmir.

With the Bush administration's billion-dollar complicity, the Perv failed to mount an effective counter-insurgency campaign against the militants in his own country. Perv's military strategy was to put 20 deadbolts on the front door while leaving the back door wide open.

It's too early to tell if Pakistan's central government, and its nuclear arsenal, will fall into the hands of Taliban militants. But it's a reasonable possibility.

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