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Pakistan's Empty Tough-Talk on the Taliban

3:01 PM, Aug 14, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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For all of the tough talk from Paksitan on defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban in their strongholds int he northwest, the latest strategy shows just how unserious the government is when it comes to taking on the Taliban. Syed Saleem Shahzad is a Pakistan-based reporter and has been ahead of the story there for year. According to him, the government is backing one Taliban warlord to defeat the main Taliban warlord:

As part of this strategy, the government is backing Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's rival Haji Turkestan Bhittani's tribe, which has in recent days been battling Mehsud's tribe in its South Waziristan stronghold, while the army has pounded the Mehsud tribe's mountain sanctuaries...

The government wants Turkestan's men to take control of Mehsud's stronghold, dismantle terrorist training camps and slay of Uzbek militiamen commanded by Mehsud's ally Qari Tahir Yuldeshiv. The ground deployment of the Pakistani armed forces would be the second step of the government's strategy, which would aim to route Al-Qaeda in the tribal areas.

Here's the problem, Haji Turkestan Bhittani is really not much better than al Qaeda ally Baitullah Mehsud. He and his Taliban confederation, the Abdullah Mehsud Group, which is named after a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who immediately returned to Pakistan and fought the U.S. military, have vowed to continue attacks in Afghanistan even if his forces defeat Baitullah's.

The odds of the Abdullah Mehsud Group ejecting Baitullah and his allies forces from South Waziristan are slight at best; he just doesn't possess the manpower or enjoy tribal support. Even if he did somehow win, the odds of him removing al Qaeda and the Uzbeks are even slighter.

The Pakistanis continue to try to look to replace the Taliban leaders that have turned against them with ones they believe are far more agreeable. This can be seen in the recent history of South Waziristan. The government cut deals with Baitullah's predecessor, Abdullah Mehsud, before he was killed in a shootout in 2007. The government also viewed Abdullah's predecessor, Nek Mohammed, as someone who could be dealt with before he was killed during a U.S. Predator strike in 2004. Why they believe Bhittani would be any different isn't clear.