The Asia Times Online has reported that the United States and its NATO allies have been granted permission to hunt for the Taliban inside Pakistan.
This is a dramatic change in the mission.
The upside is significant. Extending the use of force into Pakistan denies the Taliban a safe haven from which to prepare and launch attacks in Afghanistan.
The risks however, are equally significant. This is a major escalation of the war. Indeed, it is, in many ways, precisely what Al-Qaeda has always wanted – an expansion of the conflict into a broader war, one that brings to rise the thorny situation of having an (at best) semi-legitimate secular Pakistani government coordinate attacks against its own citizens in conjunction with US forces.
Moreover, the Afghan conflict has always served as an outlet for Pakistani extremists, a method of preventing civil war by focusing their attention abroad. This agreement could bring those chickens home to roost – causing a civil war between secular and fundamentalist Pakistanis – all with American involvement.
If it goes well it will be a major blow against extremism. If it goes poorly, the geopolitical consequences will make Bush’s disastrous adventure in Iraq look like a historical footnote in comparison.
These stakes are big.
(good to see Canadian newspapers have so far ignored this important development)