Apparently There’s a Taliban Problem in Quetta

Now this is interesting:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As American troops move deeper into southern Afghanistan to fight Taliban insurgents, U.S. officials are expressing new concerns about the role of fugitive Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and his council of lieutenants, who reportedly plan and launch cross-border strikes from safe havens around the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta.

But U.S. officials acknowledge they know relatively little about the remote and arid Pakistani border region, have no capacity to strike there, and have few windows into the turbulent mix of Pashtun tribal and religious politics that has turned the area into a sanctuary for the Taliban leaders, who are known collectively as the Quetta Shura.

Pakistani officials, in turn, have been accused of allowing the Taliban movement to regroup in the Quetta area, viewing it as a strategic asset rather than a domestic threat, while the army has been heavily focused on curbing violent Islamist extremists in the northwest border region hundreds of miles away.

As a result, Pakistani and foreign analysts here said, Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, has suddenly emerged as an urgent but elusive new target as Washington grapples with the Taliban’s rapidly spreading arc of influence and terror across Afghanistan.

According to Anne W. Patterson, the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, “In the past, we focused on al-Qaeda because they were a threat to us. The Quetta Shura mattered less to us because we had no troops in the region… Now our troops are there on the other side of the border, and the Quetta Shura is high on Washington’s list.”

The Taliban Quetta shura has always been a recognized problem. Well, maybe not always, since that’s a pretty long time. But it’s certainly been recognized as a significant part – maybe the most significant part – of the Taliban command and control structure for a good long while.

Bernard Finel is right about this:  it’s about new priorities, not new facts. It’s about McChrystal going for the Taliban throat. The problem with Quetta is that it isn’t in Afghanistan; and with the NATO mission in Afghanistan, is that its remit stops at the Durand Line, regardless of how significant a problem cross-border sanctuaries might be. So, if we’re getting serious about this, we might have something more to look forward to than just drone strikes; think more along the lines of  the B-52 strikes into Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

UPDATE: I exaggerate slightly… but I do wonder what getting serious about something like Quetta would involve. There’s room, I think, for serious comparison of the costs and consequences of cross-border escalation.

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