Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Don’t mention the Afghan–Pakistan war

Both Britain and America are reluctant to admit it but, says Fraser Nelson, our most pressing foreign policy problem is what to do about Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state in which terrorists have taken sanctuary

At a recent dinner party in the British embassy in Kabul, one of the guests referred to ‘the Afghan-Pakistan war’. The rest of the table fell silent. This is the truth that dare not speak its name. Even mentioning it in private in the Afghan capital’s green zone is enough to solicit murmurs of disapproval. Few want to accept that the war is widening; that it now involves Pakistan, a country with an unstable government and nuclear weapons.

But in fact the military commanders know that they are dealing with far more than just a domestic insurgency. Weapons, men and suicide bombers are flooding in from Pakistan every day. Like it or not, war is being waged on Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Consider the evidence: British forces in Helmand have achieved striking success in repelling the Taleban, but they can never eliminate the enemy entirely because of the constant stream of new recruits flowing over the border from the Pakistani town of Quetta. To Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, head of Taskforce Helmand, it is a source of deep frustration. ‘When pushed out of Helmand, the opportunities are there for the Taleban to recruit, equip and retrain on the other side of the border,’ he told me when I visited two months ago.

In theory, the Pakistani government has signed up to the war on terror and is trying as best it can to help us. But in practice, it is playing a dangerous double game. The Pakistani government, army and intelligence services all have their own distinct reasons for keeping the Taleban in business. The Pakistan army effectively ceded Quetta to the Taleban six years ago, for example, hoping their brutal methods would deal with local Baluchistan separatists.

Inside the UK Ministry of Defence the name Quetta is spat out like a curse by British commanders who know they are fighting a lopsided war.

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