by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Our diplomats and generals can’t understand why Pakistan’s million- man military avoids confronting the Taliban as the extremists tear into the country’s flesh.

Admiral Michael Mullen, our chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a superb officer, spends almost as much time in Islamabad as in Washington. And his Pakistani hosts make endless promises.

But nothing much happens as the Taliban and their allies gobble territory. This week’s “offensive” to retake Buner province — almost within shouting distance of Pakistan’s capital — is a relatively small-scale operation.

Even Richard Holbrooke, our junkyard dog among diplomats, can’t get the Pakistanis off the dime. Our best and brightest shake their heads: Don’t the Pakistanis want to save their country?

For a big part of the answer, look to our own history. Along the Indus River, 2009 looks worrisomely like 1861 did on the Potomac.

After the attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln offered command of the Union forces to the most-respected officer in the US Army, Colonel Robert E. Lee. Lee was not in favor of secession. The man who would become the most distinguished Rebel wasn’t a rebel.

But Lee declined the offer. For all of his patriotism, he felt he couldn’t lift his sword against his native Virginia — against his relatives, friends and neighbors.

I’m not comparing the heroic soldiers of our Confederacy with Taliban fanatics, but there’s a crucial point here that our emissaries miss: Many senior Pakistani officers just don’t want to fight against “their people.”

Although Pakistan’s officer corps draws on all of the country’s provinces and territories, the army’s heart really has only two chambers. The senior officers who form the military’s center of gravity come from Punjab, a populous east-of-the-Indus state with old martial traditions.

But a crucial minority of the army’s top performers come from the tribal lands west of the Indus that have always produced warriors. They’re Pashtuns. So are the Taliban.

We ignore such fundamental considerations, failing to note that the extended family of a general or colonel with a name such as “Afridi” or “Khattack” is rooted in the mountain valleys that always embraced fundamentalist Islam.

Few of these Pashtun officers are “pro-Taliban.” But, like Robert E. Lee, they’re reluctant to pull the trigger on their brothers, cousins and nephews. Some have already found themselves devastating their ancestral homes. Pakistan’s military is its bastion of nationalism, essentially all that holds the country together. Since Pakistan’s founding, the army has maintained a unified front. Now it’s cracking.

The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and Military Intelligence are deeply poisoned by pro-Taliban elements and those who view the Taliban as useful. But the regular army continues to struggle over its identity and purpose.

The generals don’t want to fight a civil war. Yet, that reluctance may be what will bring about a catastrophic civil war. To defeat the Taliban would take a lot of killing. Pakistan’s military could do it. But it would be bloody and hard. And part of the military doesn’t want to do it.

Washington always forgets that war is a human endeavor. Prisoners of our own bizarre superstitions, we pretend that war’s about numbers and weapons. But it’s always about the torments of the heart.

The next time a US official jets into Islamabad to threaten, cajole and bribe, he should pause to think through what we’re really asking of the Pakistanis.

There are powerful reasons why a military establishment with 650,000 active troops, 300,000 paramilitary members and more than a half-million reservists hasn’t marched against the Taliban in full force.

And Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is no Lincoln. The man once dubbed “Mr. Ten Percent” for his corruption during the rule of his late wife, the odious Benazir Bhutto, is now known among Pakistanis as “Mr. One-Hundred Percent.”

Accidents of fate and backroom deals made this grotesque little hustler president of a volatile nuclear power. And he doesn’t seem to mind if Pakistan’s poorer half, the tribal belt west of the Indus, falls to the fundamentalists — as long as he can continue to loot wealthy Sindh and Punjab.

It’s as if, instead of Lincoln, Bernie Madoff had been our president in 1861.

The best for which we may hope is that Pakistan will somehow muddle through. But the country’s crisis is worsening — despite recent local moves against the extremists. The military is the key to saving Pakistan but, increasingly, the army’s a house divided.

To muddle the chronology a bit: Pakistan may just be waiting for its turbaned John Brown at some desolate Harper’s Ferry in the Malakand. And then Islamabad’s Lees, Longstreets and Jacksons will have to choose sides. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World details his experience with the Pakistani military.

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