Events in Pakistan last week offered a stark reminder of why the “war on terror” will not go away.
The Pakistani Taliban marched from the Swat Valley into the district of Buner, some 60 miles north of the capital, Islamabad.
The news was greeted with despair by the US secretary of state Hilary Clinton who declared that Pakistan was now facing an “existential threat”. Suddenly Nato’s “good war” in Afghanistan has taken a new and dangerous turn.
Pakistan has become caught in its own terrible war in its attempt to solve the West’s Afghan problems.
Up to two years ago the Swat Valley was under the control of the central government. But the Pakistani army, under pressure from the US, took the war there – marching through it as part of an offensive on the Afghan Taliban bases further north.
Unsurprisingly, firing missiles into northern Pakistan turned the border regions into a seething base of hostility to the US and its allies. These missiles shattered the historic, if uneasy, truce that existed between Pakistani governments and local tribesmen.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The militants were supposed to have been crushed between the might of the US and Pakistani armies. But neither could get a grip of events in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Yet having committed itself to this war, the new US administration and its British ally are having to confront all the problems that brought the occupation to the edge of defeat in Afghanistan.
Now the British government has let slip that the financial meltdown caused by the economic crisis is limiting the army’s ability to continue its part of the occupation.
These things are never announced in a direct way – instead news was released to the newspapers that the army will be using more “special forces” to combat the insurgency.
Behind this talk is the acknowledgement that Afghanistan is just too big, and too expensive, to occupy. The only – and obvious – solution would be to pull all the troops out and break the spiral of violence and instability that this US-led war has created.