Friday, January 09, 2009

Why Waziristan and its Neighbors Should Keep Us Awake at Night

CSIS has issued a shortish study [pdf] on Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas where a host of baddies dwell, at least from time to time, and Osama's presumed place of residence, if a cave can be deemed a dwelling.

I did a year-long stint at CSIS in the early eighties, at a time when both Kissinger and Brzezinski had office space in the think tank. Here's the opaque prose that serves as the Executive Summary:
Increased militancy and violence in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan known
as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan has brought FATA into sharper focus, as
U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani leaders attempt to find solutions to the problems underlying the situa-
tion there. This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of at-
tack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region. Should such an attack occur, it likely will
be spawned in the militancy that grips FATA and contiguous areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan
today. The principal actors are the Taliban, in both countries; their allies—former Soviet-era mu-
jahideen commanders including Gulbadin Hekmatyar of the Hezbe Islami and the Haqqani group
(headed by Jalaluddin and his son Siraj); Sunni militants from Central and Southern Punjab; and
al Qaeda, which benefits from links to most of these insurgents. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar
is suspected to be hiding in southwestern Afghanistan and Pakistani Balochistan. The Taliban
are engaged in a struggle against foreign forces inside Afghanistan and now against the military
in Pakistan. Hekmatyar has spoken against the Pakistani government but has not yet taken up
arms against it. The Haqqanis have also not provoked a battle with the Pakistani forces as yet. The
Punjabi militants, however, have become franchisees of al Qaeda and have been linked to attacks
on the Pakistani state and its army.
While many ideas have been put forward for tackling the issues facing FATA, too often they
rely on longer-term plans and solutions. This report attempts to define the conditions that spawn
militancy and violence among the Pakhtun tribesmen that inhabit FATA and suggest practicable
ways of approaching them in the short and medium term. Concrete actions by the principal
actors—the U.S., Afghan and Pakistan governments and the U.S. and Pakistan militaries—are sug-
gested. These will need to be underpinned by a national debate in Pakistan, in particular, on the
nature of the country’s polity and the need to tackle terrorism and militancy as domestic issues.
But the debate will need to be rooted in a clear consensus among the civil and military leadership
on the nature of the Pakistani state and society and how to tackle the growing militancy inside
the country and in broad-based support from major political parties and the general public. The
United States needs to forge a longer-term relationship with Pakistan and its people, shifting from
a transactional relationship to one built on strategic considerations and respect for Pakistan’s political
and development needs. Failure to bring peace and to restore a modicum of stability to
FATA will have widespread repercussions for the region and perhaps the world.

Arnaud de Borchgrave has a nice intro with one immortal sentence:
How does one deal with members of Pakistan’s parliament who asked Gen. David M. McKier-
nan, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, “Why did you Americans come to Afghanistan
when it was so peaceful before you got there?”

For a quick visual glimpse on why Pakistan is a powder keg which will explode or implode, depending on the scenario, unless of course, it becomes involved in a [nuclear?] war with India beforehand, check out pages 3-5. Bear in mind that the tribes and colored areas on the map are the loci of immemorial feuds and death squads from times out of mind, both internal and external. Alexander the Great encountered these folks and grudgingly admitted their fighting capacity, as did the British colonials 2200 years later. Even today, the government of Pakistan has less than complete control of many of the areas in FATA, the NWFP and Baluchistan. Also, adjacent regions in Afghanistan are out of Kabul's control as well, giving the entire mini-region an aspect of barely-contained anarchy. My one visit to Peshawar during one of my many sojourns in Pakistan back in the '80s was an instructive lesson [narrated by local experts with the sharp humor that Pakistanis maintain toward their own foibles] in the intractable resilience of long-held disputes. I was even dined at the Officer's Mess where young Winston Churchill drank between expeditions into the countryside potting away at hostile tribesmen.

In case anyone is inclined to become complacent, pp. 9-10 discuss events under the heading "The Rising Militancy" thusly:
he balance has been swinging in favor of the militants and terrorists inside both Afghanistan
and Pakistan. Afghanistan is now facing a dramatic change from insurgency to civil war, with the
NATO- and U.S.-supported government losing control of larger swathes of territory.8 Pakistan too
has lost its ability to manage FATA to its ends as it did in the past and is fighting desperately to
regain control even over parts of the NWFP where home-grown militancy has created a parallel
government of terror.

All this in a region where backyard smelters turn molten automobiles and scrap iron into AK-47s and larger armaments with their munitions with perfect simulacra of the Soviet era. Read the entire 44 pages to depress your mood, or just dwell on a Chapter called Basic Perceptions and Realities in FATA—a most dangerous place:

Certain basic perceptions and realities emerge from the experience of the United States in Afghan-
istan after 2001 and Pakistan’s foray into FATA:
■ The United States went into Afghanistan without a comprehensive plan for winning the war
beyond the military ouster of the Taliban (evidenced by its shift of focus to Iraq), or for the
socioeconomic rehabilitation of the country after decades of war.

■ The United States failed to see the proactive need to help Pakistan transform its own army and Frontier Corps into a counterinsurgency force or help equip and train them for that purpose; It
has been in reactive mode ever since 2001.

■ Afghanistan has shown no willingness to address the grievances of the Taliban against the
excesses of the Northern Alliance forces in the wake of the U.S. invasion. This keeps the anger
of the Taliban and their Pashtun supporters alive.

■ The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan without the full and willing participation
and support of Pakistan, its army, and the general population, especially with a new civilian
administration in place. It certainly cannot win by aligning itself to any one Pakistani leader,
political or military, as evident in the past reliance on President and General Pervez Musharraf.

■ The United States depends for more than 80 percent of cargo and 40 percent of its fuel in
Afghanistan on transit shipments via Pakistan; Uzbekistan has expelled the United States; and
Russia has the ability to block overflights to reach Turkmenistan or Tajikistan and then into
Afghanistan. The only other relatively shorter land route is via Iran from Chahbahar on the
Arabian Sea. But U.S. hostility toward Iran makes that an impossible alternative. This severely
limits the United States’ options in taking military action inside Pakistan that could provoke a
backlash, including the closure of this supply route into Afghanistan.

■ Pakistan, its army, and the ISI have maintained an ambivalent position regarding the Afghan
Taliban, based on the twin supposition that the United States would exit the region yet again,
perhaps after capturing or killing some key al Qaeda leaders, and that the Pashtun Taliban
would return to power in Kabul. They would rather have a neutral or friendly Pashtun govern-
ment in power, even if it is the Taliban.

■ On its part, Afghanistan fears a Pakistani desire to maintain control over Afghanistan because
of its land-locked status and as a “client” state.

■ Another powerful and persistent perception inside Pakistan is that rival India has chosen to
develop civil and military ties with Afghanistan and even to fuel militancy inside Pakistan in
retaliation for past (and perhaps current) Pakistani support for militants in Indian-held Kash-
mir. Many Pakistanis see a conspiracy to encircle and weaken Pakistan in the region.

■ Yet neither confrontation nor capitulation by Pakistan to U.S. interests in Afghanistan and
FATA is the right approach. Rather, engagement and a joint effort to eliminate the militancies
inside Afghanistan and Pakistan is the best approach.

■ The Pakistan Army is seen as an alien force inside FATA. The Frontier Corps has lost its effi-
cacy over the years. Both the army and the FC are ill-equipped and ill-trained for counterinsur-
gency (COIN) warfare. Compounding their difficulty is the fact that they are operating inside
their own borders against their own people.

■ The traditional system of governance inside FATA involving the government’s political agents
interacting with largely compliant tribal maliks, who are on the official payroll, has been sup-
planted by a freer system under which renegade leaders have emerged and the religious leaders
have taken on greater import. The old system cannot be restored in its entirety nor for the long

■ No plan for FATA will work unless it involves the local people and they are given a responsible
role in its implementation. However, all efforts will need to be made to ensure that the tradi-
tional “leakage” of funds or resources to the privileged few is prevented or reduced and that
there is equitable sharing of opportunities and finances.

I once spent half-a-night discussing with the Agriculture Minister of NWFP his complete and total conviction that Pakistan would eventually split into two parts, the Pushtun and Baluchi parts devolving into Iran while to the East, the Punjab and Sindh would revert back to India. This was a minister in the NWFP government, mind you.

I can see why this gentleman would have many reasons to believe that things would get worse [this was around 1985] in the surrounding areas, and so far his pessimism seems amply justified by ensuing events.

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