Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Waziristan Quagmire

On Monday it was confession time for the government, when the Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao admitted to his cabinet colleagues that the situation in Waziristan - despite the deployment of 80,000 army men – had spun out of government control.

As the Daily Times reported yesterday:

Taliban forces have so far killed 150 pro-government tribal Maliks in the North and South Waziristan Agencies and are openly challenging the writ of the government by engaging a number of security forces’ personnel in the area.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told the cabinet that the presence of the Taliban in FATA was a threat to national security and Pakistan’s economic development.


He said that the ‘Talibnisation’ of Waziristan was damaging other parts of the NWFP and that the local ‘Maliks’ and political administration had been limited to their houses and offices, sources said.“The Taliban’s sphere of influence has expanded to DI Khan, Tank and the Khyber Agency, where clerks of the area have started to join them. There has been a sharp increase in attacks on heavily-defended military targets in these areas as well,” Sherpao was quoted as saying.


Today in an
editorial today the same newspaper noted:
  • after three years of war and many casualties on both sides of the conflict, the Taliban are ruling FATA and their influence is spreading to the settled areas.
  • if peace can only be bought by allowing the territories traditionally under Pakistani control to lapse into Talibanisation, the blame for this will be pinned on President Musharraf and his military leadership that was unable to finish the job from 2003 to 2006.
Coincidently last night your Blogger met with a journalist who has just returned from spending a week in South Waziristan – the first member of the press to do so in over a year. Travelling through Jandola, and by successfully dodging all the military check posts in route, he made it to Wana and beyond. While there he got the exclusive opportunity to interview the ‘Amir’ of Pakistani Taliban Haji Mohammad Omar.

As the journalist has yet to publish his in-depth article on the current realties on the ground in Waziristan it would be unfair on my part to steal his thunder but suffice to say he probably wouldn’t mind if I briefly mentioned what he told me about his findings.
  • The old tribal structure of the Waziris and Mahsuds has been completely superseded by the new super-imposed religious structure based upon the local interpretation of Shariat law.
  • North and South Waziristan are under complete control of the Pakistani Taliban led by Haji Mohammad Omar.
  • While the Pakistan military may have played a significant role in the founding of the Pathan Taliban in the early 1990s, it has no influence, despite prodigious recent efforts, on the movement today.
  • Anyone suspected to be a ‘regime spy’ is harshly executed by the Taliban. In their minds the Musharraf regime and the US government are one and the same. Hence 150 pro-regime maliks who have been killed so far are commonly referred to as ‘agents of America’.
  • Over recent decades the foreign Arabs, Uzbeks and Chechens (in other words the Al- Qaeda) have completely integrated with the Waziri tribesmen through familial links created by marriage. According to Haji Mohammad Omar he would willingly sacrifice all his sons rather than hand over a single ‘foreigner’.
So where does that leave our Military regime and its commitment to eradicate all traces of Al-Qaeda from Pakistan? One might say: Up the creek without a paddle.

According to this journalist there is a severe dichotomy in Islamabad’s current stance. He believes that while professing to do all to eradicate Islamist militants on our Afghan border, the establishment has every intention of sheltering the Taliban. Why so? Because in the Establishment’s view the moment the US’s interest dissipates in Afghanistan – whether it be a year from now or five – the Taliban will retake the country, thereby providing Pakistan with strategic protection on its western flank.

It has taken time but, it would seem, the Americans have finally woken to the establishment’s stratagem.
Bush made a telling statement during his recent visit to Pakistan, when he said, ‘Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the President is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice”.

This was followed by the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Richard Boucher stepping out of a meeting with Musharraf and
announcing that the US ‘firmly [believes] in civilian rule and civilian control of military in Pakistan”.

It would therefore be an understatement to suggest that Waziristan is proving to be a real headache for the Establishment.
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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"While the Pakistan military may have played a significant role in the founding of the Pathan Taliban in the early 1990s, it has no influence, despite prodigious recent efforts, on the movement today."
and
"He believes that while professing to do all to eradicate Islamist militants on our Afghan border, the establishment has every intention of sheltering the Taliban. Why so? Because in the Establishment’s view the moment the US’s interest dissipates in Afghanistan – whether it be a year from now or five – the Taliban will retake the country, thereby providing Pakistan with strategic protection on its western flank."

What is puzzling is that if the Pakistan military is being fought as an adversary by local Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas, how does it expect to get strategic protection from a Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Onlooker said...

The logic of the military mind - when one takes into account Kashmir 1965, East Pakistan 1971, Kargill 1997 et al - remains a complete enigma to most of us.

As far as a future Talinanized Afghanistan is concerned, it would be far more preferable to Islamabad than the present scenario.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan the Northern Alliance effectively took over the reins of government and they loathe the Pakistan Army and the ISI for their historical role in bitterly opposing them.

Islamabad currently feels encircled as it perceives pro-Indian governments in both Iran and Afghanistan. Rather than reproach itself for having mishandled the situation badly, opting for a Talibanized Afghanistan appears a much easier solution.

According to this view while the Taliban may not follow Islamabad's dictates, much more importantly they won't be listening to New Delhi.

mountainman said...

The blowback effects of our past Afghan policy in the form of kalashanikovization of Pakistani society, sectarian violence, religious intolerance, etc. are very well-known. The Taliban regime had refused to handover individuals wanted in cases of sectarian violence in Pakistan despite Pak govt's repeated pleas. That influential circles within the millitary still long for and hope to revert to the bygone days of 'strategic depth' is mind-boggling and a terrifying prospect for peace-loving Pakistanis.

Onlooker said...

Mountainman,
Maybe the problem is that the GHQ has been chronically unable to distinguish between the concepts of 'national interest' and 'strategic interest'.

Anonymous said...

I understand. But it was a bitter war last time round for the Taliban and a lot of mutual sectarian blood was spilled. It is difficult to imagine nonPashtun Afghans most likely supported by Iran, India and other nations simply giving the Taliban a bloodless walkover over all of Afghanistan.

If the Pakistani Army expects that the Taliban will first take over "south" Afghanistan, that may be a worse situation for them than presently because preventing a Taliban-ruled tribal region in Pakistan and a Taliban-ruled S.Afghanistan from virtually "unifying" will be an additional complication.

I'm Indian btw. Just trying to figure why the Pak. Army is doing something which seems so ruinous to its own interests. Think of it this way- a nuclear-armed state 5-10 times the size of Afghanistan, currently controlling the main trade routes into Afghanistan in a choke-hold almost, has apparently no belief in its own ability to exert soft power there.

Anonymous said...

This might be of interest:

http://www.thebulletin.org/
article.php?art_ofn=ma06chayes

Afghanistan: The night fairies
By Sarah Chayes
March/April 2006

Onlooker said...

Anonymous

Thanks for the link to Sarah Chayes' "The Night Fairies". It is an informative piece of writing from a person on the spot in Kandahar.

Looks like it is just as bad across the border.

Seriously, if the Yanks prove unable to get rid of the Taliban (which is becoming increasingly obvious), then odds are that the combined 'might' of Iran and India will not achieve anything either.

So, it looks like we are stuck with our dear old Fundos from the Stone Age for some time to come.

As you point out out its quite worrying that this is taking place in area with a seamless border. I fear Waziristan and south Afghanistan might end up being seperate in name only. If it starts to spread further (as many already fear it will) then God help us!

Anonymous said...

You are welcome. God help all of us is right! Currently, the US seems more unwilling than unable to confront Pak. Army proxies and all the other Afghan groups are not fighting because they are 'giving peace a chance' (which is what the Taliban insurgency is taking advantage of). If the US leaves, that will change and other Afghan groups will inevitably take up arms again.