Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

Pakistanis oppose American drone strikes but want to see the Taleban crushed militarily, hate their president and would rather have his opponent in power, and think the biggest threat to their country is… the United States.

This, and other interesting stuff, in the new Al Jazeera/Gallup Pakistan Survey.

[h/t NightWatch.]

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For reasons beyond me, Atlantic-Community.org asked me to take part in their expert survey on EU policy towards Pakistan. I hardly qualify as an “international expert”, but in case you’re interested, here’s what I wrote them:

How does Pakistan’s instability impact EU security concerns?

I believe the extent of Pakistan’s political instability is somewhat exaggerated. The Pakistani state is generally more robust and popular opinion in the country more anti-extremist than we in the West think. That being said, even if a sudden collapse of the state is unlikely, prolonged armed conflict in the tribal areas will have a slowly destabilising effect on the fragile Pakistani democracy. If the democratic institutions prove unable to withstand the pressures and Pakistan once again reverts to military rule, it will have an immediate effect on EU security concerns, as Pakistan’s generals have a history of supporting extremists to further their own agenda.

What should be the guiding principles of the European Union’s foreign policy in the region?

Bolstering democracy, good governance, economic development and human rights. War fighting — including counterinsurgency and counterterrorism — is already being taken care of by our partner across the Atlantic.

How could/should the EU’s policy vis-à-vis Pakistan complement US policy in the region?

According to President Barack Obama, the core U.S. goal in the region is “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.” The recent change of American ISAF commanders in Kabul also points to a change in strategy from classic counterinsurgency / nation building to a more narrowly focused and kinetic approach. While a simultanious “civilian surge” has been promised, it is doubtful whether the U.S. at this time is capable or even willing to invest more in building the Afghan state. This is clearly where the EU should step up its efforts. Also, as the future of a non-Taliban Afghanistan hinges on fully capable security forces, the shortcomings in police training need to be taken seriously and addressed without delay. (The same applies to Pakistan — as the police there are on the frontlines in the fight against the militants, help is urgently needed.)

[Click here for the whole shebang. Péter’s answers are here.]

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In Triage, the new CNAS report on Afghanistan and Pakistan authored by Andrew Exum, Nathaniel Fick, Ahmed Humayun and David Kilcullen, the word ‘Taliban’ is used 69 times. For example:

The Taliban is pursuing a strategy of exhaustion designed to bleed away public support in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe for continued Western engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


In Afghanistan, Taliban influence has displaced government control in large sections of the country, while the government and the coalition have been unable or unwilling to guarantee security for the people.


Taliban control is increasing along with civilian casualties. According to one estimate, the Taliban have a ‘heavy presence’ across approximately three-quarters of Afghanistan’s nearly 400 districts, up from one-half only one year ago.


Until the coalition and the Afghan government are able to do so, the Taliban will maintain and expand their control, compelling and persuading the people of Afghanistan to resist the government and the coalition.

My question is this: if these bad guys are so important as to warrant being mentioned 69 times, how come not one word in the 36-page report is devoted to defining who they actually are?

The answer, of course, is that such a definition would’ve exposed a fundamental flaw in the strategy the authors propose. While a group called ‘the Taliban’ does indeed exist, CNAS has chosen to use the term to denote all non-AQ opposition to the Afghan government and the U.S.-led coalition. This misidentifies a wide range of forces currently destabilising Afghanistan, and frankly, I’m at a loss as to why guys with this much combined brainpower didn’t bother to sort out the mess.

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Finally, something to applaud:

Pakistan’s government agreed on Monday to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry as chief justice to defuse a political crisis and end a street agitation that was threatening to turn into violent confrontation.

Iraq provides the cloud for the silver lining:

In Anbar Province, six former Camp Bucca detainees were on their way home on Friday when local police officers abducted and killed them in revenge for their days as insurgents, according to relatives of the victims.

In Wasit Province, a hard-line new police chief appointed by the prime minister has been transferring corrupt policemen out of the area, but local political opponents say that is the reason the local murder rate seems to have doubled.

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In a column in The News, Ayaz Amir paints a terrifying picture of the spread of Talebanism to Punjab:

Which are the elements flocking to Mahsud’s banner in Waziristan and Fazlullah’s in Swat? Not the big Khans or Maliks but the have-nots. Beware Punjab’s huge under-class which will be fodder and recruiting ground for the Taliban if the revolt in the north-west, escaping the best ability of the Pakistan military establishment to suppress it, snakes its way into the adjoining districts of Punjab.

Every Punjab town, large and small, has a mosque, if not more than one, sympathetic to the Taliban brand of Islam. So at least there is a handy network — a Ho Chi Minh Trail, so to speak — down which the ideology of the Taliban can travel, whether we like this ideology or abhor it being a separate issue altogether.

And a couple of analogies to boot:

If this were Nepal this would be a Maoist uprising. If this were a Latin American country it would be a peasant or a Guevarist uprising. Since it is Pakistan, the revolt assaulting the bastions of the established order comes with an Islamic colouring, Islam reduced to its most literal and unimaginative interpretations at the hands of those leading the Taliban revolt.

[ht/t FaithWorld. ]

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In an excellent LAT op-ed on the Swat truce, Ahmed Rashid walks us through the consequences:

[…] This is the first time the government has surrendered an enormous area of northern Pakistan to extremists, who will govern by a separate set of laws. Moreover, the Taliban is unlikely to stop in Swat. Even Mohammed, who is viewed as a moderate in comparison with his son-in-law, has vowed to impose Sharia across Pakistan and has denounced democracy as an evil, Western model. The psychological blow to public morale has been devastating.

Here’s a little-discussed yet terrifying point:

The Swat crisis will further weaken an already devastated Pakistani economy, which faces increasing joblessness, inflation and capital flight. Moreover, several hundred thousand Pakistani migrant laborers are being forced to return home from the Arabian Gulf countries because of the global recession. Many of these workers are Pashtuns and, with no jobs at home, some will inevitably become Talibs.

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A metaphor currently in vogue among national security pundits goes like this: The “Af-Pak” problem is like a balloon. If you squeeze it too hard from the “Af” side, it will burst on the “Pak” side, which is way worse than it bursting on the other side, because “Pak” has nukes, and a burst balloon would mean a Taleban finger on the red button.¹

My question is this: Have you guys ever actually handled a balloon full of water? I doubt it, because if you had, you would know that it doesn’t matter how you squeeze the damn thing, it will always burst where you least want it. Even if you try gently opening it to let the water out, you’ll most likely end up wet.

The problem isn’t the balloon. It’s the fact that some jerk decided to turn it into a water bomb in the first place.

As you can probably guess from my ever so subtle sarcasm, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of the analogies and metaphors and armchair nitpicking over what is going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan, what is going to happen, and what “we”² should do about it.

Sure, I’m as guilty as everyone else. Even so, I have to ask: Is there no limit to the absurdity of this quibbling? One blogger says the kill-capture model of warfighting now being taught to the Pakistanis violates Petraeus’s counterinsurgency tenets; another one says no, it’s okay, because it’s not COIN, it’s CT. You think this is a meaningful distinction to a person whose house and family a Hellfire just demolished?

¹ I know I’ve peddled this threat scenario just as passionately as everyone else, but I’m still waiting for someone to explain how exactly the Taleban/AQ takeover of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is supposed to happen.

² I use the quotes here because even though there are some legitimate reasons for Americans to call it “their” war, we have taken to condescendingly talking about these countries as if they had no say over their own affairs.

[Judah’s eloquent reply here. He also answers my question about the threat to “Pak’s” nukes. I kind of knew the answer, but being me, didn’t bother to think it through. More importantly, though, he defends his water bomber bona fides like a true warrior. Oh, and for the record — I didn’t really mean the metaphor is stupid, I was just being ratty. And stupid.]

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“One of the ways weak states try to slow the spread of a rapidly spreading open source insurgency is to embrace it,” writes John Robb, who sees an upside to the Swat truce:

  1. Open warfare will slow, curtailing the bad effects of a unpopular guerrilla war on Pakistan’s military.
  2. These groups can now be negotiated with, since it is likely that by giving these Islamic groups local control, it forces them into a position of defending gains.  They now have something to lose.
  3. Internal opposition will mount as these Islamic groups over reach with their application of Sharia.

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Judah Grunstein stumbles across a 30,000 rifle “Sons of FATA” program that sounds so misguided I will probably have nightmares about it. John McCreary sums it up:

This is the Pakistani counterpart of a similar program in Afghanistan. A danger is that these programs upset traditional power sharing arrangements for local problem solving. In most farming and shepherding societies, men with weapons are managed carefully and not ex officio members of decision-making councils. Access to weapons and ammunition changes village and district bases of authority forever, whether the guns support local religious authorities or secular power holders; the wise or the skilled, or the hereditary elite. The introduction and empowerment of weapons wielders always upset pre-existing power balances with the consequences that are serious and difficult to predict for everyone.

The Dutch colonial authorities in the Dutch East Indies, the French in Indochina and the British in Malaya learned after World War II that the local resistance forces they armed against the Japanese became the core of armed independent movements against the providers of arms. Pakistan already experienced this boomerang effect under earlier governments.


Creating local militias might help stabilize the tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There might not be other good or quick options at this time, but proponents of the tactic should also prepare plans for the follow-on consequences. Disarmament is never effective; warlordism is almost unavoidable; arbitrary local decision-making backed by guns is common; armed insurrection against the warlords is a usual long term result.

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So I finally caught the flu. And have a deadline. And am about to leave for an assignment in a week. So expect light posting. Some Monday reading:

“Reading Swat.” Mana “Chapati Mystery” Ahmed’s take on Swat.

“Secret U.S. Unit Trains Commandos in Pakistan.” NYT’s Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez report on a secret American task force working in FATA.

“Pakistan Lends Support for U.S. Military Strikes.” “Pakistan’s leaders have publicly denounced U.S. missile strikes as an attack on the country’s sovereignty, but privately Pakistani military and intelligence officers are aiding these attacks and have given significant support to recent U.S. missions,” WSJ reports.

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