Archive for the ‘Pashtunistan’ Category
New York- On February 5th, I participated in a Huffington Post Live discussion entitled “Engaging The Taliban” (featured below) after the trilateral meeting between David Cameron, Asif Ali Zardari, and Hamid Karzai at the British Prime Minister’s country residence outside London. The topic concerned the withdrawal of NATO and ISAF troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and the idea of some kind of vague peace deal with the Taliban midwifed by Pakistan and meant to take place in Qatar. That talk inspired my lengthy article in today’s edition of Asia Times Online (at left).
Afghanistan, once a byword for forgotten backwater, has had its war become internationalized to the absurd point where even a good number of tiny non-NATO, non-Western nations like Georgia (desire to join NATO), the United Arab Emirates (business interests, Islamic hearts-and-minds credibility), and Tonga (pressed by the UK) have inserted troops. And nations like these have done so in the context of their very diverse, often non-overlapping agendas.
For Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnicities who house a sense of collective victimhood, this is the equivalent of having the fox guarding the hen house. Despite US troops and intelligence officers partnering up with warlords who were deemed “legendary” in the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom, there are certainly no angels among any of Afghanistan’s warlords of all hues despite a certain amount of rather theatric press reportage at the time. But renewed political power for the Taliban, whose enemies believe it would use to gain military power in the theater of Afghanistan’s gun-barrel politics, would be the surefire catalyst for a retro-themed civil conflict.
Some factional military leaders especially those of the Jamiat-i-Islami/Shura-i-Nazar type whose 1980s and 1990s-era leadership has suffered a string of assassinations attributed to the Taliban such as Burhanuddin Rabbani and Muhammed Daud Daud in 2011, may likely be content to exact retribution in some form. Abdul Rashid Dostum– another sworn enemy of the Taliban who knows that he is on their target list–could easily fully remobilize his Junbesh-i-Milli militia when push comes to shove.
But the risks for the integrity of the Pakistani state have changed entirely since the Taliban swept in Kabul in 1996. The creeping Talibanization of Pakistan creates an entirely different calculus. Additionally anti-Shia/Hazara violence in Balochistan being carried out by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi seems to be at an all-time high, a dire crisis which Pakistan’s political leaders refuse to effectively address. All sorts of Taliban factions are now operating in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, and inflaming tensions with the very territorial, virulently anti-Pashtun Muttahida Qaumi Movement which portrays itself as the guardian of mohajir identity in southern Sindh Province.
Part of the advantage of Pakistani hegemony over Afghanistan in the 1990s was that Islamabad could have groups that it was funding or manipulating outside of its territory. Afghanistan was relegated to an obscure, abandoned backwater that was essentially a free-fire zone for regional proxy warfare. States from all over Eurasia were dragged into Afghanistan’s internecine battles.
Following 9/11, the Afghan morass brought into most if not all of the armies of the Western world. At the same time, Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus was ejected after the fall of Konduz in late November 2001. Now as the West and its allies clamor for the exits, Pakistan, Iran and other regional powers will be forced to reassess their role in the future of Afghanistan. And it does not look promising. The Pentagon would like to leave a residual number of troops behind for training and “support” missions pending an as yet unspecified status-of-forces agreement being worked out with Kabul.
Though the United States ending its combat mission in Afghanistan has made a big splash in the news, there has already been an attrition on Western troop numbers. Dutch troops packed up and left Uruzgan Province in August 2010 when the Netherlands enfeebled coalition government collapsed over the issue. The Dutch ditched their Australian partners in the home province of Mullah Muhammed Omar which created a vacuum that had to be filled by American troops. The French, now deployed in Mali in what is perceived as being a more immediate to France’s national interests, entirely abandoned their combat mission in Kapisa Province in November 2012. The final French combat troops then departed Afghanistan altogether in December 2012. New Zealand plans on pulling out the majority of its troops from Bamiyan Province by April of this year.
In the understated words of noted Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai: “2014 and the Western withdrawal will not mean Pakistan’s problems are over.”
Washington D.C.- This past Thursday was our annual Jamestown Foundation terrorism conference at the National Press Club and amazingly it all worked out considering the incredible amount of logistics involved (wholly unbeknownst to our audience) of getting a wide range of top tier speakers to Washington from around the globe. Key among them was our lunchtime keynote speaker Amrullah Saleh, who, until June of this year, had been the director of the Afghan government’s National Directorate of Security. Mr. Salehflew overnight from Muscat, Oman where he was attending a security conference sponsored by Sultan Qaboos, Oman’s absolute monarch, and gave a rousing speech on little if any sleep. This speaking engagement was two months in the making and was only possible with the help of my friend Ahmad Idrees Rahmani at RAND in Santa Monica who I have known since the war in Mazar-i-Sharif in November of 2001. This is the second year Idrees came to my aid to help Jamestown as last year he helped me secure a speech from Lieutenant General Hadi Khalid, who, like Mr. Saleh, was also a former member of the Karzai government. Though we had secured several notable Pakistani speakers for the conference including Imitaz Gul, author of The Most Dangerous Place and, Arif Jamal, a colleague of mine at the foundation and the author of Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, I felt it essential that we have a prominent, outspoken Afghan voice in our day-long dialogue. Saleh gave a very powerful speech about many key issues and hurdles in Afghan-American relations and denounced the idea of any kind of negotiated settlement with the Afghan Taleban, highlighting the bizarre and laughable case of the so-called “bogus Mansoor,” the phony Taleb representative who was flown around in a NATO aircraft only to embarrassingly realized a fraud. The phony Mullah Akhtar Mansoor episode showed just how difficult the prospect of actually negotiating with senior Taleban leadership is, especially considering that there has been no indication in the past nine years that Taleban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar is willing to come in from the cold. Saleh asked the audience rhetorically, “what is the plan b for Afghanistan?”, making the point that the United States and its [largely] European NATO coalition partners are on a dangerous and faulty path in Afghanistan with no significant policy alternatives in sight, no “plan b” as it were. Saleh said that the best hope for Taleban fighters is that they be DDR’ed (Disarmed, Demobilized and Reintegrated) in the manner that his own ethnic-Tajik Massoudi faction and [although to a lesser degree] General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s ethnic-Uzbek Junbish-i-Miili militia were integrated into the then nascent Afghan National Army. Saleh was also sure to tell the audience that Pakistan’s notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was not only a terribly unreliable and slippery partner for the United States and the international community, but actively and directly undermining American national interests in the region, a point I had heard him forcefully make in Kabul last year.
Los Angeles- The May issue of MLM is out. Worked hard on this one. Enjoy! If you’re not already enjoying, subscribe!
New York- The new issue of Militant Leadership Monitor is online. In this issue we have two pieces from two of Yemen’s three fronts. A profile of Adel al-Abbab of AQAP by Murad Batal al-Shishani and a bio of Abdulmalik al-Houthi leading the Zaidi rebellion in the country’s north by Michael Horton. Moving across the Arabian Sea up to Pakistan, Syed Adnan Shah Ali Bukhari tells us of the brutality of Ibn-e-Amin in the strife-torn Swat Valley. Heading west, we have a profile of Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, a hard bitten Tuareg rebel leader hailing from the Mali-Algeria border. Additionally, I have briefs on the arrest in Karachi of Mullah Omar’s son-in-law and the death of JI’s Bali bomber, Dulmatin, in a suburb of Jakarta last month.
New York- The Jamestown Foundation is selling a jam-packed DVD of its third annual terrorism conference entitled “The Changing Strategic Gravity of al-Qaeda” that was held on December 9th at the National Press Club. This extensive series of presentations covers everything from more mainstream topics like counterinsurgency, de-radicalization and AfPak to far lesser understood topics ranging from Mindanao to the Houthi war in northern Yemen. Jamestown is providing some of the most extensive coverage on all subjects terror related and this DVD is a must for anyone looking to get (way) beyond today’s headlines.
Jamestown brings together indigenous experts and former government officials from the troubled states in question along with top Western area experts in an attempt to present the widest picture of the global threat spectrum as possible. From ideology to insurgent logistics, this DVD has it all. No one who seeks to truly understand the dangers posed to the global community by non-state actors can settle for thinking they have a handle on all the necessary knowledge by focusing on one area such as the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater when the next attack is conceived in, and launched out of, Yemen or Somalia. The insight provided therein constantly seeks to enhance the intellectual agility of those trying to grapple with a globalized insurgency.
Order your copy here for $29.95
I participated in a contentious debate on the BBC at the last minute today with Owen Bennett-Jones, author of Eye of the Storm, who was hosting a show from Islamabad. Initially, I didn’t realize I was on with a perennially controversial figure in Islamic politics in Pakistan Khalid Khawaja whom I met at his lawyer’s office in Rawalpindi last year. Pakistan is convulsing in the largest humanitarian crisis since the catastrophic Partition of British India in 1947.
The Pakistani army is waging a difficult battle against those it terms “Miscreants” which the Western media knows collectively as the Taleban. Meanwhile millions of civilians, much like those in Sri Lanka, are caught dangerously in the middle. If Islamabad treats its own citizens as badly as Colombo, there will be plenty of trouble ahead. The rifts within Pakistani society have become so deep that solutions, rather than traditional exchanges of blame and conspiracy theories, are desperately in order. The United States is attempting to partner with Asif Ali Zardari who many Pakistanis see as an integral part of the problem much the way Afghans now view Hamid Karzai. Siding with inept and inherently corrupt leadership further perpetuates insurgency in these two vital and very fragile state structures. Taleban ideologues proclaim foremost that theirs is a war against a fraudulent leadership and a vacant justice system marketed through a prism of rigid Islamic doctrine. The Taleban’s two-front war is not terribly differing from the massive Maoist insurrection being waged against the state in central India. Pakistan has yet to adopt a viable counterinsurgency strategy and huge parts of NWFP are being displaced as a result. Fighting a conventional war against furious Pashtun religious nationalists will fail unless Pashtunistan’s legitimate issues are addressed in the long term which, so far, Islamabad does not appear inclined to do.
Podcast link here…
I have a piece this week on the Huffington Post on where Pakistan was and where it is or could be going. Read it here…
On April 15th, Jamestown hosted and exhaustive conference on the subject of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and its Federally Administered Tribal Areas. There’s too much else to include for the number of people gathered and the all the topics covered under the umbrella of the larger concept of Pakistan’s tribal wars but here are some of the highlights.
The first panel consisted of Ahmed Rashid and Shuja Nawaz. Rashid sadly described the “surrender of the state” in the Swat valley to Sufi Muhammed and said that the Swati Taleban had taken over the instruments of the state in spreading their own version of Sharia law, which, Rashid said, differed markedly from historical Sharia that had been practiced in the area in previous decades. Rashid told the audience that that the Pakistani Taleban, the TTP, had an agenda of Islamizing all of Pakistan and challenging the army. Shuja Nawaz spoke pessimistically of a “battle for Pakistan” and described an army that was able to clear but not build and hold (one can think of the example of the Bajaur operations) which is critical in a COIN strategy (which every speaker described as non-existent in Pakistan’s military doctrine).
Mariam Abou Zahab, an expert on Sunni-Shia internecine conflict in Pakistan and co-author of Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection presented a fascinatingly detailed background on this conflict within the broader turmoil occurring throughout Pakistan. Though it may be hard for outsiders to differentiate between the various contexts of carnage coming out of the country on a daily basis, Mme. Zahab told of the fitna, or sectarian Islamic warfare that has been shredding the fabric of Pakistani society since the 1980’s which was part of a proxy struggle between Iran and the al-Saud family. This sectarian warfare is relevant to the conflict in FATA and the historical context of the Afghan war for several reasons. Two of the seven tribal agencies, Kurram and Orakzai, have significant Shia populations and hence inherent conflict. Zahab states that the influx of large numbers of Sunni Afghan refugees during the Soviet era skewed the Sunni demographic in FATA well out of its historical balance. According to Zahab, this suited General Zia ul-Haq just fine. Zia was greatly annoyed by particular Shia tribes in crucial border areas refusal to let mujahideen cross their territory during the anti-Soviet war. For Zia these Pashtun Shia presented both a tactical and ideological issue. Zia’s “Islamization” of Pakistan was also a defacto Sunnization of the country as well. Skewing the tribal areas in favor of Pashtun Sunni clients was necessary to prosecute the war in Afghanistan. Outside of an historical Islamic context, the violent schism harks back to the British Raj when colonial officers divide et impera by favoring wealthy minority Shia landholders against the unwashed Sunni masses tilling the land. Within Pakistan’s unannounced civil war, mosques are detonated, captured Shia soldiers are beheaded and imams are assassinated. Sectarian outfits in Pakistan are, in the words of David Kicullen, “Fighting Smalls Wars in the Midst of a Big One.”
Stephen P. Cohen of Brookings spoke to Pakistan’s lack of a counterinsurgency strategy which most of the experts throughout the day agreed the country so desperately needs. Cohen described Pakistan’s enemy-centric war fighting strategy as self-defeating because it further alienated local populations which remains fervently counterintuitive to COIN doctrine. The army’s “ethnic mismatch” fails to represent the makeup of of the society at large being a heavily Punjabi dominated institution which leads to a deadly cultural gap when fighting Pashtun (or Balochi) militants. Cohen also criticized Pakistan’s civilian leadership for its “knowledge deficit” in the country’s military affairs which may be a product of the natural tension in the swinging pendulum between democracy and dictatorship for the past six decades. The Army, Cohen said, has no discernible interest in taken lessons from other campaigns from the Pakistanis could implement in their internal land war. Cohen mentioned various Indian COIN operations of yore that Pakistan’s army could seek to learn from. Not bloody likely…
Jamestown’s Andrew MacGregor, describing recent attacks on Peshawar’s freight terminals, gave an interesting presentation on NATO’s baffling choices for logistical supply routes presenting a region wide context. The cycle of supplying Western forces in Afghanistan has built-in instability with bribes being paid regularly to the Taleban. In order to let equipment pass through their jurisdiction, the Taleban exact payments from trucking syndicates which are used to fund a widening insurgency. Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps sprouting up on the outskirts of Karachi as a result of the Pakistan Army’s operations have given cover to militants from FATA and NWFP now operating in Sindh where they threaten the formerly safe port for NATO supplies. While trucking military supplies through Pakistan are threatened (not to mention taking away legitimate income from the Pakistani trucking industry), other much more costly sounding and arduous supply routes are being considered like a South Caucasus-TransCaspian-Kakakh route, an old Soviet supply route beginning in the Baltics in Riga and continuing on to Central Asia through the Russian Federation. MacGregor spoke of the “Iranian Route” which would make the most sense logistically, especially considered Iran’s relative stability and wealth of infrastructure. Such a move would be highly improbable, at least for the United States, without a major overture from the Americans but may be doable for some EU militaries. Central Asian routes may give Moscow a degree of leverage over the authoritarian states it is trying to hold within its orbit and could likely be a great odds with NATO’s objectives in both Afghanistan and possible membership candidate states.