Archive for the ‘NWFP’ Category
New York- In sorting through some old belongings today I found a couple of now ancient-seeming portfolios which I went to a lot of trouble to make at the tail end of the portfolio era. In what turned out to be fruitless, expensive exercises in futility I spent countless hours (not to mention loads of money on ink and specialty papers) printing attempts at gorgeous images. I scanned some of the images and decided to show them here on this blog. Though these images may appear, and perhaps are, somewhat random, they were part of my earliest project concept which I titled “The Fabled City.” I envisioned it as grassroots, multimedia education project to enlighten denizens of American cities about the complex civilizational crossroads where South Asia, Central Asia, and the Iranian Plateau intersect.
The ultimate goal of the project was to then inform the public about the people and socio-cultural history of Afghanistan working past the entrenched framework of Afghanistan clichés as a “buffer state,” “failed state,” or worst of all, “the graveyard of empires.” Could you imagine if a coterie of overeducated policy wonks and far removed armchair historians constantly referred to the country you call home as some sort of “graveyard?” Or in the case of Pakistan, “the world’s most dangerous place?” Or Iran being “evil” in some way? Though all of these terms are or were meant to have a purely geopolitical resonance (in theory), it is a short jump to the demonization of a culture particularly when punditry is then mixed with geographic distance.
I had an idea-somewhat indicative of the era-to do a guerrilla-style wheatpaste poster campaign in the manner of a 1990s New York City street artists like Cost and Revs (who have long since faded into relative obscurity). I thought I could bring awareness to this region-much of which had been cutoff the the outside world since 1979-by starting a one man grassroots poster campaign. I was gearing up to embark upon this idea just as 9/11 shook this city. My plan to photograph Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (ie the Islamic Emirate) after the winter snows thawed in the spring of 2002 morphed into doing war photography in the Islamic State of Afghanistan among the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (ie the Northern Alliance) some six-months ahead of schedule. I still clung to this idea well into the 9/11 wars.
At the height of the war in Takhar Province in early November 2001 I managed to visit the broken columns of the heavily looted Graeco-Bactrian city of Ai Khanoum overlooking the Panj River dividing Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In Iraq in May 2003 I climbed the humongous, spiraled minaret of Malwiya in Samarra before things turned ugly in that country’s nihilistic fitna and anti-occupation war. The minaret was later attacked by insurgents in 2005 after American soldiers carelessly used the ancient monument as a lookout post. From the top of the Abbasid calpihate-era Malwiya, I gazed at the magnificent al-Askari shrine housing the bodies of the 10th and 11th Twelver Shi’ite imams, its gilded cupola shining brilliantly under the Iraqi sun. The sacred al-Askari dome was later demolished by Sunni sectarian fighters in February 2006 and its minarets were destroyed by them in June 2007.
I was digging around in a musty closet and unearthed these decade-old prints which I then hastily scanned in a consumer Epson flatbed scanner. I don’t have much use for these rather benign, old prints now. Maybe I will finally paste them up around the Brooklyn or Queens waterfront as I intended to do exactly a decade ago. The Fabled City was crushed in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Unending war and terror would come to rule the day rather than the elements of architectural elegance and sophisticated history I had hoped to use as tools to foment a better day.
Los Angeles- The May issue of MLM is out. Worked hard on this one. Enjoy! If you’re not already enjoying, subscribe!
Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn is reporting on the possible death of Baitullah Mehsud in Wednesday’s missile strike which is believed to have killed one of his wives. Mehsud’s demise would mean an uncertain fate for the future of the TTP in South Waziristan and it is not clear whether he would have a successor. Of course it has been rumoured that Mehsud has been dead before so we’ll have to wait and see on this one.
Here is the full text of the article: ”
ISLAMABAD: There is a strong likelihood that Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a missile attack two days ago, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters.
‘We suspect he was killed in the missile strike,’ Malik said on Friday. ‘We have some information, but we don’t have material evidence to confirm it.’ Meanwhile, Director General ISPR Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas cautioned that the reports of Mehsud’s death are still unconfirmed. ‘We are receiving reports and probing,’ he said. ABC News cited a senior US official as saying there was a 95 per cent chance that Mehsud was among those killed in the missile strike. US officials have visual and other indicators it was Mehsud and Pakistanis are now trying to collect physical evidence to be certain, ABC reported. A US official also told Reuters that there was reason to believe Mehsud was dead. ‘There is reason to believe that reports of his death may be true, but it can’t be confirmed at this time,’ said the official, providing the information on condition of anonymity. The official would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Mehsud’s possible death.
A relative of Mehsud’s dead wife had initially said the Taliban leader wasn’t present when the missiles struck, but rumours that he had either been wounded or killed refused to die down. The stricken house is some two hours’ walk from Makeen, and Taliban fighters had cordoned off the area, refusing to let people enter, according to villagers. A senior Pakistani security official said that aside from Mehsud’s wife, one of Mehsud’s brothers and seven of his bodyguards perished in the attack. The official said intelligence services were trying to discover the identity of another victim, and there was a good chance it was Mehsud. Intelligence agents had also picked up signs that leaders of various Taliban factions planned to gather for a shura, or council meeting, somewhere in Waziristan later on Friday.—Reuters”
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.
I participated in a World Have Your Say debate hosted by Madeline Morris on BBC World Service with guests Zahid Hussain, Times of London correspondent and author of Frontline Pakistan:The Struggle with Militant Islam, Walid Phares author of The Confrontation:Winning the War Against Future Jihad and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Pakistan People’s Party insider Wajid Shamsul Hassan. The show’s producers called me to react to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani’s recent comments on a his espousing of a “bailout” of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan rather than, say, AIG or GM. I, and I think most rational internationalists, agree that Pakistan certainly does need help but that of a nuanced and self-sustaining sort rather than thoughtlessly throwing further billions at the military while the feuding feudal kleptocrats Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif create a political smokescreen in their constant dust ups. As an asymmetrical civil war engulfs swaths of Pakistan’s geography and attempts to silence members of its civil society, a regional rethink is required by all parties. The United States and Pakistan have quite different objectives in regard to Afghanistan and South Asia as whole (not to mention China and Russia) and a modus vivendi by several sides will be necessary to solve the “Af-Pak” crisis.
As someone at a party in Karachi said to me last year,”Ten years ago we were being compared to India, and now we are being compared to Afghanistan. What the hell happened”?
The BBC podcast can be downloaded here…
Thursday’s edition of the New York Times had a cliched beltway piece by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker espousing a Pentagon plea that it’s seeking three “new” billion dollars in military aid to Pakistan and must bypass the State Department in doing so. “Military supporters of the program said it offered a speedier alternative to the traditional military assistance process overseen by the State Department” says the Times. “Speedier”? Nothing that takes place in Pakistan is terribly speedy. At least nothing beneficial that is. Pakistan needs well thought out, nuanced solutions that will benefit the country in the very long term in order for it to maintain itself with a modicum of integrity into the twenty-first century. As an avid Pakistan watcher, I can tell readers that the very last thing Pakistan needs is the promise of further military aid from the United States and the unwitting American taxpayer. What Pakistan does need, however, are billions in emergency aid for schools and an aggressive rural literacy program. Northwest Pakistan needs up to date hospitals and proper asphalt roads. It is much sexier to sell Congress on injecting useless billions to bolster a feeble, incapable military that has lost every war it has ever fought than, say, printing millions of Pashtu language school books and training an army of Pashtun teachers. As opposed rearming the peasantry. which is essentially what the Frontier Corps is, the Americans must focus on investing in the human infrastructure of the region if the clash of ideals is ever to be reconciled .
The United States must stop looking at the short term. Insurgencies are not a short term problem. Insurgent movements stem from lack of opportunity among their foot soldiers, vast civil inequality, boredom and outright political and ethnic oppression by the state. The Northwest Frontier and the jihadi hamlets of FATA existed for ages in isolation from the mainstream economy of the rest of “settled” Pakistan. The various FATA guerrilla movements will not be defeated by more accurate drone attacks and handing Pakistani soldiers night vision goggles. They would be defeated by an increase in literacy and finally coming to a regional settlement with Kabul and lastly, addressing the aspirations of broader Pashtun nationalism. These are issues Washington does not seem to know how to deal with and Islamabad and Kabul will keep on the back burner for the foreseeable future until their hand is forced by the international community. FATA is not simply Anbar in the mountains. The issues go (at the very least) as far back as the age of the Afghan kings and the British Raj. The Anbar insurgency was a direct result of American war fighting strategy. Pakistan’s Tribal belt has been the seat of ethnic and religious tension in that region for much of modern history. Inter tribal blood feuds and the deadly Sunni-Shia schism have little to do with the legacy of the Soviet war or the American intervention and troop build up though they have since been exacerbated by it. FATA is, and always has been, a threat to Pakistan’s already weak territorial integrity since Partition. Letting the Tribal Areas fester and fend for themselves has been part of Pakistani government doctrine for decades.
The solution lay not in giving the enfeebled Frontier Corps newer small arms but, short of creating a viable political settlement along the Durand Line, in providing education and healthcare in dangerous and remote areas. A civil society approach is needed which would undoubtedly cost the lives of civil servants, NGO workers and other perceived “collaborators” whom the Taleban and their imitators will certainly harm in the short term as the soft targets they are.
It seems as though little has changed since the Johnson administration. More money for war? You bet! Simply distributing more weapons to a faltering institution like the Pakistani Army is an irrelevant strategy that failed in Indochina and will not work in South and Central Islamic Asia today. The battle against nihilistic Islamism in Pakistan cannot be fought with conventional weapons. A war of ideas, which is what is actually being waged inside Pakistan today, can only be outgunned by partnering with the indigenous civil society in that country who desperately seeks to be heard.