PBS Frontline: The War Briefing

Sneak peak of documentary here:

The full video is available from the Frontline Website.  A must watch in my book.  Interesting to note that many of the experts on the interviews are made up of the new left/center-left security outfits (e.g. CNAS) who are going to make up a lot of the mid level positions in an Obama administration.  Also a bunch of COIN guys (Nagl, Kilcullen).

There is so much to comment on, but the section (towards the middle) on Pakistan is the key portion in my book.  The prior colonials have never been able to hold Afghanistan (Alexander the Great, British, Soviets) because they could not deal with the tribal Pashtuns lands in FATA.  That sanctuary allows an on-going insurgency.  This to me is exactly the same and I’m not sure I see a way around that fact.

I’m not as concerned as some of the interviewers (e.g. Colin Kahl) that Pakistan is teetering on the edge of total collapse.  They are facing some serious threats–both financial and military.  But I don’t get the sense that the Pakistani Taliban want to overrun the Pakistani state.  They just want to be left to rule themselves I think.  They have launched a series of attacks on the Pakistani state and civilian population in response to periodic incursions by the Pakistani military into the tribal areas.

As Robert Kaplan notes, the Pakistani army is not built for such fighting–it is built for a conventional state war against India.  When Hussein Haqqani comes out at the end and says that the new Pakistani government of Zardari and Gilani sees the Pakistani Taliban (as did Bhutto) as an existential threat, that position is one of those elites and not necessarily of the Army, nor the ISI, nor perhaps the bullk of the population who I sense are anti-Taliban in the sense that they obviously don’t want to be ruled by the Taliban but not in favor of what they see as the US War on Terror.  The airstrikes into Pakistani territory don’t help in this regard.

The COIN Doctrine of winning hearts and minds is a particularly tough one, and I’m pessimistic that it can ever work at all. But certainly after the initial opportunity has been missed 6 years too late in the Afghanistan context and 3 years too late in Iraq when the surge came into existence.

The best it seems it can do at this point, in my opinion, is not make it all out civil war when one leaves.  But the state will be for a long time to come dysfunctional if not essentially hollowed out.

Eventually the Afghan Taliban are going to be part of the Afghanistan government.  There will have to be an amnesty, allowing them to join the National Army, etc.  But the Afghan Taliban are not centralized and controlled by Mullah Omar any longer.  Moreover, with the loss of the Taliban police state, the Taliban have now had to join up with criminal gangs, poppy growers, narco-traders, etc.  So even some attempt as Petraeus wants to do to separate the reconcilables from the unreconilables, which I agree is as smart a policy as can be done (and could do some objective good), with the fragmenting of these groups, such a policy as in Iraq post-surge may just be more a recognition of the basically failed state status/fragmentation of the country and work to undermine whatever state power is left (again as in Iraq with the Awakening Councils).

The Afghan Taliban at the end of the day and even a Pakistani Taliban that is not seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government are not threats to US national security.  The potential of failed/hollowed out states wherein trans-national terrorists can hang out, train, and launch attacks is.  [Not an existential threat unless we overreact to another terrorist attack like we did the first one–but a legitimate threat nonetheless].

But I’m not sure how those two get separated.  There are rumors like Mullah Omar will split with al-Qaeda (h/t Attackerman), but others could pick up the slack (Jalalludin Haqqani, Beitullah Mehsud in North and South Waziristan respectively).

What is clear is that as long as there are foreign troops in Afghanistan there will be a jihad.  As long as the Pashtuns (and their new Pashtun-reps the Taliban) are not part of the government, then the jihad will also be against the Afghan Army.  As well as on the other side, the Pakistani state/army/civilians.

The tribal lands are the hardest nut to crack.

Pakistan: From Bad to Scary Worse

BBC reporting:

At least 63 people have been killed and dozens injured in twin suicide bombings outside Pakistan’s main munitions factory in the town of Wah, police say.

The attack is the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The bombs hit the town, some 30km (18 miles) north-west of Islamabad, as workers were leaving the factory.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban said they had carried out the attacks, which he said were a response to army violence in the country’s north-west.

This follows on Tuesday’s attack on a hospital by the Pakistani Taliban.  The rationale is to force the Pakistani army to halt an offensive against the Taliban in the NWFP.

Meanwhile the political parties of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zadari (Bhutto’s widower) continue their bickering over whether the Supreme Court Chief Judge (and other judges) should be reinstated.  Zadari is a well known crook and doesn’t want the Chief Justice Chaudhry returned to his post because he (Zadari) fears (probably correctly) that he would be quickly brought up on corruption charges.

Musharraf out, weakened political parties, the ISI with elements known to be sympathetic if not outright supportive of the Taliban, inflation skyrocketing (along with food prices), and the Army not clear in its mission.  Given Pakistan’s history, the timing looks ripe for another military coup.

Published in: on August 21, 2008 at 11:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pakistan Update

More bad (though unsurprising) news:

Taliban fighters forced Pakistani soldiers to retreat from a militant stronghold near the border with Afghanistan over the weekend, after a three-day battle sent civilians fleeing from government airstrikes.

The pullback from Bajaur, an area of Pakistan’s tribal region where the Taliban and al Qaeda have forged particularly close ties, came after the military launched an offensive there late last week.

Read the rest of the piece for a clear detailed account of the tactics of the Taliban.  [A defensive hedgehog, followed by attacks on enemy convoys, lay IEDs/mines along transport rodes, then swarm manuevers when the enemy has to divert (in order to avoid IEDs).


Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Musharraf to be Impeached?

Had to see this coming:

Pakistan’s ruling coalition announced plans Thursday to seek the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, alleging the U.S.-backed former general had “eroded the trust of the nation” during his eight years in power.

The new governing coalition is having trouble getting its act together.  It has not reinstated the deposed justices (deposed/arrested by Musharraf) a pledge they made during their campaign, they had an aborted and amateurish attempt to gain control over the ISI, and are taking serious heat from the US for their position on negotiating with Taliban in the Tribal Areas.

So the push for impeachment of Musharraf probably plays well domestically I suppose and has the potential of re-solidifying the already fracturing democratic coalition. But whether impeached or not, Musharraf is essentially powerless–he is no longer head of the military (that position belongs to Gen. Kiyani) and the civilian elected government is moving on its own terms (US visits, Taliban negotiations, etc.).

Spencer Ackerman: Anbar not so good for Pakistan

Smart piece here.  Why trying to export the so-called Anbar Model to the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) of Northwestern Pakistan is a non-starter.

The Anbar model worked in Iraq by exploiting the divide between by the non-Iraqi and radical Salafi al-Qaeda in Iraq and the tribal, (non Salafi) Sunni Iraqi leadership.


In Pakistan, nothing like this exists. The FATA tribes show no sign of tensions with AQSL. The Times reported that many of the same tribes that would form the basis of a FATA Awakening still actively fight alongside the Taliban — as do elements within the Interior Ministry that would be responsible for nurturing the Awakening. Within SOCOM, which has developed the proposal, analysts have no idea whether the tribes would accept or reject American support. In short, the basic strategic condition that allowed the Anbar Awakening to exist — a split between Iraqis and al-Qaeda — isn’t in evidence here. All sorts of other potential problems arise: for one, this potential paramilitary tribal force, with its minimal control by Islamabad, wouldn’t augur well for the internal stability of a nuclear-armed country. But without the basic FATA/AQSL split, it makes no sense to consider such second-order questions. And in that case, flooding the FATA with money and guns is about as wise as making a blank check out to Osama bin Laden.

John Robb echoes similar sentiments here.

Published in: on November 29, 2007 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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