Taliban(ds)

This excellent piece by Anand Gopal in the Asian Times on the Taliban is getting some play (rightly) in the b-sphere.

Gopal asks who are they (The Taliban):

The movement is a melange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.

Gopal tells us the harrowing reality that took over Afghanistan after the initial ejection of the 90s Taliban (Afghan Taliban 1.0):

Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. “[Once], 30, maybe 50 criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers like the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, this was the regression of the country from blue–imperial mythic, 90s Taliban system–to red warlordism, gangs, and criminality.

As a result, blue has to come back to keep the peace:

Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country’s villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. The guerrillas implemented a harsh version of sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime any more, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

Gopal goes on to indicate that the increasingly Pashtun nationalist Taliban are largely out of the al-Qaeda connection as they were in the 90s. There were always Taliban factions even back then, who had no time for AQ, but Mullah Omar (their leader) was close with bin Laden. That relationship may be breaking down and some elements of the Taliban, which is increasingly de-centralized and networked, are getting on with girls in schools and realize they can not go back to the 90s version of themselves.

That’s group #1. Group two is Hekmatyar Gulbuddin and his Hiz-i-Islami group. They are insurgents against the NATO occupation, but again not necessarily tied to AQ and really only interested in power back in Afghanistan. So 2 out of 4 at this point seem open to negotiations on a future Afghanistan that will involve them along side other parties. Though Gulbuddin is implicated in an attempt on President Karzai’s life. The Afghanistan situation, as always, is murky.

The last two groups however appear to have no such deals and have sanctuary-providing protections for al-Qaeda. This is the real conundrum as both are based in the Pakistani NWFP. Jaluludin Haqqani in North Waziristan and Beitullah Mehsud in the South.

With Haqqani:

Pakistan extends support to the Haqqanis on the understanding that the network will keep its holy war within Afghanistan’s borders. Such agreements are necessary because, in recent years, Pakistan’s longstanding policy of aiding Islamic militant groups has plunged the country into a devastating war within its own borders.

Even with Mehsud however the issue seems to be anger at the Pakistani government for attempting to take over the Frontier Provinces. In the recent Pakistani elections, the fundamentalist parties lost heavily in the NWFP regions. But it is unclear if those votes have any real influence as increasingly the Paksitani Taliban under Mehsud appear dedicated to re-installing a 90s like Afghanistan Taliban ghastly asylum state in Waziristan. Mehsud’s men publicly hang tribal chiefs of the old guard who do not accept their rule. There has been some talk of creating a Sons of Iraq like scenario with a tribal rebellion against the Pakistani Taliban, but so far that has gone to naught. The Pakistani Army is built for a war with India and not for counterinsurgency in the tribal regions. The two times they have gone up there in the last few years, they have lost and been sent packing. The blowback that has come out of those operations led to the murder of Bhutto, the recent bombing in Mumbai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, as well as the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad.

I have no idea how we deal with this issue. If the Pakistanis go in there, more blowback, they will likely break with the US completely go with China and Russia (which would love the delicious irony of profiting off Pashtun resistance to Americans in Afghanistan). If we continue the airstrikes, Pakistani sovereignty (whatever is left of it) gets further quashed, more blowback, and the civilian government which probably has about zero power currently has even less so and probably a full on military coup. If nothing is done then it festers and I can definitely see an al-Qaeda attack in the West getting launched from the new sanctuary.

For Afghanistan to recover it requires a deal with the Talban or at least the dominant factions. Gulbuddin may not go for that. Haqqani likely the same. Mehsud no dice. With the sanctuary open, insurgencies always win over time in Afghanistan (see Alexander the Great, The British, and The Soviets).

Afghanistan also requires a regional deal that ends the countries in the neighborhood to stop using it as a pawn to be carved up in their power play:  Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia.   Can’t see any evidence of that happening soon.

Which means we are back to where we started–how to prevent Al-Qaeda Central from launching another attack when they have sanctuary.  If the attempt to go into the sanctuary would cause regional collapse scenarios, hollowing out areas that al-Qaeda could then flee to if need be?

The most important reason to prevent such an attack (minus the obvious defense of innocent life) is that the US is still not ready to be resilient in the face of another attack (a la India recently or Great Britain before). The insane over-reaction that would occur, like after 9/11 but only that much worse, would be so destructive, particularly now.  Particularly when a Democrat is in the White House.  The worst attack in US history happens under a right-wing administration and they spend years blaming the left and kowtowing them into obedience.  I don’t even want to think how dastardly they would be if an attack happened when a Dem was president.  Goodbye free society and civil liberties.

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Not Good: Pakistan Transport Afghan War Edition

From NyTimes:

More than 100 trucks loaded with supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan were destroyed Sunday by militants in Peshawar, a Pakistani city that serves as an important transit point for the Afghan war effort. It was the third major attack by Taliban militants on NATO supplies in Pakistan in less than a month, and served to expose the vulnerability of the route from the port of Karachi through Peshawar and over the border into Afghanistan. The United States relies on the route for an overwhelming proportion of its supplies for the war in Afghanistan.

Here’s the even scarier piece (my italics):

About 80 percent of supplies for the war in Afghanistan move from Karachi east through Pakistan and on to Afghanistan. Peshawar is the last staging point before the border about an hour’s journey, or 40 miles, away.

NIE on Afghanistan

Behind (for now) a government firewall, but what’s leaked isn’t good. NyTimes on the report.

A draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document…Its conclusions represent a harsh verdict on decision-making in the Bush administration, which in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made Afghanistan the central focus of a global campaign against terrorism.

The Afghan Army apparently is getting better, but the opium trade has exploded of course, rampant corruption in the government.  And by corruption we should say that is a Western judgment–fair within those parameters but not so much outside of them.  What is typically called corruption in the Western press is what Edward Luttwak called “family-ism”–i.e. people using their jobs to get a cut to protect their families.

And then there is this (my italics):

The administration is considering whether the United States should devote more effort to working directly with tribal leaders in far-flung provinces, and possibly arming tribal militias, to fight the Taliban in places where Afghanistan’s army and police forces have been ineffective.

The Bush administration had long resisted making tribal elders a centerpiece of American strategy in Afghanistan. American officials had hoped instead that strong national institutions like the Afghan Army could protect the Afghan population, but the escalating violence this year has forced a reassessment of the value of the tribal system for counterinsurgency operations.

That’s McCain’s idea of the application of the SURGE (“Feel The Surge!!!”) to Afghanistan.  There have been some over-reaches by the Taliban in certain quarters of the tribal areas.  Other places they are protected under tribal rules.  In the places where there has been violence by Taliban against indigenous tribes that generally has been on the Pakistani side and is a product of lower classes rising up (under the banner of Talibanism) against entrenched local elites.

I’m not sure further weaponizing an area already awash in guns is an especially smart idea.

Bloody Brutal Bombing in Islamabad

Warning, by clicking the link to the Reuters story in the NyTimes you will see a disturbing photo.  The link is here.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – At least 40 people were killed on Saturday in a suspected suicide car bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the city’s police chief reported.

The attack was timed at the exact moment that the new president of Pakistan, Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) was to first address the parliament and call for a crackdown on militants.  The attack then sends the signal that the government is not in control, can not protect citiizens and most importantly can not protect foreigners–the Marriott in Islamabad is a major foreign (mostly Western) hang out.

The Reuters article unhelpfully in some ways refers to “al-Qaeda-linked militants” as having suffered a series of attacks by the government.  If I had to guess who was behind this, it would be the head of the Pakistani Taliban from Waziristan, Baitullah Mahsud.  He is the main suspect behind the assassination of Bhutto and this has all the hallmarks of their operation.  The other major candidate would be Jalaludin Haqqani who is thought to have been behind the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and is perversely known as the father of suicide bombing in Afghan/Pakistan.

This entire strategy of predator drones/airstrikes into Waziristan, special forces in there, the Pakistanis announcing that they will attack any NATO/US soldiers who cross into Pakistan (!!!!!), needs to be fundamentally re-thought.  Pakistan is being destabilized–Pakistan with a NUCLEAR WEAPON, that Pakistan.  The most dangerous nation on the planet getting more dangerous by the minute.

Suicide bombing is a tactic of populations perceived to be under occupation.

I’m glad I’m not in charge on this one because I have no idea what to do.  If you leave it alone, the Taliban is too strong and too well equipped/financed not to overrun all kinds of places, especially in Afghanistan.  In Pakistan, the Taliban just want (at this point) to be left alone and left to rule their haunts.  But in Afghanistan they want the government back.

But a cynic or maybe a realist would ask how we could simply disentangle al-Qaeda from the Taliban and make our fight only with them.  But that just doesn’t seem possible.  Mullah Omar, Mahsud, Haqqani, too many of them are connected with AQ.  From such a perch it seems inevitable to me that AQ would successfully land another attack–probably on Britain not the US but possibly in the US as well.

That worries me for the obvious reason of loss of life but also for the hysteria/over-reaction that accompanied the September 11th attacks.  Another attack and God only knows what more civil liberties we would lose.

It seems a real damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.  And by damned here I mean people damned to death.  I don’t mean that in some vague gotcha sense or political campaigns. This is real human life here.

At the end of the day, the Pakistanis it seems to me don’t really want this fight.  Zardari does because his whole power lies in it.  He is the fulfillment of the US-backed plan to install Benazir Bhutto, which at the time was a Bhutto-Musharraf power sharing arrangement but now is a Bhutto-clan only scenario.  Nawaz Sharif of course is running to unseat the government on an anti-US, pro-Pakistani sovereignty platform (and undoubtedly a peace with honor/deal with the Taliban plank).  Bhutto got US approval because she told the West she would take on the militants (never mind that she helped them prosper in the first place).

So that’s where it all is now.

Pakistani Goings On

News out today of another missile attack from a drone into Pakistani (Frontier Provinces). As always sadly civilians were killed. This comes on the heels of an actual ground force into Pakistan. The Asian Times is reporting that the new president of Pakistan, elected this weekend, Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) is on board with the US/NATO attacks in Pakistan, however much for public consumption he has to decry the intrusion on Pakistani sovereignty. The Atimes article also argues that Zardari has the Intelligence Services in Pakistan under control. Or rather that with the size of his victory, the Army (and ISI) won’t challenge such a putsch. That’s a shocking claim given the recent history, and I’m not sure I’d by that one without more evidence.

But it certainly represents the achievement of the US plan to back Bhutto and basically install her in Pakistan after it was clear that our SOB in Pakistan, Musharraf, was in an untenable position (well Cheney apparently held out on Musharraf to the bitter end).

The Obama Presidency re: Afghanistan and Pakistan is now under way, in a less intense version than he has called for–particularly in terms of nuumbers of troops into Afghanistan. And as Bob Woodward’s new book makes clear, David Petraeus was made CentCom Commander in an attempt to preempt Obama (or any Democratic President) from drawing down more quickly on Iraq. I can see a coming clash between a President Obama and CentCom Petraeus. And right smack dab between those two fronts is of course Iran. What an absolute disaster.

But whatever else may be going on with Pakistan, they fight in the Long War a war of existential survival whereas the US fights a war of discipline.  Obviously the stakes are high given Afghanistan, Kashmir, and the history of militancy arising from Pakistan.  Olivier Roy points out that so much trans-national militancy has arisen from Pakistan because it was never really a full state rather a piece together amalgamation and a notion of an “Islamic state”. A failure in this policy (and hell even a “success” however that is defined) could lead to a renewed jihadi movement emanating from Pakistan (and Afghanistan).  And we know the last time that happened, how that story ended.

Political Turmoil in Pakistan

Excellent, excellent post by China Hand at American Footprints. The whole thing could be quoted, it’s that good in terms of the analysis of the situation. The central premise of which is that by pushing for COIN in the Pakistan Tribal Areas and/or an increased quasi-surge in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government could collapse completely. [A country which has nukes you will recall].

Pakistani media and international polling make it clear that Pakistan believes that unremitting American pressure on Pakistan to participate in a flawed, excessively militarized campaign against the burgeoning Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is turning a serious but manageable problem—ethnic and Islamist extremism in Pakistan’s border regions—into an existential crisis that is ripping Pakistan apart.

In the days since Musharraf’s departure, Pakistan has been torn by a series of terrorist attacks, including a coordinated assault on Pakistan’s main armory near Islamabad, which left nearly 100 dead.

The attacks represent a highly persuasive demonstration by Pakistani Taliban extremists that peace inside Pakistan’s central, urbanized core requires accommodation with the Taliban, and not participation in America’s escalating counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan’s east and Pakistan’s frontier provinces.

The other point the post makes absolutely clear–and has been known to anyone who has bothered to pay attention/knew the history–is that the Pakistanis political elites (across the spectrum) essentially do not care about the government of Karzai. For Pakistan the calculation is entirely related to the US and India. Which is why Musharraf went after al-Qaeda (when he was pushed to by Cheney–mostly kabuki but to some effect) but never touched the Taliban. This was so Musharraf could receive fat checks for the military which were used to buy weaponry for a possible future war with India!!!

Now the PPP (Benazir Bhutto’s party) has tried to make nice with the US by promising a crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban/al-Qaeda but have lost political standing as a result–Sharif has just left the coalition government–and are likely to lose out and maybe fall soon.

China Hand compares this situation to the one in Iraq where nominal stability (for now) has been achieved because the Iranians have backed the Shia government and want stability and not an intra-Shia civil war which explains why they are putting pressure on Sadr to go political and not fight.

Pakistan has always felt left out of the Afghan government. One flaw perhaps that can be attributed to the Bonn Agreement–which was heavily weighted towards the Northern Alliance, the Russians, the Iranians, and the (for Pakistan hated) Indians. Although to be fair, the Pakistanis (and particularly the ISI) has backed the Pashtun for so long and see everything only through their (quasi-paranoid imo) relationship with India, couldn’t conceive of a different policy . Zero sum equation in their mind—India gained influence with Karzai, hence Pakistan lost. Hence Pakistan should back the Taliban and the insurgency. Or at the very least no do anything to prevent it.

Sharif is clearly going to make his run to become PM again predicated on compromising with the Pakistan Taliban. He has stronger roots in the conservative religious parties. He is going to run against the PPP as the anti-American, pro-Pakistani (“Pakistani solutions for Pakistani problems” you can see it now) pol.

China Hand then weaves an interesting scenario. That the ISI (or elements within it at least) were involved in the brutal bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul so as to make Afghanistan completely cut off relations with Islamabad, provoke an Indian response (in Kashmir perhaps?), and then allow Pakistan to go back to the war it really wants with India.

And then from that narrative, this:

Instead, while Karzai floundered to his doom, the Pakistani army could do what it does best: deploying its divisions in a conventional order of battle in Pakistan’s east facing India and engage in the crowd-pleasing ritualized hostility that has secured the army’s place in the center of national esteem—and fattened its budget—for the last sixty years.

So, a surge into Afghanistan, instead of adding an emollient sheen to waters already smoothed by an interested regional power, might instead apply a highly flammable coating of gasoline to all of South Asia—with the Taliban and the ISI both eager to throw a match.

And here I think I have a quibble or at least a question. If there is no increase of troops to Afghanistan, Karzai will certainly fall. And that would no doubt be bad. Particularly if there is video of him killed spread around the world.

Does Pakistan really want another civil war in Afghanistan? I guess they could live with it particularly if a Neo-Taliban/Pashtun resistance comes back to power (they would love that result).

But from the Pakistani side: do they really think the Pakistani Taliban are going to stop attacking them if they stop playing with the West? What evidence is there for that assertion? Every time the Pakistanis have made a peace deal with the Taliban, the Taliban use the time to train, get more weapons/training, and then launch more attacks.

What happens if and when Pakistan signs a peace deal and then the P. Taliban set off a wave of suicide bombers in Islamabad? Or take over Peshawar?

And for the US–how does al-Qaeda not use such a platform of de facto Taliban victory to attack the US or Britain? Or both. Undoubtedly if left alone they will I fear launch successful terrorist attacks on the West.

I have to admit to my own near-despair/nihilism on whether this issue can be resolved. On the one hand I agree with China Hand that pushing in Afghanistan could very easily obliterate what is left of Pakistan politically–unless another dictator were to come along I guess–at the same time that I think not doing so does not leave some “emollient sheen to waters already smoothed by regional interests” because neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda play by the nation-state rule set. And to leave them free to essentially hollow out two states (Pakistan and Afghanistan) thereby giving freedom of access for attack to al-Qaeda is a deadly deadly scenario in my estimation. I have no idea what can be done.

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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