The Blog

The Pakistan Problem

And the wrong solution.

11:00 PM, Nov 20, 2007 • By BILL ROGGIO
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

AS CONCERN BUILDS within Washington's political, military, and intelligence circles over the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan, the search for a proper policy to deal with the threat has come to the forefront. Earlier this week the New York Times leaked details of a classified recommendation for a new strategy to assist the Pakistani government in dislodging the Taliban and al Qaeda from their entrenched positions there, where the groups have effectively established a terror sanctuary. In short, the recommendation consists of funding and arming Pashtun tribes, reinforcing the paramilitary Frontier Corps, providing additional Special Forces trainers, and assigning additional teams from the Special Operations command to target high value targets whenever such opportunities arrive.

The plan is being sold as somewhat analogous to the highly successful counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar province, where tribal leaders and former insurgent groups banded together to fight al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies with the aid of Coalition forces. But the situation in Anbar is not comparable to the situation in the Pakistani northwest, and there is little reason to believe that a strategy like that reported in the Times will succeed in this more hostile environment.

The conflicts in Iraq's Anbar province and Pakistan's tribal areas are fundamentally different, and while both provinces are dominated by a strong tribal culture, al Qaeda's draws support in each for different reasons. In Anbar, the tribes and insurgent groups aligned themselves with al Qaeda in Iraq largely because they viewed al Qaeda as an ally in the fight against American occupation. However, they turned on the terror group once it became clear that al Qaeda threatened their very existence. In Pakistan, the Pashtun tribes have by and large openly supported the Taliban and al Qaeda since the groups first formed. The Taliban, with the help of the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence agency, was born in the Pashtun tribal belts, and al Qaeda fighters and its senior commanders are welcomed among the Taliban supporting tribes there.

Also, the counterinsurgency campaign proposed for Pakistan is not at all similar to that executed in Anbar province. In Anbar, the tribes organized to fight al Qaeda only after they realized the error they had made in aligning with them. And the tribes openly fought al Qaeda of their own accord before seeking help from the U.S. Marine and Army units in Ramadi.

Only later would U.S. troops play a significant role by nurturing the tribal movement, known as the Anbar Awakening, which ultimately formed the core of local resistance to al Qaeda. The U.S. military provided funding, helped organize local tribal security forces, encouraged the Iraqi government and military to allow Sunni tribesmen to join the army and police, and had the tribal security forces integrated into the military by reorganizing the units into Provincial Security Forces.

The Pakistani counterinsurgency plan, on the other hand, explicitly calls for U.S. forces to take a hands-off role in the Northwest Frontier Province. Unlike Anbar, the closest U.S. troops would come to direct involvement in Pakistan would be the embedding of Special Forces trainers into the Frontier Corps and Pakistani military. U.S. forces would not be able to come to the direct aid of Frontier Corps units.

The proposed Pakistani counterinsurgency plan would instead rely on the Pakistani Army to conduct the counterinsurgency operation and to buttress the Frontier Corps, itself a failed counterinsurgency force with a long history of deserting, or surrendering to the Taliban outright, whenever the situation becomes difficult. The Pakistani Army's track record in battling Islamic extremists in the tribal areas is equally troubling.

The 2005 South Waziristan Accord (also known as the Sara Rogha Accord) and the 2006 North Waziristan Accord were both negotiated after the Pakistan military suffered a slew of defeats at the hands of Taliban and al Qaeda forces. After the signing of these "peace accords," the Taliban and al Qaeda conducted a vicious campaign against any tribal member suspected of working with the Pakistani government or U.S. intelligence. Beheadings of "U.S. spies" were a daily occurrence.