Talibanistan expands in the NWFP


Districts of Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Swat are Taliban country

NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/districts are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.

As Pakistan's civil war continues, the Northwest Frontier Province slips further into the darkness of a Taliban ruled state. During a recent meeting between senior government political and security officials on March 6, the officials recognized the deterioration of the government's writ not only in the tribal areas, but in the settled districts of the province. The situation in the NWFP, as reported by Dawn, is summed up as follows: "Inaction on the part of LEAs (law-enforcement agencies) -- government on the retreat. Writ of the government shrinking with every passing day. Vacuum being filled by non-state actors. Respect for law and state authority gradually diminishing. Morale of the LEAs and people supportive of government on the decline. Talibanisation, lawlessness and terrorism on the rise."

The report also notes that the districts bordering the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, "namely Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Lakki Marwat" are increasingly falling under the control of the Taliban, while the districts of Swat, Charsadda and Mardan, which neighbor Bajaur in the north, are also falling under the influence of the Taliban. "They were also briefed on the resurgence of the defunct Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi, particularly in Swat region where Maulana Fazlullah aka Maulana Radio was making full use of his illegally set up FM radio station to stop people from sending girls to schools and getting their children vaccinated against polio," notes Dawn "Recently, anonymous letters were delivered to girls' schools in Charsadda and Mardan asking them to wear veils; shops dealing in video CDs have been warned to stop their 'un-Islamic' business or face retaliation."

The rapid decline of the situation in the Northwest Frontier province should come as no surprise to those who closely watch the Pakistani news. The following incidents are daily occurrences in the NWFP: assassinations of security officials, pro-government tribal leaders and 'U.S. spies'; bombings of police stations, music and video shops; attacks on military patrols and bases; threats against barbers to stop shaving beards; Taliban recruiting drives; the threats to close schools, financial institutions and non-governmental organizations. The signs of the Talibanization of northwestern Pakistan have been visible for well over two years.

The report indicated the lack of political will and the failure to shore up the security forces has led to the deterioration of security and the rise of Talibanistan in the province. "There seems to be some sort of paralysis at the decision-making level. There is little one can do in these circumstances other than fire-fighting," an official commented to Dawn. "These are not normal times. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary decisions. Unfortunately, the focus at the decision-making level now is more on politics than security. It (security) is on the back-burner."

The Northwest Frontier province is rapidly switching from Taliban influenced (yellow on the map) to outright Taliban controlled (red). The recent fighting in Tank, where the government has called in the army after the Baitullah Mehsud's Taliban openly attacked the town, highlights just how badly the government has lost control in the settled districts in the NWFP. The tribes in Tank held a jirga (or tribal meeting) where they "banned offices of militant groups in the city, and pledged to fight and expel foreign militants." "A peace committee was set up to look into ways to guard peace in the district on a permanent basis," Dera Ismail Khan director Zulfiqar Cheem told reporters.

The Pakistani government claims it is sending in an additional two brigades, about 8,000 'crack troops,' to the tribal regions to conduct a robust offensive and restore order. Apparently the troops are being sent to South Waziristan. The government, however, still clings to the clearly failed agreements in North and South Waziristan by characterizing the internecine fighting between Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, who openly supports jihad in Afghanistan and vowed to continue to fight the West, and Uzbek al Qaeda as signs of success of the Waziristan Accord. The Pakistani government is claiming over 140 Uzbeks have been killed in the fighting, while the locals in the region have put the numbers far, far lower. The Pakistani Army is well known for inflating enemy casualties while hiding their own.

Rumors of the Pakistan Army sending troops to conduct an offensive in the tribal areas have been circulating since the beginning of 2007, yet no offensive has materialized. Past "peace deals" have amounted to little than unenforceable agreements between the Taliban and the government, which result in the Taliban openly controlling the territory. Just prior to the fighting in Tank, Baitullah Mehsud was called in bring the people of Tank a "peace message."

We hope the Pakistani government will seriously deal with the situation in the tribal agencies. The Taliban and al Qaeda are so entrenched a counterinsurgency campaign is now required to uproot them, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence official.

We hope the tribes of Tank are serious in wanting to eject "foreigners" and opposing the presence of the Taliban. But we doubt the sincerity of the actors involved. The Pakistani government and Army have shown little inclination to deal with the Talibanization on its northwestern border, and the 'tribes' they negotiate with to abdicate control of the region to are very often the Taliban.



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READER COMMENTS: "Talibanistan expands in the NWFP"

Posted by joe at April 3, 2007 1:36 AM ET:

I seriously doubt that Musharaff is considering restarting the war in the tribal areas right now. With Islamists taking over buildings in Islamabad and the crisis with the judiciary, Musharaff is already surrounded by vultures. The last thing he needs is all out war with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

This report added to the Times report yesterday about Al Qaedas restored leadership I have to say Im very pessimistic when it comes to Pakistan. I doubt we will see serious action until the next attack on American soil leads straight back to Waziristan.

Posted by crosspatch at April 3, 2007 1:48 AM ET:

Maybe Musharaff is purposely allowing the situation to deteriorate to the point where NATO feels it must invade to clear out the Taliban cancer saving him the domestic political problems of having to do it himself. If NATO were to cross the border into the NWFP, he could rant and rail but not actually do anything ... much the same tactic he is using now. He would then be rid of them without having to commit his own army to do the deed.

Posted by Neo-andertal at April 3, 2007 2:11 AM ET:

Not good! Not good at all!

I was sort of hoping these folks would grind themselves to pieces in Afghanistan this spring and maybe get a little tired of it. Looks like they have bigger things in mind. It's beginning to look as if Islamabad is going to fall to the Islamists this year. I don't think there's a damn thing we can do about it either.

If watching Iraq has been like watching a slow motion train wreck you haven't seen nothin' yet. This thing is like watching the ground shake and the smoke billow out of Krakatoa.

Posted by Srirangan at April 3, 2007 2:59 AM ET:

This is a joke.

Pakistan is actively promoting a 'moderate' Taliban, trying to highlight a wedge between this Taliban and the Al Qaida; to pave a way for some sort of power sharing between this Taliban and NATO/Karzai in Kabul.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at April 3, 2007 7:00 AM ET:

It IS possible to drive a wedge between the Taliban and the non-Taliban Pashtuns.

This is where our Pashto-fluent operators with their ANA Pashtun scouts, JDAM's on demand and a treasure chest full of St. George's Cavalry come in.

Posted by RJ at April 3, 2007 7:26 AM ET:

City people versus country folks. Indoor plumbing versus outdoor plumbling. Haves versus have nots. Who has the weapons and the nerve to defend and fight? I think the city people are going to lose because they expect their military and police divisions to defend them. The country people are their own military and police who respond very well to a king of the mountain game. Nature plays it out for them every day in their neighborhood. A simple thought for simple people. Look what has happened and what is now happening. Do you really think the city people have the nerve to control country people? Here they come!

Posted by David M at April 3, 2007 10:53 AM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/03/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by madconductor at April 3, 2007 1:00 PM ET:

My only question is - whose got the keys to the nuclear devices?

Or could we pray that Mushareff let the US know the location they are stored - just in case?

Nahhh.

Posted by Thanos at April 3, 2007 5:18 PM ET:

Meanwhile Jihad called against Al Qaida in Wana...

http://noblesseoblige.org/wordpress/?p=760

Posted by crosspatch at April 3, 2007 6:47 PM ET:

The things that make me go 'hmmmmm'.

US backing Baluchi tribesmen in Iran according to The Blotter.

Posted by remoteman at April 3, 2007 7:40 PM ET:

Madconductor hits the nail on the head. The developments in the tribal areas are of grave concern. If radical islamists take over in Islamabad then they have, ipso facto, control of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them regionally. Our troops in Afghanistan are under immediate threat. While Iran may have a nuke in a couple of years, the Paks have one NOW. There is no way we can let that happen.

Posted by Bill Roggio at April 3, 2007 8:22 PM ET:

Thanos,

Notice how the Uzbeks are the ones singled out. Ther eis no call for a jihad against Arab al Qaeda...

How do you explain Mullah Nazir's role in this? He supports Arab al Qaeda, supports jihad in Afghanistan. My advice is to look more critically at what the Pakistani government is saying, and who they are really negotiating with.

Posted by Thanos at April 3, 2007 9:00 PM ET:

Yes I noticed that, but they are also killing Chechens. I'm going to continue to say there's not just a split AQAM/Taliban, there are also visible splits AQAM/AQAM and Taliban/Taliban. This Spring's going to prove very interesting. I'm not arguing Bill, just trying to look at all data, and all possibilities.

Posted by RTLM at April 3, 2007 9:45 PM ET:

Pardon the ignorance, but I'll ask.

Which one; Musharraf or Taliban has the loyalty of the Pakistan Army?

Posted by crosspatch at April 3, 2007 10:43 PM ET:

"there are also visible splits AQAM/AQAM and Taliban/Taliban. This Spring's going to prove very interesting."

I would tend to agree with that. I am not sure anyone in the West (and few inside Pakistan) are getting a good overall view of what is really going on. This is because, in my opinion, there are several smaller individual rivalries playing out here, each for their own reasons. How they all add up to an overall picture is hard to judge with any degree of accuracy. Yes, it is going to be a very interesting Spring, indeed.

Posted by Neo-andertal at April 3, 2007 11:34 PM ET:

RTLM

"Which one; Musharraf or Taliban has the loyalty of the Pakistan Army?"

I'm afraid that the strident brand of Islam brought in by the Saudi's has resonated with the youth of many countries for some time now. I could even detect this in Muslim engineering students in American Universities in the late 1980's early 1990's. That's when the Wahabi's were starting to build mosques and religious schools all over the place. The older grads didn't seem to be affected so much.

Pakistan has been saturated with very strident Islamist ideas for over 20 years now. I am told that it appeals to much of the middle and lower end of the military officer core. The men under them are from poorer social strata that tend to be fairly conservative anyway. The unrelenting absolutism of conservative Islam is very appealing to many young men. There are no complexities no compromises. Make anyone in your way submit. All maters go back to faith and surrender on anything is a surrender of faith.

The older generation might have identified strongly with their Punjab identity. International Islam is increasingly appealing to the younger generation. The children of the upper and professional classes that we might identify as more secular don't go into the army. A trend they share with their western counterparts.

Just how this all plays and how deeply within the Pakistan army is hard to say. I hear many people from the Punjab upper classes dismiss this. I think the old Punjab ruling class is sleepwalking into this. They are disconnected from the levers of power. There are many disgruntled groups that want to sweep Musharraf from power but the Islamist are in a position to ride any wave of discontent into power.

I hope I am wrong or the Teliban somehow creates problems for themselves. That has been known to happen too. Maybe they will still beat themselves to bits in Afghanistan.

Posted by Soldier's Dad at April 3, 2007 11:53 PM ET:

Neo,

I will respectfully disagree.

Communism/Socialism was embraced by overprivedged children in the 70's/80's

Islamic facism is no different. It is the latest fad among Islamist youth. No different than declaring your 'gayness' to your heterosexual parents.

Pakistan is a major problem however...even General Pace acknoledges it...the old officers have familiarty with US officers...the younger officers don't...so they are succeptable to Jihadi propaganda.

I get whacked all the time because I served in the Magic Kingdom 25 or so years ago...the Generals there now are people I know.(Their wives can be just as difficult as our wives, maybe a lot worse).

The natural state of man is to assume Malevolent Intent when dealing with someone you don't know.

Posted by Neo-andertal at April 4, 2007 1:02 AM ET:

I'm not sure where we are disagreeing, other than perhaps I oversimplified a bit. Conservative Islam, Wahabism and Radical Islam aren't all one in the same, I recognize. But they do play off of one another. Saudi Arabia is not at all the same as Pakistan. I'm not sure the youth of other countries are getting conservative Islam the same way a Saudi would whose culture has been conservative for a long time and has dealt with Wahabism since it's inception. I think there's a bit of an inoculation factor also in that a Saudi can leave much of it back at the Mosque. It's only part of his life and culture.

Getting religion can be quite intoxicating for a youth. Unfortunately, militant Islam is coming along for the ride. When a political wave overtakes a country it can be extremely dangerous. Don't underestimate the damage the communist wave did to poor countries in the middle 20th century. It killed millions and set back hundreds of countries. The more wealthy countries had enough other things going for them to survive it.

I don't really buy than Islam intrinsically has special problems either. Most prevalent ideologies have skeletons in their closets. Fascism had roots in Nationalism and Modern military and corporate structure. Communism has roots in utilitarianism and populism. Don't even get me started about the colonialist wave that accompanied European trade into the world or Medieval Christianity, the reformation, the counter reformation, etc, etc.

Another set of nutty ideas is on the wing and we have failed to stop it in it's growth stage. I just hope people get tired of this.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at April 4, 2007 2:11 AM ET:

RTLM, it depends on what part of the Army you are talking about. The Punjabi and mohajir Generals generally support Musharraf, but the percentage of the Army that is Pashtun will have kin in the Taliban. The ISI, Pakistani military intelligence, is not monolithically pro-Taliban, but it has many, many contacts and sympathizers. Maybe fewer now that the Taliban started whacking ISI agents. Musharraf is still alive, so that proves he still has support where it counts. How long that will last and what happens after his demise is the big question.

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at April 4, 2007 2:29 AM ET:

$78M for ECM on Pakistani F-16s

Posted by RJ at April 4, 2007 8:41 AM ET:

Let's line up our chess players: That's what's happening in Pakistan and elsewhere. Why worry about the nukes? Assume one went off. What then? Who has more nukes? More accurate placement and sizes? The game would continue till one quits. And who would quit first? Are there any dynamic leaders coming to the fore in Pakistan and elsewhere who intend to control this mass movement encased in Islamic clothes? Send out your hit teams for these people. Sadr is still alive...not a good thing at all, Bin Laden et al. need to go too. Maybe we need new leaders (via voting...remember, we're the good guys!).

Posted by crosspatch at April 4, 2007 12:17 PM ET:

Those following this subject might be interested in They take comments.

Posted by crosspatch at April 4, 2007 12:18 PM ET:

Okay, I blew the formatting on that one. The link is here.

Posted by crosspatch at April 4, 2007 1:04 PM ET:

One key point in that commentary is that Musharraf believes that the US in particular and the West in general can not "survive" politically in the Middle Eastern and Central Asian region should there be any kind of attack on Iran. He believes that it would act to unite Sunni and Shiite against the West causing a failure of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Note that it isn't the outcome of any such action that matters. Successful or not, the simple act of attacking Iran would, in Musharraf's mind, trigger a collapse of all Western operations in the region.

I find that a bit too simplistic. While there might be some truth to that, it can be countered.

The other basic premise of the article is that Musharraf sees the Taliban as the lesser of two evils when compared to Karzai. Yet at the same time he notes Musharraf's fear of Islamic extremists in his own country. This is while making a point to notice, in his words, 'the drug-fueled corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's inept "democratic" government'. Yet the drug money is fueling the Taliban, not the government. It is he himself that is creating the drug trade yet the writer would presume to tell us it is a cause of Musharraf's tolerance of the Taliban, not an effect.

He also goes to some trouble to point out that, "After more than five years in office, and with billions in foreign assistance, Karzai is still struggling with 40 percent unemployment". While that is certainly true, to expect otherwise might be unreasonable with countries quick to send Afghan refugees home and no economic infrastructure in Afghanistan to support the influx. Fighting in the Southern and Eastern provinces further stalls economic development so in these two cases, the drugs and the unemployment, we have a bit of self-fulfillment going on. Musharraf is creating the very conditions the writer would state as a cause of his actions in Talibanization.

My conclusion is that the purpose of the commentary is to paint a picture of a no-win situation. It is basically propaganda. The purpose of it appears to be to protect Iran. When boild down to its essence, the document is designed to create a sense that attacking Iran sets everything else back and would ultimately result in a nuclear Taliban. I don't share that view and I believe that this piece is a very clever bit of Iranian propaganda.

Posted by Thanos at April 4, 2007 4:04 PM ET:

I have to agree Crosspatch, this is a case of transference -- DE BORCHGRAVE is probably the bipolar one here.
Anytime journalists "pop-psychoalanalyze" world leaders it's because they are propagating their POV, as opposed to doing real fact-based analysis.
Musharaaf's much more worried about Iran and India than he is Afghanistan, and it's going to be that way awhile. For DeBorchgrave to infer or imply that he's secretly bent on destabilizing Karzai is nuts, doing so would open doors for either China or Russia. Mushy's not an idiot, even if we don't always like where he stands.

Posted by RTLM at April 5, 2007 12:51 AM ET:

Thanks Cannoneer No. 4 & Neo-andertal for the answers.

Apparently the the Pakistan Army doesn't know either. I think we'll find out soon.