Consolidating Power in Talibanistan

Fighting continues in North Waziristan; Shariah law declared in South Waziristan; The worst-case scenario

The Battle of Talibanistan continues to rage. Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Agency regions of North and South Waziristan have become de facto Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds, despite government attempts to establish control. Throughout the week a series of battles and skirmishes between Taliban and foreign “miscreants”, and Pakistani Army and paramilitary forces have occurred in Miranshah, the regional garrison in North Waziristan, and outlying towns and villages of Mir Ali, Norak and Datakhel.

The Pakistani Army claims to have killed well over 100 Taliban and foreign “miscreants” and destroyed compounds, mosques and madrassa of tribesmen supporting the Taliban. The Taliban is not the only side taking casualties; Pakistan’s Interior Minister claims “At least 120 pro-government leaders and soldiers have been killed in the ongoing operation in North Waziristan tribal agency.” The fighting isn’t as one-sided as the Pakistani Army would want you to believe.

The most disturbing element of the news trickling out from the region relates to the extent of the Taliban’s power in the tribal areas. The London Times provides an account of the fighting from Ashraf Khan, a local who fled the scene of fighting. The Taliban have instituted elements of Shariah law in North Waziristan, and the government of Pakistan is powerless to stop it. In fact, the government was the direct target of the Taliban; “The Taliban were arresting people, government employees or those supporting them, and beheading them. The Army came and we were watching them, they were fighting, they came in Jeeps and helicopters and they were bombing the area.” Ironically, the Pakistanis who fled the fighting crossed into Afghanistan for protection.

In South Waziristan, clerics have usurped the law of the tribes, and openly declared Shariah law. The Pakistani newspaper The Daily Times provides the details:

Tribal clerics announced the enforcement of Sharia (Islamic law) in South Waziristan on Friday, saying that feuds and tribal enmities would now be resolved through Islamic laws instead of the tribal jirga.

Eyewitnesses and tribal elders told Daily Times that the announcement was made during Friday prayer sermons in Wana and other towns of South Waziristan. “We are glad to announce that an Islamic judge will decide cases from now on and not the jirga,” a cleric in Wana was quoted as announcing. The announcement was made following letters from local Taliban commanders to all prayer leaders asking them to enforce Sharia here, a tribal cleric said. “We were under great pressure from the commanders to announce the enforcement of Sharia in Waziristan,” he said.

He said that the announcement effectively “buried” the role of tribal elders, vesting “hand-picked clerics” with absolute power. This will “strengthen the Taliban’s influence in the area”, the cleric said.

The Pakistani government and military can no longer hide the rise of Talibanistan, and this has serious implications for the stabilization of Afghanistan and the reorganization and revitalization of al Qaeda. In an email conversation with Dan Darling, he asks the 800-pound-gorilla-in-the-room question:

For the longest time, the U.S. has regarded (for what I think are good reasons) the problem of al Qaeda in Pakistan as an internal Pakistani issue. One of the questions that I think no one wants to ask but which we may want to is what happens if the Pakistanis are no longer able to handle the problem. While the Pakistani military (particularly the officer corps) is mostly Punjabi and probably won’t have any qualms about suppressing what is essentially an insurrection by Pashtun al Qaeda and Taliban supporters, should those efforts fail (as they did back in 2004 – note that Major General Shaukat Sultan still isn’t ruling out some kind of a negotiated political solution to this latest round of violence) there is sort of the nagging question as far as what the US does then.

None of the options are good. If Pakistan fails to reestablish control in the tribal belt, al Qaeda will have a base of operations, and a ready access to recruits and training facilities – far more so than it currently enjoys today. The U.S. would almost be forced to take direct military action to suppress the growth of al Qaeda. This could include covert and overt ground and air campaigns (I’d wager there are covert hunter-killer teams teamed up with Pakistani ‘scouts’ already).

But this creates an entire new set of potential problems: the possible destabilization of the Musharraf government and nuclear armed Pakistan falling into the hands of the Islamist parties, who are openly sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Any plan for direct military involvement in Talibanistan will need to include a plan to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, lest it fall into the wrong hands. And the United States isn’t the only country concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nukes. India has a vested interest in assuring the same Islamist parties which fuel the terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir do not possess the power to lite the nuclear match on the subcontinent.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Musharaff has been around for a VERY long time. The guy has like 9,000 lives. I thought he was toast in ’80. But he is like a Timex Watch…takes a beating and keeps on ticking.
    He is like Bill Clinton on steroids..always “triangulating”

  • I wonder if Musharaff will eventually throw down the hammer and say to the US “Let’s clean this mess up pronto, together.” At the same time, he will take on strong-man status (above and beyond what he is now–if that is possible) and declare war on this region for the sake of Pakistan.
    Otherwise, we just have right now a war of a thousand scratches waiting to see who bleeds most the fastest. It’s not like things could get much worse for Musharaff who is targeted for assasination every other week.
    It’s obvious the US really needs to sandwich this region. Right now one half of the sandwich is pretty inconsistent, and the other is not exactly hunky-dory. I guess it wouldn’t be unrealistic to estimate something big will happen against this region this year.

  • GK says:

    This is rather odd, and does not make sense.
    The US has invaded Iraq, a country of 25 million people, and while 80% of them are not hostile to the US, Al-Qaeda/Sunni Insurgents are still causing the US enough trouble for us to not be able to declare victory.
    We may have to have a war with Iran, but conventional wisdom states that as a country with 3 times as many people as Iraq and without having had the strain of war in the last 17 years, would be a far more formidable force.
    Pakistan is a country with twice again as many people as Iran. It’s army is very large, and Pakistan’s military was strong enough to at least pose a major challenge to India. Even without nukes, and conventional war between India and Pakistan would not be totally one-sided.
    So Pakistan’s military is strong, from all the evidence above.
    But they can’t even subdue Al-Qaeda terrorists in their own territory?
    It doesn’t add up..

  • ECH says:

    Insurgencies don’t need alot of people to do incredibly well against conventional forces with their hands tied. A couple thousand insurgents is all it has taken in Iraq to cause America the biggest loss in public confidence in our institutions that I have seen since the Vietnam War. Zarqawi and the groups under his umbrella have been by far the most effective because of how well they have been able to minipulate our worthless media.
    The only way to quickly get rid of the insurgency in Iraq or stop the drug production in Afghanistan and the insurgency in Pakistan is to use the kind of brutality that Saddam or the Taliban used. The Taliban managed to destory the drug production in Afghanistan overnight by simply announcing they would kill anyone who produced drugs. The US could end the insurgency in Iraq and stop US deaths from IEDs overnight by saying we will obliterate from the air the closet village to any IED strike. And, after doing it two or three times the Sunni population of Western Iraq would stop the insurgency overnight
    Michael Scheuer is correct in his book that the US stopped winning wars since WW2 because it stopped being willing to use the force necessary to achieve its objectives quickly. The government was willing to do what it took to win WW2 as fast as possible even it it meant fire bombing cities in Japan, wiping out German cities, or dropping nukes on cities in Japan.
    That said there is another way to win insurgencies other then knocking the population into fear and submission and it is a very very long way and it is the way we are currently on in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem is I am not sure the US public has the patience to accept a conflict that goes on for years and years.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Shawn in Tokyo
    “I wonder if Musharaff will eventually throw down the hammer and say to the US “Let’s clean this mess up pronto, together.” At the same time, he will take on strong-man status (above and beyond what he is now–if that is possible) and declare war on this region for the sake of Pakistan.”

  • hamidreza says:

    Also, a sizable part of the Pakistani military is staffed and infiltrated with Islamists. Same with the Pakistani intelligence services. This was going on for 2 or 3 decades under General Zia (with the blessing of the CIA) and then the leftist Bhutto girl and then the Islamist PM Nawaz Sharif who was mounting an Islamic coup against the secular state.
    This is similar to communist infiltration of the army and security apparatus in the 50s and 60s in some 3rd world countries.
    Musharraf needs to purge the military and the intelligence organization thoroughly and with vengeance. This is where the real threat lies IMO.

  • Dusty says:

    If I were Musharraf, or for that matter, if I were Bush, I’d advise Musharraf to declare that these regions have broken away from the country, are planning to set up a sovereign nation, and are quietly calling for all Al-Qaeda and their sympathizers to come to defend the new nation.
    I’d do that for about six months and even give the impression that Pakistan is resigned to losing the that part of the nation, in the hopes that these miscreants would swarm to the area.
    Heck, the powers that be in Waziristan might even claim that themsleves by the six month. Then, at the end of the six month, I’d have Pakistan strike from the south while arranging for the Coalition to strike from the north.
    This time, though, you have to kill the clerics.
    Actually, I’d like to think that was part of the reason it has been left uncontrolled by Pakistan for so long. It’s unfortunate that the government casualties seem high. I thought the Pakistanis were a little better prepared and organized than it appears. But that might go to show how important air capabilities are.

  • Dusty says:

    By the way, Bill, nice map supplement. Much better than those tan CIA ones.
    The only nice thing about the CIA maps is that when discussing military actions, geography is never a problem.

  • Marlin says:

    Bill noted in his post that the unrest is spreading. This was confirmed by Interior Minister Sherpao in a Daily Times article today.
    Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao told the National Assembly on Saturday that unrest in Miranshah had spread to surrounding districts.
    He said that the situation had affected the settled areas of Tank and Mir Ali, where local Taliban had forced the closure of video shops and were asking people not to shave.
    Daily Times: Miranshah unrest spreading to other districts: Sherpao

  • Marlin says:

    In a sign of Pakistan’s indecision about taking control of the tribal belt, the government appears to have retreated from its original plan to expel all foreign students from the country’s madrassas or Islamic seminaries by 12/31/2005. Even worse, the government has no idea how many foreign students are in the tribal areas as the madrassas are unregistered there. Since these madrassa students are prime candidates for becoming Taliban fighters, I believe this is a big deal.
    After the London bombings in July, when it was confirmed that two of the suicide bombers had travelled to Pakistan before the attacks and one of them was also shown to have visited a Pakistani madrassa, Musharraf said that all foreign students in the madrassas, some 1400 of them, had to leave the country by the end of 2005.
    However the 31 December deadline came and went and the issue had been put on the back burner until this latest decision.
    The president of the Sharia Education Board, Maulana Hanif Janlidari, told Adnkronos International (AKI) that 700 students of the 1400 foreign students in the Pakistani madrassas left Pakistan on their own will when the government intially announced the ban last year. The rest are still in the madrassas.
    However, sources have also told AKI that the foreign students who live in the registered madrassas located in Pakistan’s cities do not pose any problems for the internal security of the country as local security agencies keep a vigilant eye on their activities and movements as well as their documents. The real problem lies in the unregistered madrassas, particularly those in the rural areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the south-western province of Baluchistan.
    Most of these madrassas are unregistered therefore there is no record of the number of students studying there or where they come from. It is believed that around 30 percent of the students in these madrassas are of Afghan origin.

  • Boghie says:

    But, as all you evil Neo-Cons oil barons know, Pakistan did not attack us on 9/11. It’s like you are telling us there are al Qaeda in the region. You know they are in Afghanistan – and only in Afghanistan. You are lying when you use the term Talibanistan instead of calling it what it is – just a state in Pakistan, very similar to my state of California.
    Let’s apprehend these criminals and convict them at the Hague. A docket opened recently.
    We should parachute 100,000 New York City cops and an FBI agent into the region with court orders for searches and seizures. Get the court orders signed for wire-tapping a cleric or two in the region. Then the evidence would be permissible in a court of law.
    That is how President Clinton the Great would have confronted this menace!!!

  • Enigma says:

    If Clinton was president, maybe he would unleash his black ninja plan.

  • ricksamerican says:

    The scary part, Enigma, is that C-BS News takes the ninja plan seriously. Gee, if it hadn’t-a-been for the dumb DOD bureaucrats OBL would have lost it in his pants and surrendered, the entire GWOT would have been unnecessary and, Clinton would have been the hero instead of W. What a bad break!

  • GK says:

    Brian Kettering,
    Nope. How does oil explain the terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Beslan, Bali, Delhi, Amman, and Egypt? Some of those attacks were against other Muslims too.
    How do you explain those?

  • goesh says:

    It sort of reminds in a way of Castro in the mountains – the taliban/al qaidah hide in the mountains, consolodate power, control the local poupulation, recruit, arm, stockpile and slowly move down from the mountains. If a principle resource for this expansion is the control of the people then this asset has to be damaged. Musharraf will have to start taking out villages with air strikes. The people can either devote their resources to the taliban or to rebuilding and caring for what is left of their families and homes. The taliban isn’t going to feed and house them, that’s for sure. Food, shelter, sharia law and ammunition is all the taliban needs to thrive.


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