The Rise of Talibanistan

The strike in Danda Saidgai, suicide bombing in Karachi & fighting in Miranshah make Pakistan’s “miscreant” problem difficult to paper over

The Taliban and al Qaeda provided an embarrassing scene for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as President George Bush visited the country last week. Eager to demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the border with Afghanistan, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against a terrorist camp in Danda Saidgai, North Waziristan. The Islamists responded by murdering a U.S. diplomat in a suicide strike outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, as well as launching a counteroffensive against the seat of government in Miranshah, North Waziristan.

The attack on the camp in Danda Saidgai and the fighting in Miranshah reveal much about the tenuous situation the Pakistani government faces in the lawless border regions, particularly in North and South Waziristan. Their is plenty of evidence the Pakistani government exerts very little influence outside of the government center in Miranshah and Wana, which have essentially become military garrisons inside hostile territory controlled by the Taliban.

The terrorist camp in Danda Saidgai wasn’t just a transient camp hastily assembled, but a “sprawling hideout ” and “military complex” which housed hundreds of foreign fighters and served as a training center. There were “eight residential quarters” which served as barracks for the terrorists. This camp has been in existence for some time, and it is believed there are several more like it spread throughout the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Northwest Frontier Provinces.

The Taliban responded two days later by launching a devastating counteroffensive (from a military, political and propaganda perspective) against the garrison city of Miranshah and outlying town of Mir Ali. On Saturday, a confidential source in Wana informed me “Miram Shah got hammered today.” While the Pakistani military eventually regained control of the city, and claim to have killed up to 100 Taliban fighters, the performance of the Pakistani units in Miranshah is troubling. The Taliban occupied government buildings, including a telephone exchange, and looted a local bank. The fighting is still raging around the city.

According to one press account, the Taliban “compelled the [Pakistani] military to transfer its helicopters and other vital equipment to Bannu from Miranshah.” A confidential source informed me the situation was much worse, and the Taliban actually seized military equipment after Pakistani troops abandoned their posts – equipment which includes American made heavy weaponry including armor-piercing rounds, mortars and other equipment.

Despite the Pakistani military’s boasting about retaking the city and inflicting high casualty rates on Taliban forces, the military essentially lost control of Miranshah. The Taliban is openly is flaunting power in Waziristan, and boldly amassed hundreds of fighters to strike at one of the few government strongholds in the region.

The resurgence of the Taliban is often credited to their resilience in Afghanistan, however the truth is the Taliban is not very popular within Afghanistan proper. The Taliban’s power is derived from Pakistan, as it always has since its inception in the early 1990s. The fighting in Afghanistan is largely being fueled in Pakistan’s lawless border region, and Pakistan has proven unable to establish government control five years after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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

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  • Marlin says:

    Until I read this article I wasn’t aware of ‘pirate’ radio stations being part of the problem in the Federally Admnistered Tribal Areas (FATA). With all of these swirling currents in the Pakistani political scene, it becomes very hard not to reach the conclusion that it is basically a ‘failed’ state.
    Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province is always hard to control, but it now poses a new challenge, with scores of illegal radio stations transmitting a message of jihad and sectarian hatred.
    This has so alarmed the central government in Islamabad that it is has closed 40 stations in the mountainous region along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
    Charsadda is a town bristling with the antennae of pirate radios.
    His radio station condemns the actions of Pakistan and US armed forces continuing antial-Qa’eda and Taliban operations in the tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are believed to be hiding, describing the operations as “part of a wider conspiracy to shed the blood of innocent Muslims”.
    Daily Telegraph: FM mullahs fill the airwaves with hatred

  • Marlin says:

    I’m not exactly sure why Musharraf feels the U.S. has to be involved in solving their dispute with Afghanistan, but given this ‘heads up’ it should be interesting to read the prepared comments from this coming Wednesday’s press conference after the Musharraf/Abizaid meeting.
    General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, urged the US on Monday to resolve a growing dispute with neighbouring Afghanistan over the location of Taliban dissidents who Kabul says have taken refuge on Pakistani soil.
    In unusually tough remarks, Gen Musharraf said Pakistan would use a visit to Islamabad on Wednesday by General George Abizaid, commander of the US central command, to highlight “baseless”

  • Marlin says:

    Sorry for taking over the comments temporarily. I’m not a big Arnaud de Borchgrave fan but he as a UPI analysis piece on Musharraf/Pakistan today that is worth reading. I do have to agree with President Clinton’s assessment of Pakistan in 2000, e.g., “The most dangerous place in the world.”
    Washington Times: Commentary: Formula for survival

  • Pete Paraschos says:

    One step back . . .

  • Marlin says:

    I found this conclusion to Carlotta Gall’s article today very interesting.
    Yet despite the pressure, Pakistan is unlikely to move against members of the Taliban, who were the country’s allies until Sept. 11, 2001, because, one foreign diplomat said, it is one battle they don’t feel they need to fight when so much else is taxing the government.
    “The Taliban are not a threat to Pakistan. I don’t think they intend to do anything,” the diplomat added.
    New York Times: Pakistani Leader Lashes Out at Afghan’s ‘Bad-Mouthing’

  • annoy mouse says:

    The fact that President Bush was able to visit Islamabad suggests that Musharraf has at least tentative control of Pakistan, a comment that I would not have been willing to make a week ago. One could hope that the recent escalation between regular forces and foreign fighters might make it politically acceptable for the Pakistani forces to more vigorously engage them in the future. This appears to run counter to previous efforts by the Pakistani army generals who made deals with the tribal warlords but failed to effectively take control of the region. The local tribal leaders are either in cahoots with the foreigners or they are incapable of maintaining control.

  • Sounds like Musharaff is trying containment in the Pakistani heartland. He wouldn’t need to complain to Afghanistan if he would finally take care of business. Pakistan is like the modern day Cambodia to Afghanistan…
    In other news Powerline has a post up from ABC about standardized bombs/materials infiltrating Iraq from Iran, coming from a possible single-factory/area source. It suggests these are designed to specifically target US armor. Look forward to Bill digesting this one!

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hi Mark,
    Concerning the Iran / IED issue, this has been known for some time. The British were first to raise the issue sometime last summer/fall if I remember correctly. These are the stacked antimine devices that can penetrate armor, and are quite deadly. Every inquiry I made while in country about the Iranian mines was brushed off. I usually take that to mean I have the answer.

  • Hmmm…I wonder what we have up our sleeve then to manage the rat lines from Iran, and the weapons flowing in.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I asked Gen Casey about this while at the Syrian border i Husaybah, here was his answer: “We are making efforts to increase security on the Iranian border. We are also making diplomatic efforts to resolve this problem. There is a completely different situation on the Iranian border.” Pretty vague, I know, but it shows they recognized it back then.

  • GK says:

    If Iran is manfacturing and exporting these bombs into Iraq as part of a state-sanctioned policy, that is grounds for the US to, at the very least, destroy that factory in an airstrike in Iranian territory.

  • Dusty says:

    Everything has it’s own time, GK.

  • hamidreza says:

    Iran has 3 or 4 layers of government. The most security conscious and lethal of the layers is the fanatic Islamic intelligence death squads known as the Quds brigade of the Pasdarans. They are basically the military police for the other layers of government that are more visible on the surface.
    Most likely they are responsible for manufacturing the IEDs. They are also in charge of security for nuclear enrichment and bomb making.

  • Garrett says:

    The ACM attacked Miram Shah army base spurred on by radical sheikhs and Mullahs and backed by an army of committed islamicists and foreign fighters. Years of jihad propaganda was behind this. And the Pak Army appears to have used this an excuse to level the racidal ACM madrassas in the area which have been the source of so much military activity on both sides of the Durand line and to take out both the ACM leadership and soldiery which had rallied to them. This is the first real large-scale hit-back by people in Pakistan who don’t want to see a Mullah government. It might well be a seminal turning point…a version of “Tet” where the Pak military finally takes matters into its own hands and goes after those people who have been killing its soldiers. Its worth watching!!

  • C.S. Scott says:

    Comments from a Monday press conference:
    “My take on the situation in Afghanistan is that the Taliban and al Qaeda are not in a position to where they can restart an insurgency of any size and major scope.” – U.S. General James L. Jones, commander of U.S.-European Command and the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (6 March 2006)

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Garrett, I hope you are right. But Pakistan’s actionsin the region, and the 2004 offensive, do not inspire much confidence.
    C.S., I don’t worry about Afghanistan, except that this will increase casualties. I worry about Pakistan itself, and the fact it seems an Salafist enclave has been established to train & equip their network of global fighters. Pakistan appears to have lost control of a portion of its own territory. This is not comforting in the least, and nations that possess nuclear weapons should not be in this state.

  • Garrett says:

    I really think this N. Waziristan battle could be a turning point. Pakistan hasn’t wanted to do anything…and has kept a foot in both camps for strange twisted geopolitical reasoning. I think the army taking matters into its own hands. We’ll see how it plays out. But if those 3 madrassas and their sheikhs are gone, its a huge huge step forward.

  • Tim says:

    You think Musharraf might be willing to look the other way while we level the terrorist complexes? If they’re going to do us the favor of gathering en masse, we really should oblige their martyrdom wishes.

  • The Rise of Talibanistan

    In his post, The Rise of Talibanistan, Bill Roggio highlights the influence that the Taliban (and al Qaeda) have in Hamid Karzai’s democratic Afghanistan. The Taliban and al-Qaeda provided an embarrassing scene for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf …

  • Matthew says:

    I know internal politics dictate such situations – but if these terrorist camps are that well structured, a few B-52 or B-2 strikes of JDAM-directed bombing to “soften up” these targets in support of the Pakistan army would help the army wrest back control of these territories. It would also be a shot across Iran’s bow.
    Doesn’t Pakistan have fighter bombers? I never hear about them.
    Just wishful thinking.

  • Enigma says:

    Nothing really strange about it, Garrett. Musharraf is essentially in the position of serving two masters, and his delicate balancing act leaves neither satisfied. We haven’t really pushed him hard enough to make an irrevocable choice for fear of tipping nuclear-armed Pakistan into the Islamist camp. I think the strange twisted geopolitics is more on our end whereby we leave known terrorist sanctuaries unmolested.

  • Amber says:

    The Rise of Talibanistan

    Another fascinating insight by Bill Rogio?into the Afghani-Pakistani regional problems. I do not know enough about the region to comment; some suggest, as Bill seems to be, that Afghanistan is suffering a resurgence in attacks by the Taliban. I have he…

  • skipsailing says:

    I’m late to this thread but I thought I’d add just a bit. In the latest issue of National Review jay Nordlinger quotes Mussaref’s response to a question about Pakistani soveriegnty. The questioner wondered if Mussaref was concerned that the US violated Pakistan’s soveriegnty. His answer was interesting: basically he said that the US is helping Pakistan deal with the real violators of soveriegnty, the foreign fighters.
    It was an interesting answer and I’m sure since it wasn’t what the press guy wanted, it would never have seen the light of day without the NR pick up.


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