The Pakistan problem, and the wrong solution

Members of the Frontier Corps on guard in Mingora, Swat on November 1. Reuters photograph. Click to view.

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.

Read the full article at the Weekly Standard.

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



  • Gary Johnson says:

    Great Article…It is amazing how many Leaks are coming out of our state department these days. You have to wonder if the insiders are being paid to give up the info or if they are handing over the info as a matter of internal rebellion.
    As to your wrong solutions part – Why did you dance around the bush…just say it flat out – America needs to get into the NFWP now, fast, yesterday, should’ve been there a year ago…only our military can wipe out to a man this Taliban/Al Qaeda Pashtun Islamist Caliphate Revivalist trash of humanity?

  • A great piece here, Bill.
    I think one of the disheartening aspects of recent gains by the Taliban is that without their chewing up more territory and moving into village after village, this may have been a hugely devastating winter on the Taliban.
    They had a lot of goals and dreams snuffed out this past year – from the failed Spring Offensive to huge losses throughout the summer and fall. Chances are the wintering areas would have been a bit lean on food, supplies and even weaponry.
    But, if the situation holds, they will have an easy winter.
    As always, thanks for all the great insight into the region.

  • Turner says:

    Good article. In a nutshell, there are not enough positive things going on in Pakistan for an “Anbar Awakening” to awaken to. Civilization is too weak in Pakistan to defend itself.
    We’ve kind of got a waiting game going in Pakistan. They’re like talibanized Afghanistan was but with a civilized storefront, and they’ve successfully portrayed themselves as having some aspirations toward modernity. On the other hand, they’re stuck giving us what we want, flyover access to Afghanistan, as long as they make the attempt, however limp it might be.
    As Iraq improves and regains it’s independence, our hand strengthens and Iraq becomes nothing more than a sponge to attract and capture the occasional loose jihadi from europe and north africa. It is probably to the US’s advantage that Pakistan remain in stalemate until then.
    Meanwhile, we will fight them from Afghanistan and in doing so we may want to adjust our policy. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has a geographic similarity to Viet Nam — a skinny shape with a long border exposed to hostile, invading guerilla forces. This of course, is why the Al Quada zone in Pakistan snakes along the edge of Afghanistan.
    If we have any policy change, this is where it should be. Where there is territory that once was Pakistan but is no longer under Pakistani control, we should cross the border from Afghanistan to recapture it for Pakistan as needed. And we should bring Pakistani troops along for the ride. Afghanistan certainly won’t object, Pakistan saves face, Al Quada can’t protest US bases in Pakistan, because there aren’t any, and we can temporarily assist Pakistan with US military logistics and air power, without giving them the store. If need be, we could do this as a “surprise” attack with the Pakistanis so that it looks clever rather than “colonialist.”
    Other than that, it’s a waiting game. Al Quada can’t strike the US because the world would rebel and we would run over them in the Pakistan strip like we did in Afghanistan. We can’t move too assertively, because we’ve not yet proved our good intent in the region by fully stabilizing Iraq and turning it back to it’s own military. Afghanistan will remain a little uncertain until we deal with cross-border Al Quada. Al Quada meanwhile needs the veneer of civilization in lower Pakistan to keep the world from rushing in.
    While we’re waiting we should promote the idea of two separate countries within the borders of Pakistan — the northern strip vs. “free” Pakistan. We need to develop a separate vocabulary and description for the two and promote this distinction as widely as possible. In the future we will need to befriend one and help attack the other. We need the difference in our intent to be clear and we want that distinction between the two to be shared in other parts of the world

  • JHM says:

    Rear-Colonel Roggio is far from ‘mentally depraved.’ He quite stands out from the rank and file of the Antiterror Junta intellectually for a couple of reasons:
    (1) He does not rush to cash in on a temporary glimmer of ‘success’ in the former Iraq by announcing that pandering to tribes and tribalism is a sure-fire universal panacea.
    (2) He understands that al-‘Anbár is quite different from Wazíristán, or, to put it in very general terms, that Area Studies ought to trump Social Science when it comes to counterinsurgency scheming and other projects of Big Management.
    To combine the points: he is not in too much of a hurry to pay attention to particulars. This is admirable and I admire it. Mr. Blake went a bit too far when he announced that “To generalise is to be an idiot,” but he was headed in the right direction.
    The bad news is that particularization breaks down when we pass from “problem” to “solution” and learn not much more than “More, not less, direct support from the United States military will be necessary.” Blake’s idiot might suppose that the faith-crazies are expected to fold as soon as they realize that the Islamabad regime possesses a general direct military support from Crawford. They won’t, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Roggio does not expect that they will. So how is it supposed to work, exactly?
    Should we understand that that whole string of Pakistani “capitulations” resulted from inadequate means deployed on behalf of a perfectly correct strategy, one that is bound to work with GOP Hyperpower now really behind it? That would make sense, but I rather got the impression that the ISI & Co. may have lost more because they wanted to lose than because they had to.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Excellent article, Bill.
    In response to Turner’s post, he makes some very good points.
    A few difficulties, however.
    First, although I agree with the principle of attacking AQ strongholds on the Pakistani side over which Pakistan government has lost control, as a practical/political matter, even taking along Pak troops for the ride, the Pak government (i.e. Musharraf) will never go for this. It is most certainly *not* a face-saving action for Pakistan; it would be a humiliation, proof-positive that Pakistan is not able to control its own territory and needs American muscle to do the job (which is true but truth has nothing to do with reality in this instance). Musharraf would rather publicly pretend that everything is OK and, in fact, has been publicly saying that there are no AQ strongholds in Pakistan. With this kind of denial substituting as policy, how could Musharraf allow Pakistani troops to go along with American troops in re-conquering even small patches of Pakistan territory that they have publicly denied were ever out of their control in the first place? And this is assuming that Pakistani troops would even be willing to make the attempt to re-conquer anything, even with American forces.
    Second, I wonder what sort of “waiting game” (as you put it) we can afford. Not only is AQ perfectly willing and increasingly able to strike the U.S., but they are actively trying to do so. World opinion would not prevent or even delay AQ from striking the U.S. if the opportunity presented itself. And that’s assuming that world opinion would be against such a strike; there are unfortunately too many countries like Venezuela, Iran, Russia, China et al that would be only too happy to see the U.S. hit again by AQ. I submit that we cannot afford to wait one minute in that regard, particularly where Pakistani nukes are in any danger of being transferred to AQ.
    My modest proposal, therefor, would be along the lines Turner proposes — striking at AQ strongholds in Pakistan– but as covertly as possible at first. One of the aims of this effort would be to push AQ and its Taliban hosts further and further from the A-Stan border, creating something like a buffer zone or DMZ along the A-stan/P-stan border. In these zones, gradually U.S. forces could operate more freely and openly and, perhaps, support and establish “Free Tribal Areas” occupied by friendly Pashtun tribes paired with SOF’s who have ready and quick access to U.S. airpower if needed. If there is one lesson learned in A-stan and even Iraq, it is that our enemies are quickly awed and overwhelmed by the power and diversity of U.S. air assets. And this has a powerful effect upon allies as well, reinforcing the belief that they have picked the ‘strong horse’ to use bin Laden’s phrase. And that is what this new theater in Pakistan will, ultimately, require: a decision by the tribes on who is the strong horse. That is the second aim of operations into the border areas: to publicly humiliate AQ and pro-Taliban tribes by showing how inept and powerless they are against a modern military force. I have to believe that there are plenty of Pashtun tribal leaders with the ambition to take over an area of P-stan with U.S. back up in all its various forms. And here is the face-saving for Musharraf: he can simply deny that any of it is happening just as he denies that there is a problem right now. When AQ and the Taliban complain that the U.S. is operating in Pakistani territory, Musharraf can simply continue to say that Pakistan is in full control of its territory. The U.S. says nothing publicly. Privately, of course, we make it clear to Musharraf that since he has done such a miserable job of securing his borders, we will help him with that and he will not interfere with any U.S. air flights in these border areas; we agree that we will avoid openly embarrassing him with large-scale operations.
    There is, in a sense, a certain parallel between the tribal areas and the Anbar situation. Progress will not occur until the locals feel the pain sufficiently. As Bill pointed out, Anbaris simply could not tolerate AQI any longer and they rebelled. In Pakistan tribal areas, we must make it clear to all tribes hosting and supporting AQ that there is a steep price to be paid and we must be prepared to accept collateral damage when villages host AQ camps and the like. Just as we did in Ramadi, U.S. forces can clear out the rats and give the locals a choice for a better life free of AQ vermin and the U.S. aid that goes with it, or suffer repeated fumigations.

  • ds says:

    I think a key difference between Iraq (and more specifically Anbar) and Pakistan is that the U.S. was able to change strategies midstream because of successes achieved by the men on the ground (i.e. Petraeus). These successes became the heart of a larger, sweeping change in the U.S. approach.
    In Pakistan, we don’t have boots on the ground. We’re not in touch with the populace, and we’re not in any position to engage in much “action research.”
    Personally, I’m not sure what the proper solution is, but I’m guessing it will not be simple or easy, and it will involve the U.S. Military being engaged in Pakistan in a major way. Hopefully, Al Qaeda won’t be able to mount a major attack on U.S. soil prior to this engagement becoming a reality.

  • Friday links

    Trying to put it in simple terms for us unenlightened kufar why the victim of a gang rape has been sentenced to 200 lashes, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Justice (yes, I typed that with a straight face) tries to

  • jeandon says:

    We’re getting there. Great ideas! I hope the joint chiefs are reading Roggio these days. The right doctrine is not Anbar but early Afghanistan. A few special ops, who can call down a literal rain of 2,000lb bombs with exquisite accuracy, embedded with the Pak army, NATO and whatever tribesmen that are willing and able, crossing the “border” from Afghanistan in a hammer and anvil attack on Taliban and their allies; with the anvil being the Pak army.
    The Paks should be informed that when the operation is successful, they will bef presented with the pacified territories, if they can hold them, something they have never had in history.

  • Turner says:

    Good points TS alfebet (above). I agree that the proposition AQ might hold off from a massive strike seems absurd, and perhaps it is. Birkah-Bin-Laden, however, the one who has others kill themselves, but puts an unusual amount of effort into saving his own skin and hiding from George Bush vs. leading the jihadis in battle. Somalia’s too wild to complain or protect him from US incursions at the moment, so he’s kind of bolttled up in P-stan.
    Musharrif might balk, but Bhutto or any other successor, would be champing at the bit to show progress over Mushariff, and a joint ops invasion from the A-stan side of the border does that. They’d also be seeking some way of deploying the P-stan military without empowering it enough to overrun civilian rule. Joint Ops with the US would do that. I believe Mushariff needs a muzzle on the military as well since too effective a military could overrun him.
    As Jeandon said, this is probably an early A-stan model, not an Anbar model. The “tribes” in Iraq are at least hooked into the modern world. The tribal regions in P-stan are more savage than that.
    On the nukes: it’s only a “waiting game” if we think PAL triggers and other things help. If AQ overran the capital and took direct control of the nukes, that would, again, create world support for invading P-stan directly.
    I believe it’s a waiting game in general because our hand strengthens over time, as we wait for a significant enough change to justify action. Unless Birkah-Bin-Laden becomes less of a hiding squirrel we’ve got him bottled up as well, with Iraq drawing off jihadis.

  • Jim Rockford says:

    Anbar eventually worked because only one tribe would rule, AQ or the existing tribes. The US wasn’t going to stay and wasn’t going to rule. No wonder (though as noted a close-run thing).
    The Pashtun tribes ARE AQ/Taliban. No threat to rule and power, rather the AQ/Taliban forces ARE tribal forces. I don’t see how there could be a divide-rule/ally strategy.
    Who are the tribal enemies of the Pashtuns? I would suggest the US military help with massive air strikes tribal enemies of the Pashtuns and push them out of as many places as possible. Replicating the Northern Alliance early Afghan campaign. Not without risk though.

  • I’ve been absent from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations for far too long.

    This post shall be updated throughout the day, perhaps throughout the weekend. FYI.
    I may even touch on recent events in Russia propert and some involving our own intelligence community – but for now I’ll just say that criminal and civil law ou…


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