FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Along the Durand Line

by BRIAN M. DOWNING

In February the government of Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) came to an agreement whereby the government accepted the latter’s imposition of Islamic law in parts of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in exchange for a ceasefire. Few thought the agreement would last long and indeed it soon fell apart – because of government support for US Predator strikes, according to TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud. This raises new questions about the future of Pakistan and US/NATO operations in Afghanistan.

On announcing the end of the agreement, Mehsud sent his bands south, toward the political and military centers of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. In so doing, he let passion override strategy and badly damaged the TTP cause. Their thrust into the Punjab heartland accomplished what has only rarely and ephemerally happened in Pakistan: agreement between civilian and military leadership. The rancorous politicians and generals saw the sortie as a challenge to the existence of Pakistan, and struck back.

Guerrilla forces like the TTP are effective in insurgencies and inter-tribal warfare but success can give rise to senses of destiny and invincibility. In going on the offensive toward Islamabad, the TTP had to forego the advantages of insurgents and, to some extent, fight in a conventional manner. They had to concentrate forces, hold positions, and organize supply systems – often in areas where they did not have local support or intimate knowledge of terrain. Such quixotic attacks play into the hands of all but the most inept conventional armies and lead to failure, as the Afghani Taliban learned in its 2007 offensive, as did the Viet Cong in the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Mehsud’s attack also turned large portions of the Pakistani public against them. Many Pakistanis were amenable to tribal autonomy and even Islamic law in parts of the NWFP. After all, the government presence there had never been strong, not even during British rule, and the affairs of Pashtun tribes up in the mountains were of little interest. But the TTP’s drive into the Punjab threatened many Pakistanis who, regardless of comfort with secularization, had little affinity with harsh interpreters of Islam. Attendant images of the TTP’s brutal justice brought a veritable national resolve to defend their way of life and drive the Taliban back into the mountains, regardless of their putative identities as fellow Pakistanis.

The frontier has long been marked by warfare, but it was almost always tribal warfare – a form of conflict circumscribed by custom to limit death and destruction. Led by a young visionary, not tribal elders, the TTP bring an almost limitless idea of warfare that has occasionally jarred the frontier, wreaking havoc on villages and tribal systems alike and portending convulsive but unknowable change. TTP support is localized – South Waziristan, the Swat valley, and a few other pockets. But their sortie brought war to disinterested areas and not all the blame for destruction fell upon the government. In recent days, tribal councils have been pressing for the TTP’s withdrawal from their regions.

Neither popular support for war on fellow Pakistanis nor agreement between government and army can be relied upon to last. Anti-US sentiment is strong and nears the intensity reserved for India. Of particular concern is the response of Islamist personnel in the army and frontier corps whose affinities with the TTP may conflict with professional discipline and lead to balks or worse.

Political-military cooperation and public opinion allow the opportunity to pursue a counterinsurgency program in parts of the NWFP, perhaps only in the Swat valley. Such a program would likely violate constitutional principles or at least long-standing customs in the tribal agencies, and some areas are likely beyond reclamation from the TTP for now. Some army and security forces will remain in towns and villages to keep the TTP at bay, help local police develop intelligence networks, and protect development programs that will ensue.

The government would do well to use foreign aid to bring government services to Swat. Development programs and medical-veterinary services are straightforward but the matter of schools presents critical opportunities. Madrassas have been boot camps for insurgents on both sides of the frontier ever since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when foreign money poured into their coffers. They continue to supply insurgents but in many regions they are the only means of education and advancement. An alternate school system could build rapport between government and society and reduce the number of insurgent recruits as well.

Land reform presents another opportunity. Islamist insurgencies are usually based on religious passion, armed intimidation, or hostility to a foreign presence. The TTP, however, have mobilized support from the those lacking economic opportunity and their own land to till. As with education, the government can make headway against a TTP resurgence by pushing through land reform over the objections of landlords.

For now, the TTP is being driven back and may be in full retreat. Pakistani reports provide casualty figures that are unreliable if not fantastic, but the TTP has undoubtedly been unable to hold ground or inflict high casualties on government forces. TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah recently ordered his forces to leave the main city of Swat to avoid civilian casualties – a ludicrous justification that attests the fight is going badly for them. Reports from Afghanistan indicate an influx of TTP fighters, especially in Kunar province just west of the Swat valley. Bloodied by their foray into the Punjab, the TTP will add numbers to the Afghani Taliban offensive, which is what the Pakistani government wanted when it made the short-lived agreement last February. Whether the TTP have lost their reckless zeal or will forge a lasting agreement with Islamabad remains to be seen.

US/NATO forces may seek to drive the TTP back across the frontier, reengaging them with Pakistani forces and perhaps precluding another short-lived agreement. Caught between a hammer and anvil, the TTP may find negotiating – and abiding by – a settlement to its benefit – perhaps one leaving them latitude in one or more of the tribal agencies. And the US/NATO side will have stripped away one part of the insurgency along the Durand Line.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

 

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of  The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com (Copyright 2015 Brian M Downing) 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail