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

 

More articles by:

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) 

January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail