Archive for the 'Tehrik-i-Taliban' Category

Is Pakistan the Next Failed State?

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 5 months ago

Concerns are being raised about the potential instability of the most populous province in Pakistan.

Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.

The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.

Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be identified because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”

Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are more common. The police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, the local police said.

The authorities arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrasa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.

They belonged to a banned Punjabi group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.

“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.” One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several bank transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani account, the authorities said.

people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance and, in some cases, even assist the militants by giving money to some of the religious schools.

“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the local landlord. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”

The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected, police officials said.

Analysis & Commentary

As feared by the senior police official in Punjab, a lot of people truly don’t understand the gravity of the circumstances in Pakistan.  The Captain’s Journal is not one of them.  Six months ago we said that Pakistan was on the brink of collapse, and just recently David Kilcullen sounded the alarm.

Pakistan could collapse within months, one of the more influential counter-insurgency voices in Washington says.

The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now,” said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House …

Laying out the scale of the challenges facing the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dr Kilcullen put the two countries invaded by US-led forces after the September 11 attacks on the US on a par – each had a population of more than 30 million.

“But Pakistan has 173 million people and 100 nuclear weapons, an army which is bigger than the American army, and the headquarters of al-Qaeda sitting in two-thirds of the country which the Government does not control,” he told the Herald.

It’s really worse than just the concern for al Qaeda.  We’ve discussed the morphing of al Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban into a conglomerate globalist organization with the Pakistan Taliban being led by Baitullah Mehsud. (who had made threats against both the U.S. and Britain).  There are now even indications that the Afghan Taliban may have morphed into a more globalist organization than before under the influence of al Qaeda.

Control over the North West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas has allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to merge ideologies, recruit fighters and extort money for their operations.  In fact, the recent Pakistani approval of the “peace” agreement in Swat has allowed more recruitment through the local Mosques in that area.  Each successive agreement with the Taliban strengthens the Taliban and weakens the Pakistani government.

It is not apparent yet that the Pakistani army has lost its neurotic obsession with India and begun to focus on the internal threat within.  But army headquarters in Ralwalpindi is at risk as much as any other city in Pakistan.  So are Pakistan’s nuclear assets.

Somewhere in the recesses of the Pentagon, gaming should be occurring concerning use of U.S. military assets to ensure the security of the Pakistani nuclear ordnance, because if it becomes necessary to implement these plans, it will be no game.  But the continual degradation of logistics through Pakistan has led us to strongly recommend another route, free from influence by Russia.

From nuclear assets to logistics, to potential Taliban operations in Kashmir and certainly the affects to the campaign in Afghanistan, the failure of Pakistan will indeed dwarf the previous problems that we have seen in that region of the world.  Comprehensive planning should be underway to address the exigency of Pakistan as the next failed state.

Taliban Patrols

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

One of the cornerstone tactics of counterinsurgency is aggressive dismounted patrols.  The Taliban are taking a page from our book, but to aid their insurgency.

The Islamic fundamentalist threat to Pakistan is reaching frightening proportions as Taliban militants infiltrate the key city of Peshawar, boldly attacking military headquarters and NATO supply routes and seeking to spread Islamic rule.

Taliban militants who have been tightening their control outside Peshawar for months have for the first time been patrolling inside the city of 3 million, several eyewitnesses told The Washington Times. The militants last week attacked NATO transit terminals on the Ring Road, a key thoroughfare, and kidnapped officials within the city, including a deputy superintendent of police.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Pakistani police officers beat protesters during clashes near Peshawar on Wednesday. Taliban militants in the city last week attacked NATO transit terminals on the Ring Road, a key thoroughfare, and kidnapped officials within the city.

Peshawar is a new front line for Pakistan in the struggle to contain the Taliban. Just two hours by car from Islamabad, Peshawar is the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and sits astride the route through which 75 percent of NATO supplies for Afghanistan pass.

This isn’t the only province seeing Taliban patrols.

Local Taliban have increased patrolling and set up checkposts in their Lower Dir stronghold after seeing paramilitary vehicles in the area, residents and other sources told Daily Times on Saturday.

A convoy of six vehicles carrying paramilitary personnel visited the Shago Hayaserai site on Wednesday – where the Lower Dir district police officer and former district nazim Alam Zeb Khan had been killed last Sunday. Local Taliban commander Hafeezullah said the military had violated an “informal peace accord” in the area by travelling without prior consultation with the Taliban. “Therefore we are alerting our force to combat the army in case we are attacked,” he said, adding that peace in the area was being disturbed by the government as part of a conspiracy to pave way for another military operation. Residents say the Taliban have started patrolling on the roads for the first time in the area, carrying weapons and checking vehicles. Several families are leaving their homes. The sources said the Taliban patrol roads in Kumbar, Lal Qilla, Bagh, Bandai and Shadas in the day and have faced no resistance. They have set up checkposts at Shakar Tangi, Kaladag, Shadas, Bijligar Hayaserai and parts of the Upper Maidan.

Lower Dir is to the North of Peshawar, and Peshawar is the capital of the North-West Frontier Province.  The insurgency is wide spread through these regions of Pakistan.  South and North Waziristan are already lost to Baitullah Mehsud and other commanders.  Aggressive patrolling means that the insurgency is at a very advanced stage, and time is short to confront the problem head-on and defeat the Taliban militarily.  The Pakistan Army must forget about its imaginary threats and obsession with India and confront their real internal threats.

Nicholas Schmidle on the Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

TNR has a good interview of Nicholas Schmidle concerning the Tehrik-i-Taliban (h/t AM) and its expansion across the Indus River.  I have to disagree with Nicholas on one thing, namely that this really isn’t the first time that Baitullah Mehsud has threatened the U.S. (as we discussed in Baitullah Mehsud Threatens Washington).  But Nicholas is a must read whenever and whatever he writes, and his work on the Next-Gen Taliban is seminal and may never be repeated, unfortunately.  The human terrain may be too inhospitable to get this sort of information and perspective.  Anyway, Nicholas was kicked out of Pakistan after his expose, and I expect that the same thing would happen to any other journalist as good as he is.

Drop by his website and spend some time reading his prose.

Al Qaeda and Taliban Planning More 9/11-Style Attacks

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

This is very important testimony from someone in Pakistan who should know.

Al Qaeda and Taliban are planning to stage terrorist strikes similar to the 9/11 attacks in the US and Europe, NWFP police chief Malik Navid told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior on Monday.

The briefing, on the law and order situation in NWFP, informed the committee that the extremists were spreading throughout Pakistan, adding they planned to destabilise the Middle East to have a launch pad for terrorist attacks on the US or Europe. He said Arabs and people from other countries had entered Afghanistan in large numbers between 1979 and 1995, adding some had expertise in making biochemical weapons. He urged the government to focus on curbing militancy in the country, saying the activities of militants were rapidly increasing.

Responding to question from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker Wasim Akhtar on whether the Taliban were moving towards the country’s major cities, including Karachi and Lahore, Navid said the Taliban were in every city and town. Most groups choose to operate secretly, he added. “Their people are present in every city and town. In some places they are active, in others dormant. The Taliban’s philosophy is to create pockets everywhere,” he said.

He said the Taliban were currently moving towards southern Punjab with intent to eventually reach the financial hub of the country, Karachi. He said the attack on the police academy in Lahore had proven that they were now established in the city.

The NWFP inspector general of police said there was a 1,000-mile porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, adding the neighbouring country was the major source of the weapons in the Tribal Areas. He claimed the Taliban were trying to turn the Tribal Areas into the Islamic Emirates of Waziristan.

Madrassas: According to Navid, Al Qaeda is expert in indoctrinating suicide bombers within a three-month period. He said five to 10 percent of the country’s madrassas were also involved in this. Al Qaeda operative Qari Hussain is training the bombers, he added. The police chief said the militants were composed of Pakistani Taliban, jihadis, local groups, criminals and Afghan Taliban, adding the major component was Al Qaeda. He said the Taliban choose to challenge the writ of the government and target army installations, law enforcement agencies, government buildings, schools, barbers, music shops, NGOs and Internet cafes. He said six suicide attacks had occurred in the NWFP during 2006, 125 in 2007, 62 in 2008 and five in the past three months. He said the Taliban had very sophisticated weaponry, adding police personnel required capacity building to match their opponents.Two men on a motorcycle threw a bomb at a truck carrying an excavating machine to NATO troops in Afghanistan, halting traffic Wednesday along a supply route through Pakistan’s southwest, officials said.

In Baitullah Mehsud Threatens Washington we discussed his most recent threat within the proper context of our year-long investigation of Baitullah’s globalist ambitions.  The news of his latest threats sparked some interest and analysis.  One such comes to us from FOXNews.

Steve Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, said that of the many terrorists who have issued “blustery threats” in recent years, Meshud is considered a “rising young star” among militants.

“He’s a dangerous guy,” Emerson told “It just reaffirms the fact that Washington is a major target.

“He seems to be a pretty bloody, bold guy who is not afraid to have a marker on himself and knows how to exact publicity … The real issue is what U.S. intelligence knows.”

Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, said Mehsud’s attacks have “significantly altered” the political dynamics in Pakistan and provide a major test for President Asif Ali Zardari. But any direct threat Mehsud poses to the United States will be through his link with Al Qaeda, she said.

“If he did have the reach, it would be because of Al Qaeda,” she said. “This is more posturing on his behalf.”

Steve Emerson is correct, but let’s be clear in our own analysis.  Malou Innocent has not yet plugged into the danger that Baitullah poses, and her analysis suffers because of it.  Al Qaeda lives and trains with safe haven in South Waziristan because Baitullah allows it, not vice versa.  It is believed that he has between 20,000 and 100,000 fighters, including a number of well-indoctrinated suicide bombers.  While his “links” with al Qaeda may extend his global reach, rest assurred that he has more fighters at his disposal than al Qaeda could ever hope for.

The testimony above is sobering, and points to what we have always known at The Captain’s Journal.  The model – assumed by Ms. Malou Innocent – of a precise parsing and delineation between groups, sects and factions within the Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan is arcane, outdated and obsolete.  To be sure, they have internecine struggles and jockeying for power.  But the basic axiom of Islamist domination is the same.

Forget about the pretend internet jihadists, because the Taliban are going to destroy connectivity for the masses.  The legitimate hard core fighters have threatened the West yet again, and we believe that they mean business.  The training and plans for their attacks are in the works at the present moment.

Baitullah Mehsud Threatens Washington

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

The Captain’s Journal received numerous visits today from searches concerning Baitullah Mehsud.  It seems that he has threatened Washington.

The commander of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Tuesday for a deadly assault on a Pakistani police academy and said the group was planning a terrorist attack on the White House that would “amaze” the world.

Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S., said Monday’s attack on the outskirts of the eastern city of Lahore was retaliation for U.S. missile strikes against militants along the Afghan border.

“Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world,” Mehsud told The Associated Press by phone. He provided no details.

Mehsud has never been directly linked to any attacks outside Pakistan, but attacks blamed on his network of fighters have widened in scope and ambition in recent years. The threat comes days after President Barack Obama warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the United States from secret havens in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s former government and the CIA named Mehsud as the prime suspect behind the December 2007 killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistani officials accuse him of harboring foreign fighters, including Central Asians linked to al-Qaida, and of training suicide bombers.

In his latest comments, Mehsud identified the White House as one of the targets in an interview with local Dewa Radio, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.

For regular readers of The Captain’s Journal, there isn’t anything new in this threat.  We have discussed it before.

The globalist jihad movement of al Qaeda has been merged with the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan.  The TTP shout to passersby in Khyber “We are Taliban! We are mujahedin! We are al-Qaida!”  There is no distinction.  A Pakistan interior ministry official has even said that the TTP and al Qaeda are one and the same.

TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud has saidWe want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”  Now there are even indications that the original Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar have morphed into an organization that desires regional Islamist revolutions.

Only recently (March, 2009) did the U.S. see the danger with him and begin to target Baitullah Mehsud with UAVs.  If readers will tool back through the archives for Baitullah Mehsud, you will find that we have been discussing him for approximately one year, warning throughout the last year of his globalist intentions.

What turns out to be big news today, you found out about one year ago.  That’s why you read The Captain’s Journal.

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn for the link.  While you’re on board, drop by and check out reports of a son at war in Fallujah, 2007, and recently returned from the 26th MEU.

Financing the Taliban Part 2

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

In Financing the Taliban we addressed the issue of poppy, and why its eradication wouldn’t end the Taliban or the threat they pose to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the larger region.  In addition to poppy, Taliban support comes from taxation of various businesses as well as active participation in larger industrial-size operations.

ZIARAT, Pakistan — The Taliban’s takeover in April of the Ziarat marble quarry, a coveted national asset, is one of the boldest examples of how they have made Pakistan’s tribal areas far more than a base for training camps or a launchpad for sending fighters into Afghanistan.

A rare, unescorted visit to the region this month revealed how the Taliban are grabbing territory, using the income they exact to strengthen their hold and turn themselves into a self-sustaining fighting force. The quarry alone has brought tens of thousands of dollars, said Zaman, a tribal leader.

The seizure of the quarry is a measure of how, as the Pakistani military has pulled back under a series of peace deals, the Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach through more of the rugged 600-mile-long territory in northern Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

The quarry here in the Mohmand tribal district, strategically situated between Peshawar and the Afghan border, is a new effort by the Taliban to harness the region’s abundant natural resources of coal, gold, copper and chromate.

Of all the minerals in the tribal areas, the marble from Ziarat is one of the most highly prized for use in expensive floors and walls in Pakistan, and in limited quantities abroad …

The Taliban decided that one mountain in the Ziarat area belonged to the Masaud division of the main Safi tribe, and said the Gurbaz subtribe would be rewarded another mountain, Zaman, the contractor, said.

The mountain assigned to the Masauds was divided into 30 portions, he said, and each of six area villages was assigned five of the 30 portions.

Zaman said the Taliban demanded $1,500 commission upfront for each portion, giving the insurgents a quick $45,000.

The Taliban also demanded a $7 tax on each truckload of marble, he said. With a constant flow of trucks, the Taliban were collecting up to $500 a day, Zaman said.

Taliban interest doesn’t stop with marble quarries though.  The recent deal with the Taliban in Swat has led to Taliban control over precious stone mines.

The Pakistani Taliban have taken control of mines producing precious lapis lazuli stones in the insurgency-hit Swat valley and started operating them on their own.

The Taliban have confirmed that they took control of the mines two months ago when they arrived in the hilly area of Fiza Ghat, a resort on the outskirts of Mingora, the main city in Swat valley.

The militants have appointed hundreds of local labourers to work round the clock to excavate lapis lazuli stones as authorities in the area had left the mines, BBC Urdu reported on Wednesday on its website.

One-third of the income from the mines is taken by the Taliban while the rest is offered to the labourers, a Taliban militant said. The Taliban have deployed senior commanders at several mines to monitor the excavation of stones.

The mines hold the promise of a significant source of income for the Taliban.

When fully operational, the mines yielded a quarter of a million carats of emeralds between 1978 and 1988. The last official estimate put the projected yield at about 13.2 million carats. Gemstone dealers say that most emeralds range from just under one carat to just over five. Prices range from $1,000 to more than $100,000 for a cut stone.

The problem is not pomegranate, marble, emeralds, or small businesses.  The problem is the Taliban, and until they are dealt with, the targeting of their sources of income will only end up harming our reputation among the very population whose cooperation we need to win the campaign.


Financing the Taliban

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue Part 2

NATO and Poppy: The War Over Revenue

The Global Aspirations of the Afghan Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know what we believe regarding negotiations with the Taliban.  Some indigenous poor may be stripped away from the hard core Taliban, but the hard core Taliban cannot be reconciled.  We needn’t rehearse this issue again.  But there is a recent analysis on negotiating with the Taliban that has both an important and related observation.

The premise underlying negotiations is that the insurgency can be short-circuited by splitting commanders who are fighting because of grievances like the civilian deaths in U.S. military operations away from true believers loyal to Taliban founder and Osama bin Laden ally Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Other experts have serious doubts. They say Omar and the leaders of associated militant groups believe that President Hamid Karzai’s government has lost popular support and they are winning against U.S.-led military forces. So long as they are of that view, there can be no peace, these experts say.

“Afghanistan was created by God for this kind of guerrilla fighting. It has high mountains and long valleys and narrow trails,” said Wahid Mughzdah, a former anti-Soviet fighter-turned-political analyst who worked in the Foreign Ministry during the former Taliban regime. “Al-Qaida and the Taliban understand that America doesn’t have a chance of success in this country.”

Further, he said, the Taliban are no longer only concerned with imposing Islamic rule on Afghanistan, but have adopted al-Qaida’s aim of staging Islamist revolutions throughout Asia and the Middle East.

We’ve already dealt with the evolution of the thinking of the Tehrik-i-Taliban to a much more global perspective in Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda, something Nicholas Schmidle calls the next-gen Taliban.  Until now The Captain’s Journal has always been careful to distinguish between the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar, emphasizing that the globalist perspective had thoroughly set in to the TTP world view, but somewhat less so for the Afghan Taliban.

Some may object that Wahid Mughzdah is exaggerating, but if so, for what purpose?  In either case, this data point suggests that there is less difference between the Tehrik-i-Taliban and the Afghan Taliban than we thought.  It is only a single data point, but it is an important one.  File this away with the label “very important” and tag it to make it easily search-able for instant recall.

The Problem with the New Afghanistan Strategy

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

The 101st Airborne on patrol near Bagram Air Base, North of Kabul.

Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know that we haven’t covered the missile strikes or supposed hits on high value targets (HVT) in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.  This strategy, i.e., attacking mid- to high-level commanders in the hopes that the organization or ideology will disintegrate, is wasteful of time and resources.

Note that our objection has nothing to do with collateral damage, or the alleged benefit of these strikes to Taliban recruitment.  We simply believe that the strategy will fail.  And fail it has indeed, at least thus far.  But it appears as if not only will the U.S. continue to engage in strikes to HVT, the program is set to expand into Quetta, Pakistan.

President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

According to senior administration officials, two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the Taliban government that was ousted in the American-led invasion in 2001, has operated with near impunity out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies.

The extensive missile strikes being carried out by Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones have until now been limited to the tribal areas, and have never been extended into Baluchistan, a sprawling province that is under the authority of the central government, and which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest. Fear remains within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions. Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty.

But some American officials say the missile strikes in the tribal areas have forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south toward Quetta, making them more vulnerable. In separate reports, groups led by both Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region, and Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, a top White House official on Afghanistan, have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency.

Many of Mr. Obama’s advisers are also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas. They also are recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September. Mr. Bush’s orders also named as targets a wide variety of insurgents seeking to topple Pakistan’s government. Mr. Obama has said little in public about how broadly he wants to pursue those groups.

Just to be clear because the New York Times is not, when they refer to the Taliban, they mean the original Afghanistan Taliban under the command of Mullah Mohammed Omar, not the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) under various commands, most specifically Baitullah Mehsud.  The TTP resides mostly in the FATA and NWFP (while they also send fighters into Afghanistan), while the Afghan Taliban fight in Afghanistan and seek safe haven and rest in and around Quetta, Pakistan.

We have previously discussed our principled objection to the centerpiece of the Afghanistan / Pakistan operation being cloak and dagger raids and missile strikes against HVT.  It isn’t counterinsurgency; it’s counterterrorism.  But a much more pragmatic objection is that it simply doesn’t work.  It has been tried and failed now for more than six years.  The new strategy of “more of the same” won’t work.

One reason that it has failed – although not by any stretch the only reason – is that it doesn’t really put the enemy on the defensive.  That’s also the problem with the so-called negotiations that the current administration wants to pursue with the Taliban.  The deluge of noise on negotiations convinces no one that the Taliban are actually being compelled to negotiate, and everyone that the U.S. is pining for the end of the fight.

Gareth Porter with the Asia Times succinctly explains why this strategy won’t work.  “Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers reported from Kabul on Sunday that experts on the Taliban express “serious doubts” about the splitting strategy, because insurgent leaders believe they are winning and the Hamid Karzai government is growing weaker.”

Recall that we’ve already discussed our opinion (The Coming Battle for Afghanistan) that Biden’s position that only 5% of the Taliban are incorrigible is simply daydreaming, and that in reality it is the indigenous poor that can be targeted for turning against the Taliban.  But simply put, the switching of sides is not something that can be engineered.  Force projection is necessary, and that for a protracted duration.  The Afghans must see the U.S. as the stronger horse in the race.

As for Pakistan, there is happy talk about the reinstatement of previously sacked Supreme Court judges in Pakistan to their posts and what this means about the rule of law.  The rule of law is disintegrating in Pakistan with the erstwhile Talibanization of the FATA and NWFP, and the ongoing Talibanization of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.  Supreme Court judges are a side show.

Regarding the objection that the Taliban cannot be defeated unless their safe havens are ended in Pakistan, this complaint rings empty when the forces have not been committed to win the campaign in Afghanistan.  The field is ripe for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and no HVT campaign in Pakistan will replace the need to do COIN in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan first, then Pakistan as the campaign proceeds – and after the Pakistani Army and the Taliban see that we’re serious about the campaign.

In Search of Good Taliban

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 7 months ago

Military brass and strategists have been pining away at the good Taliban – the ones with whom we can deal in order to manufacture some sort of Afghanistan tribal “awakening” on the order of the Anbar campaign.  Thus the secret negotiations continue, attempting to stop the leak through the dam that is the Afghanistan insurgency.  The Captain’s Journal has struck a cautionary note concerning these so-called negotiations, especially without the accompanying force projection by U.S. troops, but a commentary in the Times of India does a good job of summing up the problem in a recent commentary.

According to certain strategists, in Pakistan as well as in the US, the Taliban can be broadly drawn into two categories -one, the socially ultra-conservative Islamists, who demand the rule of sharia in areas where they dominate, and, two, the global jihadis. It’s being suggested that the world can do business with the former, if only to isolate and eliminate the latter, the bad ones.

Is this a valid distinction? When General Musharraf suggested that there were “moderate” Talibs, the then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh had called this an “oxymoron” – and most of the world, the West certainly, would have agreed. And yet now, when the Taliban is threatening to overrun Pakistan, there are some who are proffering the “good” Taliban theory as a key foreign policy input for the US.

This is the theory that guided Islamabad to strike a deal last month in Swat with Muhammad Sufi, the same man who sent thousands of Talibs to fight the Americans when they went into Afghanistan after 26/11. He is today being seen as a “moderate” who is not interested in affairs outside Swat, unlike Baitullah Mehsud, the bad Taliban, who heads Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and is waging a war against the state.

US strategists tend to divide the Taliban into three groups: first, based in Afghanistan under leaders like Jalaluddin Haqqani, responsible for the violence in Afghanistan; second, the Pakistan Taliban; and third, the ones led by Mullah Omar of the Quetta Shura, the core of al-Qaida. Some American strategists believe that by exploiting the divisions among these groups, US could achieve its objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre.

Experts here say there are several reasons why flirtation with any kind of Talibanism is dangerous. They point out that, good or bad, all Talibs who demand the enforcement of sharia invoke a variant of Islam that also calls for Islamic domination by global jihad. Besides, to accept the “good” Taliban theory is to write off the rights of Muslim women, allow public stoning and summary executions.

So this commentary groups the Taliban in three divisions.  First, there is Jalaluddin Haqqani, ex-anti Soviet fighter and commander, now anti-U.S. commander.  Second, the Tehrik-i-Taliban, and third, Mullah Omar and the more traditional Afghanistan Taliban who have sought refuge in and around Quetta.  He has aligned al Qaeda with Omar when perhaps they should be more aligned with the Tehrik-i-Taliban, but let’s not quibble over details.

In a commentary for the Washington Times, Georgie Anne Geyer shills for the current administration in a pitiful piece on a symposium entitled “NATO at 60,” sponsored by the European Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.  Geyers’ piece is just horrible for anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan or Pakistan, but she does give us an interesting quote.

As Ali Jalali, former Afghan interior minister and now a specialist with the National Defense University, said of his country at the symposium: “There are three kinds of opposition – the traditional insurgency of people who have been mistreated by the government and is not ideology-backed, the classic ideological Taliban-type movement, and the global movements using Afghanistan for their own purposes.”

Now it must be understood that this comment pertains more to Afghanistan than Pakistan, but the divisions Mr. Jalali gives us is as follows: indigenous insurgency, Afghan Taliban and the globalists.  This division is troubling because it fails to recognize what is pointed out by the commentary at the India Times, namely that all Talibs who demand the enforcement of sharia invoke a variant of Islam that also calls for Islamic domination by global jihad.

This requires careful thought.  The author is not saying that everyone who invokes Sharia is a Talib.  The author is saying that the Taliban who invoke Sharia do so in concert with a hermeneutic of Islam that is accompanied by a globalist import.  The distinction means everything, and the reader is advised to read the last several sentences again.

Thus The Captain’s Journal has been very wary of such “negotiations,” believing that the kinetic operations that will necessarily precede the next phase of the campaign have not yet occurred.  We have seen only the precursors.

As for the brief analysis by Jalali concerning the Afghan Taliban, we are afraid that he doesn’t group the traditional Taliban with the globalists, a mistake we made prior to 9/11.  It’s all about the hermeneutics rather than sociology.

But there is a group with which we can bargain and maneuver.  It is the indigenous insurgency who fights for monetary well-being.

FARAH, 5 March 2009 (IRIN) – A 25-year-old man we will call Shakir has told IRIN he rues rejecting an offer of “work” from a Taliban agent whereby he would get 500 Afghanis (about US$10) a day for carrying out attacks on government offices in Farah Province, southwestern Afghanistan.

Those who accepted the offer are better off, he thinks.

“People are jobless, hungry and destitute so they agree to do anything for a small payment,” he told IRIN, refusing to give his name for fear the insurgents would kill him.

The Farah ring-road linking southern and western provinces is risky for relief convoys. Dozens of food aid trucks hired by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) were attacked there in 2008, and Farah Province is seen as a hotbed of insurgency: two districts have been taken over by the insurgents in the past two years, according to local officials.

Shakir was deported from Iran three times in 2006-2008 and his efforts to find a job in his home district of Pushtroad have been unsuccessful. “I cannot marry and start a family because I have no money… Wherever I go [for work] I return empty-handed,” he said.

“The Taliban pay 500-1,000 Afghanis [$10-20] for a day of action against government and American forces,” said Lutfullah, 23, from Helmand Province.

By contrast, government employees get less than $2 a day.

In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes.  We must address the situation holistically, but we must be careful with whom we negotiate and who we pay – and with whom we fight.

It is estimated that there are on the order of 20,000 hard core Taliban fighters alone in Helmand, and more in the balance of Afghanistan.  The Captain’s Journal seriously doubts that we can align any of these elements with the U.S. on a long term basis.

The indigenous poor are a different story.  This may be the doorway we are looking for.

John Robb on Iraq and the Taliban Victory in Swat

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 7 months ago

For those who follow John Robb at Global Guerrillas, John turns our head with a couple of recent posts, and they are related (the mistaken narrative in the first informs the view in the second).  First, Robb conveys some strange musings on Iraq and the lack of applicability of our experience there to Afghanistan.

Perversely, the US military doesn’t see what happened in Iraq as luck.  Revisionist history is now attributing it to the successful application of COIN doctrine and secret weapons (arg!).  As a result of these assumption errors, it isn’t using the lull in the conflict as a window of opportunity to withdraw.  This would be the smart thing to do given the fiscal crunch in the US.

The second pertains to the Pakistan’s truce with the Taliban in Swat.

To the extent there is an upside,

  1. Open warfare will slow, curtailing the bad effects of a unpopular guerrilla war on Pakistan’s military.
  2. These groups can now be negotiated with, since it is likely that by giving these Islamic groups local control, it forces them into a position of defending gains.  They now have something to lose.
  3. Internal opposition will mount as these Islamic groups over reach with their application of Sharia.

Attaboy!  Only John Robb could find good in the settlement with the Taliban and bad in the success in Iraq.  Let’s unpack this a bit.  But stay tuned for some personal revelations on this ridiculous notion of luck (and maybe a bit more)!

First off, Robb assumes that the Taliban have no global interests and will negotiate in good faith.  The past three years in Pakistan have shown this to be a false axiom, and we have discussed this in our own articles.  Says Baitullah Mehsud,

“We want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

The second point is just as important and related to both his comment on Swat and his view of the successes in Iraq.  It is absolutely critical to get the correct narrative on Iraq.  Without it the wrong lessons will be learned and thus will become institutional obstacles rather than tools.

The Captain is a Calvinist, and so to The Captain’s Journal, luck doesn’t exist.  But without a doubt The Captain’s Journal has many readers who do not see things through the lens of the Calvinian perspective.  But those who don’t can’t define luck in a philosophically defensible way.  Luck is something that is without power and lacking as a causative agent.  Luck doesn’t effect change or cause things to happen.  “Luck” is what people say when they haven’t thought clearly enough about it to say what really happened.  Luck is when people throw up their hands and refuse to think any further because they are mentally lazy or their system is philosophically bankrupt.

But Robb isn’t really lazy, and he doesn’t ascribe the success to something nonexistent.  He is just using the term loosely.  Writers and analysts shouldn’t do that.  Earlier in the article he summarizes what he believes happened in Iraq.

… a low level civil war that put two front pressure on guerrilla groups, a commander (Petaeus) that was able to abandon doctrine in favor of developments taking place on the ground (local commanders reporting that Sunni tribal groups were willing to work with the US), [creating] a crack in the Iraqi open source insurgency that enabled the US military to turn hundreds of guerrilla/tribal groups into US funded/armed militias.

It’s all about the tribes to Robb.  The tribes were a significant part of the turnaround in Anbar, to be sure, but without the proper context this narrative can be misleading.  As we have discussed before, Colonel MacFarland noted the state of the tribes upon his arrival to Anbar.

… the sheiks were sitting on the fence.

They were not sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but they tolerated its members, MacFarland says.

The sheiks’ outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists — primarily former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party — and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks.

“Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys,” he says.

Similarly, Abu Ahmed in al Qaim, Iraq (the Western part of Anbar), lost to al Qaeda until the U.S. Marines joined the fight at his behest.  The tribe-only approach to the success in Iraq, or in other words, the either-or approach to the narrative, is flawed in that it fails to recognize the symbiotic connection between the indigenous and U.S. forces.  No one “reported” that the tribes were willing to work with the U.S. forces as if waiting for approval.  U.S. forces worked with tribal sheikhs from the beginning in Anbar, and this persistence it eventually paid off.  Rather than either-or, it was both-and.

With a foreign army (referring to al Qaeda) having invaded Anbar, the tribes needed another army to help drive it away.  Without a functional Iraqi army, they turned to the U.S. forces.  Similarly, the tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan will not be able to drive out the Taliban alone.  Force projection and strength are required.

This is the crucial point where Robb fails to grasp the fundamental nature of the problem with the Taliban and al Qaeda.  He reaches the stunning and inverted conclusion that having achieved victory is the only thing that will bring the Taliban to the bargaining table, and that the circumstances alone will defeat the insurgency.  This coheres with Robb’s usual position that insurgencies cannot be defeated.  Getting the narrative wrong is perilous, and lessons learned and applied can only redound to success when they are the right lessons.

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