After 9/11, Islamabad initially left the tribal areas alone. But when it became obvious that al-Qaeda and Taliban militants were crossing the border to escape U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan sent in the first of what eventually became 80,000 troops. They had some success: the Pakistani army captured terrorist leaders and destroyed training camps. But the harder the military pressed, the more locals resented its presence, especially when civilians were killed in botched raids against terrorists.
At first, the Taliban were perhaps not seen as outsiders as much as federal troops from Islamabad were -- after all, the Taliban had their roots in these areas in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.
In that context, any misstep on the part of Pakistani forces would only serve to drive the Waziristan locals in these areas closer to the Taliban.
But, the reaction of the locals to the arrival of the Taliban should have been more along the lines of "Guess who's coming to dinner" because, as we have seen, the Taliban have been killing off the traditional local leaders in Waziristan, and replacing them with Taliban-friendly leaders.
As part of peace accords signed last September with tribal leaders in North Waziristan, the Pakistani military agreed to take down roadblocks, stop patrols and return to their barracks. In exchange, local militants promised not to attack troops and to end cross-border raids into Afghanistan. The accords came in part because the Pakistani army was simply unable to tame the region. Over the past two years, it has lost more than 700 troops there. The change in tactics, says Gul, was an admission that the Pakistani military had "lost the game."
Three years ago, one prominent warlord in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, about whom I have begun another series of posts, signed a deal with Islamabad that was billed as his surrender. He pledged he would not associate with Al Qaeda, and that he would not attack federal forces, and for a while, the area was described as peaceful, especially when compared with North Waziristan -- but, things changed, of course.
Even with a resulting relative peace, however, one questions Islamabad's decision, which seems to have been an abrogation of authority in an area not known to submit to outside governments. As I have pointed out, it is reminiscent of the Wild West.
The army isn't the only one paying the price now. Since Pakistani forces scaled back operations in the border region, the insurgency in Afghanistan has intensified. Cross-border raids and suicide bombings aimed at U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have tripled, according to the senior U.S. military official. He concedes that "the Pakistanis are in a very difficult position. You could put 50,000 men on that border, and you wouldn't be able to seal it."
Islamabad is confronted with a quagmire. This region will eat up Pakistan's army, and Pakistan's budget.
Washington, by going deeper into debt, can underwrite Islamabad's efforts here, and fund the war, but there still remain the ramifications of military intervention by the federal government in these areas -- will the people resent Islamabad more, and will powerful elements in Pakistani society view Musharraf as a puppet of the Great Satan, jeopardizing his power and even the stability that Pakistan now has, a stability that is relative compared to what could happen?
And what is it that could happen?
Pakistan is a rather artificial state, the product of old colonial boundaries, such as the Durand Line. In a worst-case scenario, Waziristan isn't the only area that might achieve not just de facto but de jure independence from Islamabad.
The Pashtuns, who are a significant minority on both sides of the border, could finish with their own homeland -- Pashtunistan -- as could the people of Balochistan. (See also Before and After; also, watch for upcoming posts of the Genesis series to see what the Taliban thought about Pashtunistan.)
The troop drawback has allowed Pakistani militants allied with the Taliban to impose their will on the border areas. They have established Shari'a courts and executed "criminals" on the basis of Islamic law. Even Pakistani-army convoys are sometimes escorted by Taliban militants to ensure safe passage, a scene witnessed by TIME in North Waziristan one recent afternoon. "The state has withdrawn and ceded this territory," says Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group. "[The Taliban] have been given their own little piece of real estate."
We have addressed this in recent posts.
This is another ramification of the instability resulting from Musharraf's treatment of Pakistan's Supreme Court early last year, and resulting from Benazir Bhutto's assassination right at the end of the year: troops are needed to restore order in the population centers, which means fewer are available for places like Waziristan, where the government in Islamabad is already losing the battle against militants and extremists.
The militants are using sympathetic mosques in Talibanistan to recruit fighters to attack Western troops in Afghanistan, according to tribal elders in the region. With cash and religious fervor, they lure young men to join their battle and threaten local leaders so they will deliver the support of their tribes. Malik Haji Awar Khan, 55, head of the 2,000-strong Mutakhel Wazir tribe of North Waziristan, was approached a year ago to join the Taliban cause. When he refused, militants kidnapped his teenage sons. "They thought they could make me join them, but I am tired of fighting," says Khan, who battled alongside the Afghan mujahedin in the war against the Soviets. "This is a jihad dictated by outsiders, by al-Qaeda. It is not a holy war. They just want power and money."
The communities along the border were a source of support during the jihad against the Soviet occupation. Later, these areas provided support and recruits for the Taliban, whose movement arose in the Kandahar area.
Now, however, it is these Arab-Afghan mujahideen, of whom we have previously spoken, who are active in this area, and these guys are truly outsiders. Consider this in the context of what we recall from Baitullah Mehsud, Part 2: these Taliban and their friends are essentially foreign invaders, and have killed and replaced the local tribal leaders.
The fierce independence of the peoples in these tribal areas could quite possibly be turned against the Arab-Afghan invaders. If the US and Pakistan together offered the locals help in driving out the Taliban/Al Qaeda alliance, with a firm and serious commitment to leave themselves after the mission was accomplished, restoring the tribal areas to their relative independence from Islamabad, the Arab-Afghan mujahideen might find that they have overstepped their boundaries -- literally -- and are now in deep trouble.
(On top of that, although I won't go into it here, some reports indicate that all might not be cosy between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.)
Tribal leaders interviewed by TIME say they do not support the aims of the jihadists. But the Taliban's campaign of fear has worn down local resistance. Malik Sher Muhammad Khan, a tribal elder from Wana, says, "The Taliban walk through the streets shouting that children shouldn't go to school because they are learning modern subjects like math and science. But we want to be modern. It's not just the girls. In my village, not a single person can even sign his name." Khan estimates that only 5% of the inhabitants of Waziristan actively support the militants. Others benefit financially by providing services and renting land for training camps. The rest, he says, acquiesce out of fear. A few months ago, militants stormed his compound in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of their presence in the area. During the melee, a grenade killed his wife. "If I had weapons, maybe I could have saved her," he says. "We have no way to make them leave."
Linking up with local people and helping them throw out the invaders... does the West not have military units that train and equip for this? Was this not an important mission during the Cold War? And NATO, that Cold War alliance, has 50,000 troops right across the border -- potentially powerful support for such a Special Forces kind of mission.
We will conclude our review of this article in Part 3.