Thursday, January 24, 2008

Talibanistan, Part 3

We continue from Part 2, and now conclude our review of The Truth About Talibanistan by Aryn Baker, Kabul, Afghanistan.

The emergence of Talibanistan may directly threaten the West too. Locals say the region has become one big terrorist-recruitment camp, where people as young as 17 are trained as suicide bombers. "Here, teenagers are greeted with the prayers 'May Allah bless you to become a suicide bomber,'" says Obaidullah Wazir, 35, a young tribesman in Miranshah. National Intelligence Director John McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that "al-Qaeda is forging stronger operational connections that radiate outward from their camps in Pakistan to affiliated groups and networks throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe." Muzafar Khan, a headman from one of the local tribes, told TIME that Uzbek commander Tahir Yuldashev, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and a suspected confidant of bin Laden's, commands some Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs and local fighters from his base in the borderlands. "We know they are al-Qaeda," says Khan. "They are foreigners, they have different faces, and they don't speak Pashto." He claims that "their camps are easy to find. Even a child could show you."

Again, these Arab-Afghans -- a group which actually includes mujahideen from other places in Central and Southwest Asia, as well as from Afghanistan and the Arab countries -- are foreigners to Pakistan's tribal areas, and the support they have there may not be very deep.

It should be noted, however, that the problem of this area being a big terrorist training camp is not something new cropping up. For years, Pakistan has turned a blind eye to terrorists training for jihad against India in Kashmir. The trouble is, once they get training for jihad against one enemy, it is easy for them to turn on another. Jihad is jihad, and once trained, the mujahideen may go battle not just India, but Israel, Russia, or even the US; the danger also exists for them to make takfir out of the government in Islamabad, and turn on their hosts. For their own good, the people of Pakistan need to eliminate these jihad training camps from their midst -- all of them.

The camps hold from 10 to 300 militants and are usually hidden deep in the forest, according to local residents. They have simple structures, low concrete-and-brick buildings with high walls. Some have underground bunkers for protection in case of attack. Outsiders easily mistake them for traditional village housing. "We know they exist," says the U.S. military official in Afghanistan. "But it's like finding a needle in a haystack." A Pakistani intelligence official says there are training camps in the region and that Pakistan is doing everything it can to find them and destroy them. "I don't say that [foreigners] are not here, but wherever we know of their presence, we go after them and take action," he says. The best hope for dislodging al-Qaeda from the region may be local tribesmen, who have recently engaged in heavy clashes with foreign and local militants around the town of Wana.

There is no substitute for local, on-the-ground intelligence; with a love of high-tech gadgets but a distaste for relatively dirty human intelligence, and notoriously monolingual, that is an area in which the United States has traditionally lacked.

Will Musharraf join the fight? Though the U.S. is pressing Musharraf to do more to rout terrorists in Pakistan, his political survival still depends on parties that resent his ties to Washington. There is a widespread view in Pakistan that Vice President Dick Cheney, during his trip to Pakistan two weeks ago, reprimanded Musharraf for failing to rein in the militants. But officials on both sides say the partnership between Bush and Musharraf remains solid. "Is it doing more? Well, yeah, it's doing more. We all gotta do more, do better, do different. It's a war," says a senior Western diplomat in Pakistan. "But for folks to sit there in Washington or London or wherever and say, 'Damn it! We're tired of this. Go fix it,' is not hugely helpful."

"Will Musharraf join the fight?"

What ever happened to "Either you're with us, or you're with the terrorists"?

That may be true. But the Bush Administration is beginning to recognize that to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent the rebirth of al-Qaeda, it has to contain the growth of Talibanistan. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher announced in Islamabad that the U.S. intends to give an extra $750 million to Musharraf over the next five years to support development in the tribal areas. "I think this commitment to the development of Pakistan, this commitment to a long-term relationship, is another example of the very broad and deep relationship we have and that we are developing with Pakistan," Boucher said. "We have a fundamental interest in the success of Pakistan as a moderate, stable, democratic Muslim nation."

How is development of an enemy-occupied region going to help? The Taliban and Al Qaeda need to be chased out.

Then, development might allow for more of a federal Pakistani presence; but, such a presence might also offend the local people and drive them more into the hands of those who seem to respect their culture more.

Might they be fooled by the Taliban again?

That infusion of U.S. money would go far toward developing a region nearly devoid of civil infrastructure. There's no doubt that in the long run, schools, hospitals, roads and electricity would do much more to quell militancy than would an increased military presence. But that kind of development takes years. As the militants consolidate power, Musharraf needs to take bolder steps. The judicial crisis and the resulting protests have weakened Musharraf's credibility among the moderate, secular Pakistanis who could provide a bulwark against the threat of jihadism. Musharraf has pledged to hold general elections at the end of the year, but regaining the support of moderate groups may require him to go further and open up the vote to opposition leaders Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who have both been exiled. If Musharraf can prove that he is committed to democracy, Pakistanis may well choose to keep him in power. Armed with such a mandate, Musharraf would be better poised to tackle militancy in the tribal areas. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri concedes that the peace agreement with the tribes in Waziristan has "weaknesses" that the government is addressing. An official says Islamabad intends to send two new brigades of troops to seize back the initiative.

It takes years, and it takes permanent changes to the local communities.

Can we afford that much time? Are the permanent changes really a good thing, or might they spark a reactionary backlash?

Last month the same mountain passes used by militants set on attacking U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan served as passage for an unlikely delegation of 45 tribal elders from Pakistan's borderlands. They were headed for a meeting with Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, who has openly criticized Musharraf's failure to stem Pakistani support for the Taliban. "We have had too many years of war, too many widows, too many orphans, too many amputees. If this jihad continues, it will destroy Afghanistan and Waziristan," said an elder. "We need help, and we no longer trust the Pakistani government." The leader of the delegation presented Karzai with a traditional Waziri turban, a great soft-serve swirl of butter-yellow silk. As he placed it on the President's head, he said, "You are our President. You can free us from this disaster. We are at your service, and we support you." That the tribesmen would turn to one of Musharraf's rivals for help against the Taliban is a telling indictment of his leadership. And if Musharraf doesn't find a way to re-establish control over Talibanistan, he may find his backers in Washington giving up on him too.


This could also lead to a redrawing of the border -- Pakistan giving up Waziristan to Afghanistan.

Then, might independent Pashtunistan and Baluchistan also become reality? Recall Part 2; see also the end of Genesis, Part 10.

What might that all lead to?

Or, put another way, how did the United States react when some of its states tried to secede?

Terrorists basing in Pakistan's border areas -- so much so that these areas are now called "Talibanistan" -- are not just a threat to the rest of the world; they may be taking Pakistan -- a nuclear-armed nation, sixth in the world for population, and astride important trade routes -- down the path to civil war.


WomanHonorThyself said...

YD...dont ever give up the good fight.

Aurora said...

Good roundup of facts, Yankee. Pakistan is a seething cauldron of tribal tensions and has been for a while. The Taliban really needs to be brought under control as much as AQ. I think Musharraf is doing the best he can under the circumstances.