Tag: Pakistan (page 2 of 3)

Nuclear Protected Terrorism

Issue coverWith apologies for the shameless self-promotion… My co-authored article on “Nuclear Protected Terrorism” is out in this month’s Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

My co-author and I argue:

“The prospects for an end to the protracted conflict between India and Pakistan appear as remote as ever. In fact, it is likely that there will more deadly provocations in the future by terrorist groups based on Pakistani soil. In a recent op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal, C Christine Fair noted that in the future “Pakistan is likely to become more reliant, not less, on nuclear-protected jihad to secure its interests. Pakistan’s fears of India are chronic and are likely to deepen as India continues its ascent on the world stage.”

The notion of “nuclear protected jihad” is simultaneously chilling and perplexing.

The perplexing aspect of the rivalry is that Pakistan’s anxieties about India should have been alleviated once it tested nuclear weapons in 1998; thereby negating India’s conventional military superiority and achieving a level of strategic nuclear parity. However, instead of creating a “hard shell,” the possession of nuclear weapons seems to have only heightened paranoid anxieties about further dismemberment and even dispossession of its nuclear arsenal. It is as if Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons in “a fit of absent mindedness” and forgot to update its strategic posture.”

Read More at Pragati…


Is there a legal obligation to report war casualties?

This year at ISA a theme which seemed to crop up again and again (at least among the laws of war crowd – we’re small but mighty) was the idea that “we” (international society, academia, NGOs, I guess) need more information on civilian casualties, particularly those caused by air strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There was a real sense of frustration that the US was not more forthcoming on casualties, who was being targeted and who died.

Certainly, arguments were provided that there was a moral duty to provide such information. Although democracies may fight very deadly wars, constituencies within them want and demand to know exactly who we are fighting and why and with what means.

But is there a legal obligation to do so? The idea that the US (the CIA specifically) is fighting a shadowy war in Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has lead to allegations of civilian atrocities and war crimes. No one seems to be able to provide an accurate count. (And I struggle to find a reliable one on the internet.)

But must the US actually provide information as to who it has targeted and who has died under the laws of war?

I can find no straightforward obligation in the laws of war which states that governments must report casualties in an armed conflict. They must report all prisoners taken (GC III, Art 70, 122) and their deaths (GC III Arts 120, 122). But the laws governing the death of civilians and combatants (legal and unlawful) in operations is much less clear. Most civilian protections are from the Hague Conventions (which did not envision Predator UAV strikes, although the idea of Aerial Warfare was not entirely foreign) and Additional Protocol I (which, of course the US has signed, but not ratified.)

While, Governments are required to take precautions in attack, operate in a proportional manner and to make efforts to avoid disproportionate damage, there is little in which to enforce or hold states accountable because there is no requirement to provide information.

Does this requirement to be proportional and discriminate then implicitly oblige states to provide information to demonstrate that they have been acting in accordance with the laws of war?

This was the argument of Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and NYU Professor and … who has argued with Hina Shamsi:

Used without fanfare in remote and inaccessible areas, they are invisible to all but their potential victims. The military advantages are obvious, but so too are the potential rule-of-law problems. Unless governments voluntarily disclose information, human rights monitors and independent journalists are unable to verify claims that there are limited or no civilian casualties, let alone to weigh them against credible reports that hundreds of innocents have died…

Accountability is an independent requirement of international law. When complete secrecy prevails, it is negated. Secrecy also provides incentives to push the margins in problematic ways.

Yet Alston does not cite any specific legal obligation other than to invoke these principles that are, it is fair to say, less than straightforward and do not provide any specific guidance. Indeed, later on in the article, it seems that the real “beef” that Alston has is the dehumanized process employed by a generation reared on Call of Duty.

Equally discomfiting is the “PlayStation mentality” that surrounds drone killings. Young military personnel raised on a diet of video games now kill real people remotely using joysticks.

Morally, Alston may have a point, but I am not convinced that he has legally demonstrated his case. Things that are “discomforting” are not necessarily illegal.

It is fair to say that the US position is that no such obligation exists. In searching for an answer to this question, I contacted a lawyer friend at DoD in a position to know about these things. The response I received made it was clear that they do not believe that they are under any such obligation for several reasons.

First, reporting on friendly casualties may provide too much intelligence to enemies on the effects of their actions. (ie: that they are being effective).

Secondly, reporting on enemy casualties is not without moral risks. The US was criticised (and “rightfully so”, my friend added) for excessive reporting of enemy casualties in Vietnam. The policy of “body count” was used to demonstrate that the US was winning the war but lead to rather more tragic consequences. This was the position taken by General Tommy Franks in Afghanistan when he told reporters “We don’t do body count.” Franks was not saying that the US military didn’t care – but rather that he did not want to repeat the same mistakes that had been made in Vietnam.

Finally, on civilians, there seems to be the problem of knowledge. That while an attacker can (and must) make an estimate as to how many civilians might be killed in its proportionality calculation. However, there is simply no way to confirm reliably the number of deaths or to know whether any casualties were “directly participating in hostilities” (Which, the US tends to regard very differently from the ICRC these days.) Whether this problematizes the fact that they were targeted in the first place is up to the reader to decide.

So any reporting on casualties is not being done under any belief that there is a legal obligation to do so.

I’m sure the advocates for more information did not exactly have “body count” in mind when they demand more information and accountability. But this does raise an interesting point – that casualty reporting may also be used for other, more sinister purposes.

Am I missing something here? Can anyone point to an item of law which suggests that there is an obligation to do so?

I would like to stress that I am not conflating legality and morality here. The trick about the laws of war is that it lets you do a lot of really nasty things to a lot of people legally – let’s not kid ourselves. But if there is a claim that there is a legal obligation to provide information, I’ve yet to see it.

The only thought that comes to my mind is that the strikes in Pakistan do not amount to an “armed conflict” and therefore a human rights framework (which has much stronger accountability mechanisms) applies rather than the laws of war… but I think this needs to be the subject of a different post…


Peace Talks and Terror Tactics

Video Source: Channel 4 (UK)

One day after peace talks between India and Pakistan, there has been an attack targeting Indian nationals on a goodwill mission in Afghanistan. I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that these Taliban-led attacks in Afghanistan are being directed from Pakistani soil. (In general, the Afghan and Indian people have quite warm relations and Afghan nationalists have gravitated toward seeking a strategic partnership with India as both countries share territorial disputes with Pakistan.) Moreover, there are strong suspicions that a Pakistani extremist organization is to blame for the terrorist attack in Pune (India) a few days before the peace talks began.

The Government of India is convinced that the militant organizations attacking Indian citizens and interests are linked to elements within the Pakistani state. In the latest peace negotiations, India requested the extradition of 33 Pakistani nationals, including two currently serving Pakistani military officers, who are alleged to be involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. India provided Pakistan three dossiers with evidence to support their request. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary responded that he “did not want to be sermoned on terrorism.” It became readily apparent that these talks, which had been urged by the United States, did not reflect a changed disposition toward the use of terror tactics by the Pakistani state.

In a forthcoming article in Pragati magazine, my co-author and I predict that the use of terror tactics by elements linked to the Pakistani state against India will increase in the coming years. Echoing the recent work of C. Christine Fair, we argue that more than a fear of further dismemberment, the real reason why a nuclear armed Pakistan continues to use terror is that it cannot compete economically or militarily with a rising India. In essence, the deployment of militants using terror tactics is not defensive in nature, nor is it a negotiating tactic; Pakistan’s use of terror is preventive. The main objective is to prevent peace in the subcontinent which would clear a pathway for India’s rise on the global stage. Unfortunately, Pakistan can delay but not prevent the inevitable rise of India.

American policymakers need to engage this issue in greater depth. Urging peace talks between India and Pakistan in order to free up Pakistani troops to fight America’s War on the Taliban is a pointless exercise if Americans haven’t laid the groundwork for successful talks. If the United States is serious about creating peace, it needs to force Pakistan to rethink its grand strategy. This can only be done by convincing the people of Pakistan that the quest for military and economic parity with a much larger and economically more dynamic India is a fantasy that undermines their own goals of democracy, regional peace & prosperity, and sovereignty. The Pakistani state and people must be encouraged to review their strategy in light of the 1998 nuclear tests. While Pakistan has had good reason to fear Indian aggression in the past, the strategic context has changed. It is only by re-evaluating their strategy that Pakistanis will realize that the goal of military parity is outdated, unnecessary, and harmful to their own national aspirations.

It will be argued that I am not asking India to change its behavior. That is correct. India can facilitate peace by continuing to show restraint in response to militant provocations emanating from Pakistan. Ultimately, India will need to make more sacrifices, particularly in Srinagar, but that can only come after Pakistan abandons the use of terror tactics and eliminates the militant organizations on its soil.


Gates Grilled at Pakistan’s National Defense University

[Crossposted from my Notebook]

The Defense Department has pulled from its website the transcript of the Q and A session last month between Secretary of Defense Gates and Pakistani military officers.  The frank talk was apparently a bit heated. At one point, one of the Pakistani military officers asked Secretary Gates point blank: “Are you with us or against us?”

The transcript reveals a deep level of distrust between the US and the Pakistani military.  It also shows that some junior officers of the Pakistani military do not take ownership of their government’s current offensives against militants in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Comments on the transcript have made their rounds in the press and the blogosphere, and are still circulating in Pakistan, but many have not had access to the original document.  I think the transcript is quite important for those trying to understand the anger against the United States not just among ordinary Pakistani citizens but within the Pakistani military establishment.

I am posting the original transcript for the benefit of other researchers:

January 22, 2010 Friday



Q (Inaudible) — from Nigerian Navy. So what you did in Iraq is working because Iraq has the resources to sustain the armed forces. What is the strategy for sustaining — (inaudible) — in Afghanistan when, not if, you — (inaudible).

SEC. GATES: I think that’s a very legitimate question, and I would say that, clearly, one of the advantages that Iraq had and has is that it’s a very wealthy country. But the reality is that before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, during the period, for example, from about 1934 until about 1974 or so, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful place as well. It exported agricultural products and it was by no means a rich country, but it offered a decent economy and a decent living for its people.

What has happened in Afghanistan is that 30 years of war have largely destroyed the economy of Afghanistan. And so a big part of our strategy actually is to provide a little agriculture in Afghanistan, as well as industries. There are huge opportunities in mining in Afghanistan. There are a lot of mineral resources in Afghanistan that have never really been exploited.

So central to this process is reviving the economy of Afghanistan. Obviously, it requires a secure environment for that to happen and that’s part of the international strategy.

I would say that one of the advantages that Afghanistan has at this point is that there are now dozens and dozens of countries, as well as non-governmental organizations, all committed to trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.

And so this is a broad international effort under the auspices of the United Nations. And I think there’s great promise. Afghanistan had the largest wheat crop last year than it has had in several decades, and, in fact, the wheat crop was so good and the demand was so high that the price of wheat was almost as high as the price of poppies.

So the way to get rid of the narcotics problem or reduce it and the way to rebuild the economy starts with the agricultural economy, but also the international community figuring out how to help Afghanistan take advantage of the natural resources that it has for extraction.
The Chinese are very interested in these opportunities; in fact, they’ve cited a copper mine that they’re interested in and clearly are prepared to mine once the security environment is satisfactory.

So the economic component of this is every bit as important as the political component, and we fully understand that. And one of the benefits that we have is many nations and many organizations who are all working to the same end in this respect.

Q (Inaudible). You gave a statement with regard to some future terrorist threat or action that may take place over there. And you said that India may run out patience. The Pakistan army’s resolve against terrorism — (inaudible).

You have predisposed Pakistan as perhaps siding with the terrorists. So could you please tell us with regard to fighting against terrorism are you with us or against us? Thank you. (Applause.)

SEC. GATES: We’re very much with you. What I was trying to identify in India was the fact that there are a number of terrorist groups that have the common objective of destabilizing Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and trying to destabilize the entire region. And the point I was trying to make is that you have al Qaeda, you have the Taliban in Afghanistan. You have the Taliban in Pakistan. You have the Haqqani Network. You have the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

All of these are terrorist groups and they are all working together. They are not commonly operated from one command post, but they share objectives. They share planning. And we know, for example, that al Qaeda is working with Taliban in Pakistan in planning the attacks that have taken place here in Pakistan.

So these groups have a common objective and that is destabilizing all of the countries in this region. And the message I was trying to make in India was that the nations, those nations all have to work together to avoid having these terrorists be able to make them their pawns in the terror struggle.

There has to be a level of cooperation in countering the terrorist threat in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and others to prevent the terrorists from doing exactly what their objective is. Believe me, there should be no mistake; these terrorists want to destabilize Pakistan. They would like to see Pakistan become an extremist state and that is their objective. And if they think they can provoke a conflict with India, that’s what they will try to do.
And all I was saying when I was in India was we all have to work together to prevent that kind of an outcome. We all have a common enemy. We all have a common purpose.

I know there are long time historic issues between Pakistan and India, but in this case, there is a common enemy that we all have to work together against it.

Q (Inaudible) — political and military relationships. The sense which I got from your remarks is that you are again conducting the same kind of relationship with the future. With the thought of that particular relationship the last two years, and we have seen — (inaudible) — $7.5 billion, what other steps or measures you are — (inaudible) — to increase this particular relationship because this relationship between military and military has not fared well in the past. And I just want — (inaudible). Thanks.

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I actually do believe that the military-to-military relationship will continue and it will grow. As I indicated in my remarks, I think the United States has made a couple of strategic mistakes of real consequence in our relationship.

The first was when we turned our backs on Afghanistan in 1989 after the Soviets left and we also left Pakistan, if you will, holding the bag as Afghanistan descended into civil war.

The second strategic mistake was when the Pressler Amendment required us to break off our military-to-military relationships, and I think that was a serious mistake.
The truth of the matter is many of your more senior officers, those who have worked with Americans in the past, those that have gone to American service schools, those who have worked with Americans here in Pakistan had a different view of the United States and of our military than younger officers who have not had that kind of exposure to us.

So the first thing we have to do is communicate our conviction and our intention that going forward, this is a reliable relationship and that we are — will be a reliable partner for Pakistan for years and years to come. We will not make — we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I think that the willingness to look beyond the military-to- military relationship is evidenced in the legislation that was passed by our Congress that provides over $1.5 billion worth of economic assistance to Pakistan over a five-year period. The dollar figure is one thing, but the fact that it’s a five-year-long commitment is indicative of the United States’ desire to have a longstanding relationship with Pakistan far into the future.

The United States was a principal sponsor of the Tokyo Summit where a number of nations came together to raise money to help Pakistan in its economic circumstances.

So I think there are a number of efforts underway internationally and bilaterally to try and build relationships with Pakistan and to build those relationships in arenas outside the military or I would say in addition to the military.

That said, relationships between our professional militaries is not a bad foundation, but it clearly is not enough, and the relationship needs to expand to these other areas. And I think that the legislation and the assistance that’s been passed to programs that are being put in place are all intended to do that.

Yes, sir, in the back. Way in the back.

Q I am Rear Admiral — (inaudible) — National Security Workshop. Sir, there’s a large section of the Pakistani population who feel that the present mess that Pakistan finds itself today in, in large part, is due to the United States. The war on our Western borders in which not only the army but the whole country is embroiled in, and there’s no end in sight, initially was not our war but now it has become our war. So what is your message to these people, sir?

SEC. GATES: My message is as long as al Qaeda found safe haven on either the Afghan or the Pakistani side of the border, Pakistan was ultimately going to become a target.

The Taliban, as long as they hosted al Qaeda, created a nest. And from that nest only dangerous things could happen for the entire region. So as long as the Taliban was in power, perhaps there was peace on that border, but the fact is that with the nature of the regime that the Taliban represented, I believe that it was an unstable situation and one that could not last.

The reality is these violent extremists do not want to see a democratic government in Pakistan. They do not want to see a secular government in Pakistan. They want to see a violent overthrow of the legitimate institutions of this country and putting in place an extremist group of people. You don’t want that. Nobody in the region wants it. We certainly don’t want it.

So I would say to you that their attack on us from that safe haven in September 2011 (sic\2001) — remember, it wasn’t the first time they attacked us from that safe haven. They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. They attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1995 (sic\1998). They attacked our warship, the Cole in 2000. These guys declared war on us within four years after the Soviets left Afghanistan. And that war was never going to be limited just to us in terms of their ambition. And if you read their writings and you read what they say and their desire to form a caliphate, it is clear that their ambitions are not limited just to creating — putting the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, their ambition is to extend to Pakistan and elsewhere in the region as well.

So the war may have come to you later, but it would have come, in my view, inevitably.

I think we have time for one more question. Yes sir.

Q Sir, this is — (inaudible). Since you are taking questions — (inaudible).

Sir, it’s an established fact that the — (inaudible) — party always seeks — (inaudible) — investment where — (background noise). And I’m referring to, again, Pakistan.

So during the run to the elections, Mr. Obama — in other statements, he mentioned that there was an understanding now that — (inaudible) — problem, India and Pakistan, particularly, their — (inaudible) — connection with extremism and also from — (inaudible) — Afghanistan.

Now after — (off mike) — same old thing. The United States is refusing to mediate between India and Pakistan since the war — (inaudible). And India was even taken out of — (off mike). My question with this — (inaudible) — first, is the United States administration unable to see how hollow is the Indian argument that the India-Pakistan problem can be resolved only through dialogue — (inaudible). Secondly, is the U.S. policy of India subject — (inaudible). And third is is the U.S. unable to see that its policy of propping up India — (inaudible) — especially with reference to Aghanistan because if there’s one sure guaranteed way of ensuring the eastern region of Afghanistan — (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I would tell you that the United States clearly has not or has ever propped up India. India has not needed us for that purpose and, in fact, those familiar with the history would know that our relationship with India was fairly strained until not too many years ago.

The reality is I have some experience with this. The first President Bush sent me to Islamabad and to New Delhi in the spring of 1990 when there was great concern about rising tensions between the two powers and the risk of war. We at that time, worked with the sides not only since then, but from before. But it has been made clear to us by both sides that they prefer to deal with this matter bilaterally. But I was clear to the Indians and I’ll be clear today — if we can be of help and if the two parties want us to be of help, we will do what we can. We are prepared to play a constructive role, but only if both parties want us to be involved.
The final thing I would say is that the other message that I had in India, both privately and publicly, was to describe to them your suspicions of their activities in Afghanistan, and they clearly described to me their suspicions of what you were doing in Afghanistan, to which I responded the best way to deal with those suspicions is, as part of the back channel discussions between the two countries, to have a complete transparency about what both sides are doing. Because the truth of the matter is, stability in Afghanistan is in both India and Pakistan’s interests. And having an open and candid and completely transparent dialogue about that seems to be the best way to avoid misunderstanding.

Thank you all very much for your courtesy and for your time.

Q Thank you very much for being — (inaudible) — to this discussion, which — (inaudible) — of the commitments of the — (inaudible). So we would like to thank you very much for being here with us this morning and for — (off mike). (Applause.)


The Short Career of Hakimullah Mehsud

In the latest round of the ongoing blood feud between the US military/intelligence agencies and the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), it appears that the TTP’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by a Predator drone attack in mid-January. The assassination was apparently in “revenge” for the murder of seven CIA operatives at a forward operating base in Afghanistan by Hakimullah’s associate and Jordanian double agent, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. Of course, Al-Balawi had claimed that his suicide bombing was in retaliation for the assassination of the former leader of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, by a CIA drone in August 2009. The US and Pakistan targeted Baitullah Mehsud because he was allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and a series of suicide bombings and armed attacks in Pakistan. Baitullah had claimed that his attacks were only in retaliation for US drone attacks facilitated by the American puppet regime in Pakistan… Thus the origins of this blood feud recede into a murky history of drone attacks and suicide bombing counter-attacks.

To understand the feud, one needs to appreciate that the relatively precise and virtually unstoppable suicide bomber is considered the military equivalent of the predator drone in the eyes of the Taliban. Hence, there is a cycle of carnage unleashed with each drone attack.

So who was this latest target, Hakimullah Mehsud? Should his death be considered a significant victory in the war?

Haikmullah (also known as Zulfiqar; real name: Jamshed) Mehsud was reportedly first captured and interrogated by Western forces (either NATO or CIA) in the Shawal district of North Waziristan in a raid on March 9th, 2007 according to Pakistani and Chinese media agencies. The illegal incursion by two military helicopters into Pakistani territory led to the ritualized faint murmurs of protest and indignation from the Pakistani government. NATO would later deny any involvement in the kidnapping without denying that the incident may have happened. At the time, Hakimullah was merely known as a cousin and confidante of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the TTP. Through an apparent “catch and release” policy for junior terrorists, Hakimullah was let go.

Although he was most likely illiterate, the young and handsome (in a swashbuckling, Captain Jack Sparrow-ish sort of way) Mehsud became a spokesman for the TTP organization. He appeared on a local news station (Khyber News) in October 2008 to refute rumors of the death of his cousin. He then transferred from the Taliban’s communications desk to become a commander in the field. By November 2008, he rose to become the head of the Taliban in the Orakzai, Khyber, and Kurram Agencies of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, even as he rose in the ranks of the Taliban, he continued to hold press conferences and grant interviews to local journalists — a sharp contrast with his introverted cousin, Baitullah. The brash commander particularly enjoyed showing off the Humvee he had captured from NATO forces by raiding their supply lines.

Despite his oddly charming personality, it was clear that Hakimullah was also ruthless. He claimed to have had several men beheaded for spying on the Taliban. He instituted a strict interpretation of sharia’ and enforced a ban on the movement of women outside of their homes in the Orakzai Agency.

The first attempt by the US to kill Hakimullah with a Predator drone was in April 2009. In revenge for this failed attempt, Mehsud unleashed a wave of suicide attacks and threatened that there would be at least two suicide bombings per week in retaliation.

Hakimullah was appointed to head the TTP network by a shura (council) after the assassination of his cousin by a drone in August 2009. Notably, Hakimullah held a press conference flanked by his new lieutenants to announce his promotion and he vowed to avenge the drone attack … a vow that his associate, al-Balawi, helped him to fulfill on the last day of 2009. Hakimullah would live for only one more month as American drones narrowed in on him.

At the end of the day the short three year career of the brash and ruthless Mehsud is relatively inconsequential in the broader war. The contrast between Hakimullah and his predecessor only illustrates the wide range of personality types which can assume a leadership position within the Taliban. The skill set Hakimullah used to lead the Taliban organization in the field were not particularly unique or demanding — he was little more than an illiterate, brutal, and narcissistic gangster.

When the camera pans back from the current assassination, it is clear the overall US strategy of leadership decapitation has failed to make a noticeable dent in the operational capacity of the organizations and networks that call themselves the Taliban. If anything, the Taliban appear to be growing bolder on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. For each commander who is killed, a new leader will rise and take his place after a short period of disorganization. The Pakistani government and media hypes each new leader (while selectively ignoring other militant “assets”), transforming a small fish into a whale; the leader comes to the attention of American forces which begin plotting an assassination with the assistance of Pakistani officials and local informants. After a few failed attempts and some collateral damage, which embitters the local population and helps to recruit more militants, the US usually succeeds in bringing down their man. The Americans trump their kill as a success in the war. Unfortunately, very little is actually accomplished as the cycle resets with each successful assassination, the structural positions are re-loaded, and the game begins again.

A leadership decapitation strategy only makes sense when one is confronted with a highly centralized organization led by a small number of capable leaders and a mass of fighters with low morale — this is clearly not the situation of the organizations and networks targeting Americans and their client regimes in South Asia. The US military and intelligence community continues to confuse a policy of revenge killings for a viable military strategy to defeat a broad based and conscious rebellion.


Pakistan’s Supreme Court Recognizes Third Gender

Wow. If the use of non-binary-gender-codes on census forms is an indicator of progressive human rights law, Pakistan has now left the US in the dust:

Late on Wednesday, the Supreme Court in Pakistan ordered that the government officially recognize a separate gender for Pakistan’s hijra community, which includes transgendered people, transvestites, and eunuchs. The court told the federal government to begin allowing people to identify as hijras when registering for a national identity card.

Such cards are necessary for everything from voting to more informal situations; patrons must present the card at cybercafes before surfing the Internet, for example. Not having an identity card, or having one with incorrect information, leaves a person vulnerable and easily excluded from society.

In India, voters are required to identify their sex both on their voter ID cards and at the polls. The insistence that they identify as male or female effectively barred many transgendered and transvestite people from the polls until late this year, when the government declared that for the purposes of voting it would recognize a third option.

The ruling in Pakistan, though, potentially reaches much further.

In addition to the order for government recognition, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry also issued a warning that the hijras’ rights of inheritance, which are often informally ignored, would be enforced, and that police harassment would not be permitted, a sign, perhaps, of rulings to come.

When I teach Gender and Security I often have my students do an exercise to debate how one would code the relative gender-egalitarianism of different states. There are many indicators – fertility rates, percentage of women in the labor force or the government, presence or absence of laws criminalizing marital rape. The WomenStats database has more. But most of them capture (or stand proxy for) women’s empowerment rather than absence of gender hierarchies in a society per se. So when I read of this I wondered if gender-coding in census data should be understood as a useful measure of a state’s commitment to gender inclusiveness.

The counterpoint is, of course, is that such a ruling (or human rights law in general) may mean little in a country where women, gender minorities and those who defend them face such persecution by the state and tribal elites.

Question for readers: how significant is this ruling as a step toward gender inclusiveness in Pakistan? Should other countries follow suit and should human rights activists press them to do so?


Droning On

The New York Times reported Friday that the Obama Administration has stepped up its Predator strike campaign in Pakistan concurrent with the announcement of a troop surge in Afghanistan. The article focuses on comparing estimates of civilian casualties from strikes and estimates of how controversial the strikes are – interestingly, the greatest blowback comes from Pakistanis who live outside of the tribal areas: many of those in the FATAs presumably approve because they are worse off when the militants have free rein in the area.

An Amnesty International representative is quoted as saying that regardless of civilian casualties or political support, the attacks are problematic as such:

‘Anything that dehumanizes the proces makes it easier to pull the trigger.’… The political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killings in a country where the US is not officially at war.

I see an important error and an omission here.

First, drone are not robots. They are remote-controlled weapons piloted by a human being. We should bear in mind the distinction between such weapons and truly autonomous weapons with the capacity to make independent firing decisions. (At Firedoglake, Scarecrow has other issues with this quote.)

As for the social distance between weapons-bearer and victim, this debate is as old as the long-bow and catapult, and is not what makes the US’ drone strikes radical. The bigger issues with drone is not whether they’re as surgical as we hope, but whether the mission itself is legitimate. The targets of such strikes are political leaders of a social movement / terror network / insurgency call it what you will who are, by and large, going about their business at the time they are killed. As Mary Ellen O’Connell explains at IntlLawGrrls, assassinating them rather than capturing them and putting them on trial is counter to international law.

And it’s important to bear this in mind as evidence begins to mount that drone strikes are effective. I’m not going to argue that they may well be. A policy can be effective and still have too many negative externalities to be worthwhile. Or, it can be worthwhile from a policy point of view and still be wrong.

Ward Thomas has shown that there are good reasons why assassination is against the rules of war. If Obama is going to persist with drone warfare, I’d like to see our “multilateral President” make a solid legal argument for why this is consistent with international law, or seek to amend the law to fit the changing times. Simply violating it without a discussion reminds me too much of his predecessor.

[Cross-posted at Current Intelligence]


Pakistan’s Bigger Picture

Terrorist bombings. Government push-back. Nuclear brinkmanship. Drone attacks.

The security situation in Pakistan has become so synonymous with mayhem, violence and the threat of state collapse that the Human Security Report Project has just launched a new blog, the Pakistan Conflict Monitor.

In the context of those developments, the thriving civil society, democratic sentiment and rule of law in many parts of Pakistan are easy to forget. Matt Barlow writes at Current Intelligence about why we should pay as much attention to fashion shows in Karachi as to clashes in Waziristan, in order to grasp the complexity of Pakistan’s changing times.


Drone Wars Kill on Average 33% Civilians

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann published an analysis at the New America Foundation a couple of days ago on civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan. Key points from the callout on the site:

“The Obama administration has dramatically ratcheted up the American drone program in Pakistan. Since President Obama took office, U.S. drone strikes have killed about a half-dozen militant leaders along with hundreds of others, a quarter of whom were civilians.”

Actually, the call-out understates the percentage of dead civilians: if you read the piece it looks like the study shows civilians comprise actually around 33% of those killed in drone strikes. That’s a third, not a quarter, folks.

Three other quick reactions below the fold, and more once I’ve had the chance to crunch some numbers of my own.

1) It’s good to see a measured analysis of collateral damage from drone deaths, since the numbers are wildly over or underreported by the parties to the conflict. Their Methodology is here; the Appendix with their data is here. We need some tracking like this for collateral damage at the global level. Unfortunately most studies of civilian deaths either aggregate all civilian deaths or focus on intentional deaths which are war crimes. It’s hard to know what percentage of all civilian deaths and injuries are “collateral damage” of this type, but it would be useful to ignite a policy discussion about acceptable levels of damage.

2) This goes to a second point of the article: the shaky legality of drone strikes. Unlike willfully targeting civilians, accidental harm to civilians is permitted by the law, as long as it’s proportionate to the military gains achieved by these strikes. So, does hitting militants in civilian areas constitute a “proportional” means of attack if you know approximately 1/3 of your victims are civilians? To me this seems unreasonably high, particularly since the drones are justified on the basis that they are more discriminate than other weapons systems. In legal terms, the problem is there’s not an internationally-agreed-upon means to judge proportionality. I wonder how Duck readers would answer this question.

3) Ethics aside, a related point is the political impact of so many civilian deaths, which has made US drone policy quite unpopular in Pakistan, even among those who would prefer the Taliban be driven out of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas; and they provide militants with ready-made propaganda fodder. Bergen and Tiedemann write:

While there is little doubt that the strikes have disrupted al Qaeda’s operations, the larger question is to what extent they may have increased the appeal of militant groups and undermined the Pakistani state. This is ultimately a lot more worrisome than anything that could happen in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and is one of the world’s most populous countries.

Given that President Obama has expanded this drone program in the FATAs since he took office, it’s probably time we had a discussion of the costs and benefits, in human security and national security terms.


Pakistan To Enforce “Sharia” in Swat

Great. The “peace deal” in Swat is officially off, and not only will Pakistan whole-heartedly address militants in the region, it will also enforce Sharia law itself, ostensibly to rob the Taliban of public support in the region.

What are the assumptions at work here?

Assumption A) That Taliban have begun to thrive in the northeast provinces primarily because the civilian population wants sharia law (and not because the Taliban have guns and the state failed to step in and protect communities in the region). Of course, there is something to this – many people prefer order, even brutal order, to lawlessness, which is what facilitated the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, and the emergence of al-Shabab in Somalia. However the government may be overestimating support for sharia per se, in a region historically practicing a much looser blend of Islam and pre-Islamic custom. Is it strict religious law people want, or is it efficient governance and an end to corruption?

Assumption B) That the international community is more worried about the capture of the Pakistani state by the Taliban than in the human rights consequences (and implications for the radicalization of the nuclear-armed Pakistani state) of a state-initiated religious crackdown in the northwest. This may well be true at first, all things considered, but I bet it won’t last long, particularly once YouTube videos of the first high-profile floggings emerge. Pakistan remains between a rock and a hard place.

Much depends, perhaps, on what interpretation of “sharia law” Pakistan has in mind. In the West, we often associate sharia with controversial punishments for hadd offenses, but in many area where sharia is nominally in place, these punishments are rarely implemented. And moderate Muslims in many parts of the world have seized upon Qur’anic doctrine to promote a more equitable vision of society still grounded in religious law. Perhaps Islamabad has an opportunity here to forge a middle path between state and human security as it seizes the moral high ground back from the Taliban.


The Allah-father

Interesting post this morning over at The Argument on the similarities between the Taliban and organized crime. This idea echoes earlier (and interesting) work by Charles Tilly on the origins of the state. While I think Peters’ analysis is interesting and thought provoking, I don’t think it means we should ignore the religious aspect of the movement. Understanding the criminal aspects of their enterprise is useful for gaining perspective on their material capabilities and the methods through which they maintain and grow those capabilities. It also allows us to think thoroughly as to how we might cut off and put a strain on those capabilities. But in thinking about their likely actions, we would be limited if we just stuck to criminal/economic rationale and ignored the religious/political goals. I am not suggesting that Peters thinks or suggests we should go completely in this direction, just a general observation on my part.


Troubling Advances in Pakistan: Signs of Failure? (updated)

My first semester in graduate school I had the pleasure of attending a talk by General Wesley Clark (Ret.). He gave the talk not soon after the attacks of September 11th and the US offensive in Afghanistan. At the time, Clark was just begining a PR offensive that would eventually position him as a contender for the Democratic nomination in 2004.

During the Q&A I asked him a question about the regional dynamics going forward as a result of the Afghanistan offensive. While not criticizing the move (I was for it), I questioned what the potential fallout could be in terms of domestic politics within Pakistan and interstate dynamics, particularly with regards to Iran and Iraq. On Pakistan, I questioned whether we had a solid strategy for balancing our need for strategic support from the Pakistani government with the potential domestic disaster that might ensue as a result of their ‘switching sides’ and the longterm instability we would inevitably have to their north. I asked whether we had a plan to ensure domestically stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan when major military operations in the former ceased. He somewhat chuckled and asked, “You’re not talking about nation-building, right?” The line garnered some laughs from the audience and he then went on to basically avoid the question.

I bring up this anecdote because this remains a major issue for US foreign policy–one that I would say has become even more pressing given recent events, such as the ever increasing civil war (as Dan said, let’s call it what it is) within Pakistan.

Yesterday, Taliban militants managed to extend their control of areas in Northern Pakistan by taking the district of Buner–a mere 70 miles from the capital of Islamabad. This represents the continuation of a trend whereby the Taliban pushes deeper and deeper into Pakistan, even after a mid-February truce that effectively created a ‘safe haven’ for the militants in Swat Valley.

At that time, many called the truce a massive misstep, one that would undoubtedly backfire and lead to further aggression by the militants. One major reason was that the Pakistani military would move into a ‘reactive’ mode–rather than staying on the offensive against the Taliban and trying to both defend and recapture lost territory, the military would simply wait in reserve if the Taliban attempted to make further advances, thereby violating the terms of the truce. Yesterday’s events would seem a perfect example of such a violation. The question now is, what’s next?

That is unclear. The US has been expanding its covert war against militants in the tribal areas for some time, while at the same time pressuring Pakistan (in particular, the ISI) to sever ties to the Taliban and increase relations with India. Some believe this is a bad idea, or at least isn’t very pratical. In either case, it doesn’t address the more urgent and strategically relevant issue of whether or not Pakistan is now headed towards a true collapse into failed-state status. The country has long been internally fractured along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines. The state never had full control over its own territory, but the kind of territorial conquest that we are seeing now is, to my (admittedly limited) knowledge, unprecedented since at least the 1990’s (note: readers with better background please feel free to weigh in with comments).

Failed states are always dangerous and pose significant problems, both regionally and globally, for other states. Pakistan has the obvious capacity to pose a problem the likes of which we have never seen–as the combination of a nuclear state falling into the hands of religious militants strikes me as uniquely dangerous.

The US approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan post-911 seems to have helped lay the groundwork for the current situation. US military strategy in Afghanistan was both effective and flawed, allowing key militants to escape and regroup (notably in the Afghan-Pakistan border region). Additionally, without a clear plan to sure up domestic stability in Pakistan we essentially moved the problem of religious militants from one geographic location to another–one that will have a far greater impact on security if it goes the way of the failed state.

I am not arguing that we shouldn’t have pressured Pakistan into an uneasy alliance with the US post-911. What I am arguing is that by doing so without proper attention being paid to the longterm dynamics we would set in motion, and not adequatley planning to address those dynamics in a constructive way, we may have simply set off a very ‘long fuse’ that is nearing its end.

Update I

John Robb weighs in with his thoughts on the likelihood of Pakistan becoming a ‘hollow state’.

The reaction of Pakistan’s authorities has been ineffective to say the least. I’d say this is both a problem of will and one of capabilities.

As some have voiced, we could end up invading the country to secure their nuclear assets if things continue to deteriorate towards state failure…

Update II

Some positive developments, for now.  It appears that a compellent threat from the Pakistani military has worked and the Taliban is retreating from Buner.  But this is far from over, and by the end we are likely to see renewed fighting between the two forces and a further push towards Islamabad.

Update III

Joshua Frost at Registan.net has a great ‘sanity check’ post with interesting history and perspective, as well as a reading list for those interested in the history of the conflict.



I’m shocked, shocked to find insurgents in this region

It would be funny, except that it isn’t.

Taleban militants operating in Pakistan’s Swat region who agreed a peace deal with the government have expanded operations into nearby Buner.

Dozens of militants have been streaming into bordering Buner to take over mosques and government offices.

Buner is part of the Malakand region, which has just seen the implementation of Sharia law under the peace deal.

But the Taleban have mainly operated in Swat, where they fought the army from August 2007 until this year’s deal.

Under the deal the Taleban were expected to disarm.

If anyone with expertise on Pakistan is reading this, I have a question for you: the BBC map creates the strong impression that the Taleban is engaged in salami tactics ultimately aimed at Islamabad.

Does that match the actual on-the-ground geography?


Significant developments on the WMD front

I would be negligent if I did not call attention to three important developments on the nuclear proliferation front.

First, the Ukrainian government claims to have arrested three of its citizens–including one local politician–who were trying to sell radioactive material.

The metal cylinder supposedly contained eight pounds of plutonium 239, a highly dangerous radioactive material that could be used in a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. The price: $10 million, sought by three Ukrainian men, officials said Tuesday.

The men did not make a sale, the officials said, but were arrested in an undercover operation in Ukraine last week that was conducted by the Ukrainian Security Service. Still, while the plot was foiled, it underscored longstanding concerns that unsecured radioactive material in the former Soviet Union might fall into the wrong hands.

Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Security Service, said it had turned out that the radioactive material was not plutonium 239. A preliminary analysis indicated that the material was most likely americium, a much more common and less potent radioactive material, Ms. Ostapenko said in a telephone interview from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

She said americium could be deployed in a dirty bomb but not in a nuclear weapon.

An americum-based dirty bomb is actually a nothing to sneeze at:

Americium (Alpha Emitter)

If a typical americium source used in oil well surveying were blown up with one pound of TNT, people in a region roughly ten times the area of the initial bomb blast would require medical supervision and monitoring, as depicted in Figure 4. An area thirty times the size of the first area (a swath one kilometer long and covering twenty city blocks) would have to be evacuated within half an hour. After the initial passage of the cloud, most of the radioactive materials would settle to the ground. Of these materials, some would be forced back up into the air and inhaled, thus posing a long-term health hazard, as illustrated by Figure 5. A ten-block area contaminated in this way would have a cancer death probability of one-in-a-thousand. A region two kilometers long and covering sixty city blocks would be contaminated in excess of EPA safety guidelines. If the buildings in this area had to be demolished and rebuilt, the cost would exceed fifty billion dollars.

This episode underscores the continuing threat posed by “nuclear leakage,” particularly from the former Soviet Union. In many respects, leakage presents the most likely scenario for terrorist acquisition of WMD. Obama talked a great deal about strengthening various cooperative programs the US has in place to reduce leakage–programs that suffered from benign neglect under the Bush Administration–and it won’t be a moment too soon.

Second, the situation on the Korean peninsula seems to be headed from bad to worse. The conventional wisdom still holds that this is yet another of Pyongyang’s tirades in its eternal quest to extract greater concessions from the world. But the North Koreans have gone further than usual this time, and so experts are starting to worry that this is a more serious confrontation that those we’ve seen in the recent past.

Third, fears about Pakistan’s fate continue to mount. I suppose this isn’t really a “development,” but a way of saying that the prospects for the non-implosion of nuclear-armed state haven’t exactly improved of late, despite Islamabad’s strong denial of its own fragility.

This has been the latest installment in our occasional “we’re all doomed” series.



Pakistani Taliban Leader Threatens Attack on Washington

Compellence in its purest form: a threat to inflict pain if an adversary does not alter their current behavior. Is the threat credible? It’s unclear at this time, although US officials are publicly dismissing it. Other threats of late seem more credible–although the FedEx strategy is an example of deterrence, not compellence.

And no, I am not morally equating FedEx and Mehsud–just pointing out examples of strategy.

I haven’t actually seen a study which looks at the success rate of terrorist or non-state deterrent/compellent threats against states (then again, I haven’t looked through the literature for a while). Would be interesting to see…


Obama at war: Pakistan

There’s a new finger on the trigger, but the AP reports that Pakistan is still unhappy about U.S. missile strikes inside its territory:

Pakistan urged President Barack Obama to halt U.S. missile strikes on al-Qaida strongholds near the Afghan border, saying Saturday that civilians were killed the previous day in the first attacks since Obama’s inauguration.

Pakistani security officials said eight suspected foreign militants, including an Egyptian al-Qaida operative, were among 22 people killed in Friday’s twin strikes in the Waziristan region.

But the Foreign Ministry said that the attacks by unmanned aircraft also killed an unspecified number of civilians and that it had informed U.S. officials of its “great concern.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry says “We maintain that these attacks are counterproductive and should be discontinued.”

The U.S. has apparently made over 30 missile strikes since August. The Obama White House was presumably briefed about the latest attacks, though the U.S. doesn’t even formally acknowledge them. Obama had commented as a candidate.

I’m working on Obama and the Bush Doctrine and hope to have a more complete post soon.


Obama’s exit strategy?

Today, Jesse Singal has an excellent post challenging the role of conventional wisdom in making national security policy. All-too-often, he suggests, the terms of political debate and the potential policy options are locked in by a national security elite that infrequently finds its ideas contested, however dubious they might be.

For example, what are we to make of the forthcoming increased attention devoted to Afghanistan and Pakistan — even though many security analysts don’t see much of a threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda forces located there? Singal references a provocative article by Juan Cole in today’s Salon, which strongly suggests that Barack Obama’s new administration will be taking numerous risks by refocusing the global war on terror on Osama bin Laden and the remants of al Qaeda.

Personally, I am hopeful that Obama’s team sees a GWOT exit strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

First, don’t forget the big upside of refocusing the GWOT. By emphasizing the relative importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama can more readily extricate the US from Iraq with NIE-backed cover. Hawks fear an al Qaeda “safe haven” in Iraq’s future should the US withdraw, but the 2007 NIE already said al Qaeda has a safe haven in Pakistan. It makes sense to devote resources to the “real” threat, not some imagined future worst-case scenario.

Second, Afghanistan and Pakistan provide potential pathways by which the US could declare final victory in the GWOT and end it. The easiest means would be by capturing or killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, or by proving that he’s already dead.

A more subtle means would be via an effective “surge” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Frankly, this may well require some equivalent of the Anbar Awakening within the key target areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US needs to convince locals that “foreign fighters” are the invaders that must be resisted. The US could provide cash and maybe guns (like it did versus the Soviets) and minimize its own footprint. The US must not be seen as the foreign invaders (as it is now).

With the Musharraf regime gone, the US can also win allies within Pakistan by treating the new government with a lot more respect. For example, the ongoing missile strikes in the border area are really unpopular with Pakistan’s population, so it would help to end these — and achieve the military objectives through other means. Expediency will likely have to give way to methods based on a less intrusive model (grounded in the rule of law, not just military might).

I think it’s also possible that some sort of negotiated grand compromise could be achieved. The US would agree to exit contested areas of Afghanistan; the Taliban and its local allies would agree to stop committing acts of violence; Pakistan would agree to enforce the law within the confines of the law; and everyone would agree that al Qaeda is illegitimate.

None of these policies are risk-free. Pakistan, I have recently been reminded, faces massive corruption problems. How can the US count on any deal with such a state?

Still, I’d argue that’s a better place to be than engaged in an apparently unending and dangerous “global war on terror” that promotes global lawlessness and creates new terrorists.


Monday’s piece of shallow analysis…

With an enormous bomb nearly decapitating the Pakistani state and the Pakistani military shooting at US troops, I think it’s safe to say that the situation is “not good.”


“Kill the invaders”

The Australian is reporting that Pakistani troops have been told to fire upon US troops attacking from Afghanistan:

KEY corps commanders of Pakistan’s 600,000-strong army issued orders last night to retaliate against “invading” US forces that enter the country to attack militant targets.

The move has plunged relations between Islamabad and Washington into deep crisis over how to deal with al-Qa’ida and the Taliban

What amounts to a dramatic order to “kill the invaders”, as one senior officer put it last night, was disclosed after the commanders – who control the army’s deployments at divisional level – met at their headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi under the chairmanship of army chief and former ISI spy agency boss Ashfaq Kayani.

The paper notes that 120,000 Pakistani troops are deployed along the border with Afghanistan.

This story follows the NY Times report on September 10 that President Bush signed an order in July authorizing cross-border attacks by US ground forces without Pakistani approval.

Pakistani officials argue that unauthorized US attacks foment support for extremists and anti-Americanism:

“Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. “In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops.”

The Times story says that some Pakistani officials are OK with Predator missile attacks, though leaders have publicly complained about prior attacks. BTW, the US is using an improved Predator in Pakistan.

In 1969, Richard Nixon began prosecuting a secret war in Cambodia, which he didn’t report to the nation until April 30, 1970. Tactically, the war in Cambodia met with some success, but it didn’t ultimately save Vietnam and it arguably helped push Cambodia into civil war — and genocide.

Pakistan may not be vulnerable to radical Islamic rule, but its internal divisions are worrisome and it is a nuclear-armed state. The risks of escalation are always worth taking into account when thinking about extending a war into a new theater — particularly in this region.


Pakistan and Afghanistan: misguided strategic priorities

A fantastic commentary by Troy at Abu Muqawama.

If you haven’t seen it already, the New York Times magazine has an excellent article by Dexter Filkins on the Taliban in Pakistan. It is a longer piece, but well worth the read.

A fair amount of it covers ground that should be familiar to anyone who has been watching South Asia for the past couple of years:

* Taliban factions are in control of Pakistan’s tribal areas

* The Pakistan Army and ISI are actually supporting the Taliban while pretending to cooperate with the U.S. to control the militants

* By way of example, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the de facto leader of a powerful Taliban faction in North Waziristan that organizes suicide bombings in Eastern Afghanistan, is close to UBL, wanted in Afghanistan, and (drum roll please) an ISI intelligence asset! ISI quote from Filkins: “We are not apologetic about this.” Note: The Haqqani compound outside Miranshah was the target of a Predator strike yesterday.

* The Talibs are free to operate in Afghanistan/attack NATO forces provided that they “refrain from attacking the Pakistani state and from setting up a parallel government.”

* Keeping the Taliban intact is a hedge against the day when the U.S. leaves Afghanistan and the government in Kabul collapses so Pakistan can be assured that a friendly (and anti-Indian) government can reestablish stability.

* The Pakistan Army is in such poor shape as a warfighting organization that it likely couldn’t defeat the militants even if it were actually trying to do so.

* This “double game” allows Pakistan to obtain U.S. aid which is critical to sustaining its broken economy.

What Troy found more illuminating was the discussion of the new government’s counterinsurgency strategy, which focuses on economic development (billions will be poured into the tribal areas over the next five years to build roads, schools and health clinics) and negotiation with tribal leaders in a manner that seeks to sideline the militants. This contrasts sharply with the Musharraf-era negotiations that took place directly between the Army and the militants themselves. This strategy sounds similar in many respects to the notions proposed by Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason (previously discussed here) that strengthening and re-building the Pashtun tribal structures was key to bringing the tribal areas back from the radical brink.

The major problem with this mode of thinking, as Filkins makes clear, is that the Taliban has shredded the old social order that these strategies seek to re-establish. Not only have a significant number of Tribal Maliks been killed, but more importantly, the various Taliban factions have cultivated loyal adherents by overthrowing traditional tribal elders and/or hereditary feudal leaders and elevating lower-class people in their place. A number of prominent Taliban warlords, such as Baitullah Mehsud and Manghal Bagh were common laborers before picking up guns. While the attraction of the Taliban has often been framed in either religious or cultural terms, they are also tapping into that age old conflict between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Those who have benefitted under the new social order are unlikely to be too enthusiastic about a return to the old way of doing things.

Just as insightful is a comment on the post by “bill”:

But, of course, the Pakistani government’s role is very interesting. Historically they backed Islamism for national unity and the Taliban for strategic depth, both to counterbalance their demographic disadvantage against India. Until that strategic calculus changes, until Pakistan stops trying to balance India, the government will have a very strong interest letting the Taliban survive.

This is a point that deserves a great deal of emphasis. Pakistan’s strategic position today is not like it was in the 1960s, or even the 1970s and 1980s. The can deter India with nuclear weapons, of course, but the important relative trajectories–most notably economic and military trends–all point towards continued growth in the already significant gap between the two countries. This gap favors India.

India’s GDP (PPP) in 2007 was around $3 trillion. In 2006 and 2007 India’s economy grew by 8.5%. In 2008-2009 it reached 9.1%. Even with a likely slowdown, India’s prospects remain better than Pakistan’s. In 2007, Pakistan’s GDP (PPP) was around $410 billion, with growth between 6-8% between 2004 and 2008 (source for most of these figures: CIA World Fact Book). But that growth is imperiled by high inflation and interest rates.

The Pakistani military is not in particularly good shape; morale and training are quite low. India spends $26.5 billion on its military, but that’s below 2% of its GDP, and India announced in June that it would increase spending to $40 billion; Pakistan spends about $4.4 billion (with close to an additional $10 billion coming from US military aid) but even that comparatively modest expenditure amounts to an enormous drag on Pakistan’s budget and economy.

The hard reality is that India is heading for even more robust regional hegemony, and there’s very little Pakistan can do about it. But even more important is that fact that Pakistan’s major security threats are no longer external; the Pakistani state is unlikely to meet its end via an Indian invasion.

Pakistan’s major security challenges now stem from within its nominal territorial boundaries. Pakistan’s grand strategy of preserving “strategic depth” by placing a friendly regime in Afghanistan–or, at least, preventing the consolidation of a pro-Indian regime there–constitutes, in light of current challenges, an anachronism driven by the straitjacket of organizational culture within the ISI and certain corners of the military.

Indeed, the consolidation of a Taleban state-within-a-state represents the most important threat to the Pakistani government. One day, the ISI’s and military’s allies may launch much more than terrorist strikes against the Pakistani state; it is far from clear who, at that point, will be able to stop them.

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