Tag: Taleban

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?


Before they disappear into the ether

I’ve been fairly prolific lately. This state of affairs stems, in part, from what I’ve been working on for the last couple days: copy editing page proofs, which amounts to one of the dullest things I’ve done in furtherance of my career. Ever.

Moreover, as I’m sure is the case for at least some of our readers, my mind has been colonized by two pressing developments: the final innings of the 2008 US Presidential campaign and the potential collapse of the neoliberal economic order. Both are doing their part to tap into my “outrage” receptors, and blogging seems to be the only effective way to prevent total overload.

But all of this has not been without cost.

As I ramp up production of short posts of varrying quality, I push some excellent work by the rest of the Duck crew towards the internet ether’s edge. I’ve also neglected to mention some important developments related to my more usual topics. So, without further to do, here are just a few posts at the Duck that, if you’ve missed, you should check out. I’ll even throw in an article or so that I was going to blog about but didn’t (or, at least, haven’t yet).

1. Peter’s “Barak Obama and the Renewal of American Hegemony.”

2. Charli’s mind altering Measuring Linguistic Norms” and her traffic generating “Robot Soldiers v. Autonomous Weapons: Why It Matters.”

3. Rodger’s “al Qaeda’s electioneering.” I should note that Rodger scooped the blogsplosive Five Thirty Eight. Take that, Nate Silver.

Now, onto articles external to the Duck…

1. NATO will now target opium production in Afghanistan. On the one hand, they need to do something. The Taleban extract large rents from the trade. On the other hand, this kind of interdiction has a lousy track record. It might make more sense to just buy up the crop at market price, and thereby cut the Taleban out.

2. Joshua Foust has a great post on the Shindand Bombing. Go read it.

3. Fred Weir of The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting piece on the fallout of Russia’s military showing in Georgia. Although the Russians crushed the Georgians, they’re not particularly happy about their performance.

“Russia has changed a lot lately, and the spirit in the country is different from what it used to be,” says Lt. Gen. (Ret) Gennady Yevstasyev, a senior adviser to the PIR Center, an independent security think tank in Moscow. “The public will now support major military reform, even if it entails financial hardship. Many things that were stalemated for years will now move forward.”

Already, Russian defense budgets are set to leap next year to a post-Soviet record of over $50 billion. Similar jumps are projected for coming years as well.

The fresh increases, announced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in late September, are in addition to a special $200-billion procurement program aimed at restoring the country’s degraded strategic forces.

Mr. Arbatov argues that Russia’s military problems run deeper than just two decades of neglect. “There is no political leadership over military organization. Nor is there any democratic control. The system needs to be changed,” he says.

Russian forces entering South Ossetia lacked even basic intelligence regarding Georgian artillery positions and troop deployments, which led several of their leading units into costly ambushes. In one surprise attack, the 58th Army’s senior commander, Gen. Anatoly Khrulyev, was badly wounded and had to be evacuated.

In a desperate effort to get information, the Russians sent an electronic reconnaissance version of the Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bomber over the battlefield and it got shot down. In all, Russia lost four planes, including three Sukhoi Su-25 attack fighters to unexpectedly effective Georgian air defenses. Some Russian commanders reported using cellphones to communicate with their units when their own radios failed.

Additionally, the tanks deployed by the Russian Army did not have night sights for their guns, and the reactive armor designed to protect them from Georgian antitank weapons proved unreliable.

But of particular interest to me were Andrei Klimov’s comments about NATO and NATO expansion.

Moscow does not feel any immediate threat from the West, say military analysts, despite increased tensions over US missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe and the projected expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union.

“We regard NATO as a dangerous organization, but right now it’s not so strong,” says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma’s international affairs committee. “The problem is that NATO will become more dangerous if it includes countries like Georgia and Ukraine. In the cold war, when only the US and Western countries were in NATO, it was stable and predictable. We have enough resources to defend ourselves at present, but in the future we will need to think about this.”

I suppose some of my colleagues would code Russian behavior as “not balancing.” But I think the case is getting more and more difficult to make that some of the world is not pushing back.


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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