Tuesday, February 24, 2009

US air strikes in Afstan/Pak goverment swatted

My key excerpt from a NY Times story:
To support ground troops in Afghanistan, the United States flew more than 19,000 combat missions in the country in 2008 [almost 14,000 Jan.-Sept.] — more than ever before, surpassing even the number in Iraq over the same period. But over all, American pilots dropped slightly fewer bombs and other munitions, perhaps as a result of more restrictive rules imposed in September after an uproar about civilian casualties [2008 figures here].
Also interesting:
The Navy says the pilots on the Roosevelt fly about 30 percent of combat missions over Afghanistan; the majority of the flights are handled by the Air Force from bases in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. The Navy was called in last summer when attacks on American and NATO supply lines were on the rise and military commanders decided they needed to get the trucks off the roads and use more air transport.

The pilots fly many other missions for reconnaissance, using sensors to take pictures from the air of, for example, how many Taliban fighters are on the other side of a wall, or how many might be ahead of a NATO convoy. The pictures go directly to the laptops of troops on the ground. “So if there are three warm bodies in that compound, we will know that there are three warm bodies in that compound,” Commander Luchtman said.
Meanwhile, across the border:
Pakistan's extremist triumph
The government has caved in to the Taliban in the Swat Valley to avert more violence.

Confusion hangs over Pakistan's pact with Taliban
Terms of the controversial deal remain sketchy as Pakistani officials push for more U.S. military assistance. Critics say the agreement could give brutal militants new safe havens.
And from Celestial Junk:
Hope and Change in SWAT
Plus what might have been between India and Pakistan--an agreement missed (by Steve Coll of Ghost Wars):
A Reporter at Large, “The Back Channel”
Update: Note Terry Glavin's contrarian (surprised?) comment.

Upperdate: More from Mr Glavin (via a later comment):
"He will kill us. He will throw acid on our face. He can do anything."


Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I'm going to attempt to present a slightly different perspective than you'll find in either Laura King's overview or in the brilliant Ahmed Rashid's analysis of the implications of events in Swat Valley / Malakand.

I may be completely wrong and indeed wildly optimistic in my assessment - I am given to seeing the bright side of things, I admit - but still. I'm thinking it might not be such a rum deal as we've been hearing.

First, it helps to keep in mind that this was not a negotiated truce between the Pakistani government and the Taliban (a point Rashid helpfully emphasizes). Further, it is also not quite right to characterize the arrangements (which no one has yet seen in full, I gather) as merely a deal to impose Sharia law in Malakand (which includes the Swat valley).

I say this because "Sharia law" has been in place in Malakand since 1994; One party to the arrangement is the ANP government in NWFP - a progressive, democratic, popularly-elected goverment that properly regards the "Taliban" as a jihadist near-proxy of Islamabad's military-industrial complex; The other party to the agreement is indeed the leader of a gang of nutcases, that crazy and disgraced cleric Sufi Muhammad, but he actually presents a sort of "competition" in the same religious-extremist constituency from which the Taliban draws its acolytes and footsoldiers.

Sufi Mo's group is Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat e-Mahammadi (TNSM), and he happens to be the estranged father-in-law of the Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, who split from TNSM while Sufi was in jail all those years; Sufi is a lunatic, yes, but he claimed to have renounced violence some time ago (this is not to say TNSM should be understood as non-violent, mind you).

Fazlullah and his crowd went over to the Taliban proper some time back Beitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan - TTP), one of the three mainline Taliban chains of command. It is not yet certain whether Fazlullah is going to abide by the agreement's terms, but one thing that appears fairly clear is that he and his gang have been undermined and further isolated by Sufi's intrigues, not least by the agreement with the ANP.


Here's the optimist in my head doing the talking:

Maybe it would be closer to a clear understanding of event in Malakand to see the ANP-TNSM agreement as a bit of a ruse, from the ANP's perspective. Which is to say the ANP should be given the kind of credit Rashid suggests, but also the credit of having been rather cunning here. As I understand it, the ANP's understanding of the "Sharia" aspects of the deal mean merely extending customary laws that go by the name "Sharia," which already apply, and that the law will be administered by the already-existing courts and officers under rules and procedures that obtain everywhere in Pakistan, except with stricter time limits. "The only Islamic content is the nomenclature - the government has substituted English titles for courts and officials with Arabic ones," is what I understand the ANP has asserted.

So, the militantly anti-Taliban ANP sues for peace and buys some time; the "Taliban" gets isolated from its religious constituents by a newly resurgent TNSM, Sufi Mo gets accolades for championing "Sharia" and bringing peace to Swat, and for putting his bloodthirsty upstart son-in-law in his place.

The ANP is maybe crazy like a fox, I'm thinking, which would at least hold open the hope that this might actually be good news. But we'll see how long it lasts: by my count, this is the fifth such "agreement with the Taliban" in the NWFP in the past three years, each of which collapsed, including deals "negotiated with the Taliban" in the NWFP's Malakand Division (which includes Swat).

One final point:

The greatest difficulty in sorting all this out is that almost everything one reads about it, regardless of the political perspective, is written with a view to "American" interests, or Islamabad's interests, and almost never with a view to the interests and security of the long abandoned, brave and decent people of the NWFP.

4:16 p.m., February 24, 2009  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Some thoughts of mine. In some ways it seems to me the more success the Talibs have in Pakistan, the more they'll concentrate there--a much greater potential prize. But I simply cannot see the Government of Pakistan being defeated by Pathans. The Punjabis in particular--by far the largest ethnic group--would not stand for it, along with the Sindhis, the second largest group.

On the other hand the worry is that the Pak army decides to go really Islamist and carries out a coup of that persuasion. Not very likely I think, more likely that fairly soon the army realizes the country really is in deep trouble and takes on the Talibs very seriously (and much more brutally than Westerners). Along with a deal, brokered by Holbrooke et al., in which the Indians make clear they will take no advantage of Paks concentrating in the west, provided the Paks do something really serious about the Mumbai bomber types. Kashmir for much, much, later.

Whole lot of diplomacy needed (see the Coll piece at the post), but not unrealistic. As for Afstan, I do think the US can make a really big difference in terms of holding in the south, and within say three years the Afghan security forces (along with militias, whatever one calls them) might be in fairly decent shape.

I don't think the problem is the border as such--numbers crossing really are not that great. It's being able to deal with Talibs after they arrive, and I don't think that is hopeless at all. Remember the Soviets were never beaten (contrary to what the media say); they just gave up. And they faced a much larger and much better foreign-supported insurgency coming across the border.

We in the West really are too short-termist.

But if the Pak civilian gov't really continues being as generally inept as it is, and if it is clearly incapable of dealing with the Talibs, then indeed an army coup becomes very likely. One just hopes (to build on the thought above) that it is not Islamist-led. If there is an Islamist-army coup I think we'll see special forces/air action by the Americans or Indians (or both, covertly, together) to destroy/seize the Paks' nuclear weapons and to destroy their bomb-making facilities. And Lord knows the consequences of that.


4:59 p.m., February 24, 2009  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

All that sounds just about right.

As for "the Government of Pakistan being defeated by Pathans," a.k.a. Pakhtuns, or Pashtuns, that of course is not really the threat, but rather a total failed-state implosion brought on by Islamist insurgency and sedition, aided and abetted by the usual ISI suspects. That seems more likely, and some days seems more likely than not.

5:09 p.m., February 24, 2009  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Not especially contrarian, exactly. Further:


3:00 p.m., February 25, 2009  

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