Explaining Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Performance

The Afghan government’s dissatisfaction and now increasingly the American polity’s displeasure with Pakistan’s performance in counterterrorism operations are conditioned considerably by the perception of Pakistan’s unwillingness to crack down on terrorism comprehensively. This is a serious and, in actuality, complex charge.

By all accounts, President Musharraf himself is strongly committed to purging both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The imperatives of eliminating al-Qaeda are obvious: Pakistan was never directly a sponsor of this group in Afghanist an, and destroying its network remains the sine qua non of the lucrative Pakist ani counterterrorism partnership with the United States. Musharraf also remains personally opposed to the political philosophy represented by the Taliban. He has repeatedly identified the “talibanization” of Pakist an as the most pressing threat facing his st ate, but whether this translates into a decision to physically apprehend or eradicate the Taliban cadres, and especially their leadership, is less clear.(39) Drawing a distinction between “diehard militants and fanatics,” who “reject reconciliation and peace” and accordingly must be t argeted even though they are hard to find, and the larger Taliban cadres, “most of [whom] may be ignorant and misguided” but “are a part of Afghan society,” Musharraf has urged Kabul, Washington, and the larger international community to begin instead a campaign of reconciliation with the Taliban focused on “winning [their] hearts and minds.”(40)

Musharraf’s attitude toward the Taliban thus remains complex and multifaceted: he clearly detests their worldview, referring to talibanization as a species of extremism that “represents a state of mind and requires [a] more comprehensive, long-term strategy where military action must be combined with a political approach and socioeconomic development.” He is also opposed to what he calls “terrorist elements and foreign milit ants” within the movement, which he acknowledges “must be dealt with a strong hand.”(41) Musharraf argues, however, for peacefully integrating the Taliban’s rank and file into civil society, a judgment that is premised heavily on the belief that these elements are merely misguided miscreants rather than implacable foes.

The nucleus of military officials around Musharraf appears to re ect his own sinuosity. While all senior Pakistani military officers are agreed that the al-Qaeda presence in the FATA must be eliminated, there is a considerable diversity of views in regard to the Taliban. Although many feel that the optimal outcome for Pakist an would be simply a Taliban that progressively lose their effectiveness and support and thereby fade into obscurity-a finale that would spare Pakistanis the dist asteful obligation of having to turn their guns against their old clients-others are con icted about these reactionaries for different reasons.

To begin with, many officers are disenchanted by Washington’s approach to managing the larger issues associated with Afghanistan’s political reconstitution. Since the emergency loya jirga held in 2002 and the subsequent Afghan presidential election of 2004, these officials have been dismayed by what they perceive as the U.S. partiality toward the Durrani Pashtuns, who have traditionally been the privileged political elite in Afghan society (and from whose ranks, through the Popalzai tribe, emerged President Hamid Karzai). The calculated neglect of the Ghilzai Pashtuns-who are primarily rural and uneducated peasantry and who constituted a critical source of manpower for the Taliban cause-grates on many Pakistani national security managers not only because they believe that the continuing alienation of the Ghilzai feeds the Taliban ranks but also because it represents an enduring and deliberate disregard of their own clients in intra-Afghan politics. This latter consideration is significant because it has the effect of portraying Islamabad as feckless and incapable of in uencing U.S. policy in directions more helpful to its friends despite Pakistan’s large investments in the U.S. war on terror.

When these concerns are added to other strategic calculations about protecting the Taliban as a hedge against either the failure of the Karzai regime in Kabul or the dreaded prospect of increasing Indian in uence in Afghanist an, the senior leadership of the Pakistani military-as well as President Musharraf-believe they have good enough reasons to avoid t argeting the Taliban comprehensively in the manner sought by both Kabul and Washington.(42) The dangers of a heightened and targeted anti-Ghilzai campaign leading to a political mobilization that renews the demand for an independent “Pakhtunistan” further exacerbate the fears of senior Pakistani military officials. Because the status of the Durand Line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan is still formally contested by Kabul, any provocation that results in strengthening the political dimensions of Pashtun solidarity among the tribes living on both sides of this boundary is viewed immediately as a potential threat to the territorial integrity of Pakistan. With the vivisection of 1971 indelibly emblazoned in the consciousness of the Pakistani milit ary, senior commanders are extremely reluctant to embark on any military operations that would aggravate the local Pashtun tribes in the FATA and provoke them into making common territorial cause with their confreres on the other side of the border against the Pakistani state.(43)

While ambivalence about the Taliban at senior levels in the Pakistani military thus has both strategic and self-interested dimensions, other more prosaic, but tactically important, considerations also play a role. Recognizing that the Taliban are essentially Ghilzai Pashtuns with deep consanguineal ties to the tribes that have dominated the FATA for centuries, many Pakistani commanders are afraid that any continued large-scale military presence in the area, especially if exemplified by massed infantry operations of the kind mounted in 2002-2004, will only further in ame tribal sensitivities and diminish cooperation between tribal leaders and the armed forces, a cooperation that is absolutely necessary if the armed forces are to successfully apprehend the “terrorist elements and foreign militants” located in their midst. Although such embitterment has already occurred with problematic consequences for the success of antiterrorism operations, the leadership of the Pakist ani military remains continually fearful that any added aggravation could lead to even greater tribal support for terrorist groups closeted in the area and a systematic denial of access to the milit ary units tasked for operations therein. That such contingencies already appear to have materialized in the FATA suggests that the reluctance of senior Pakistani military leaders to violently engage the Taliban will be reinforced even further.(44)

The most problematic elements within the Pakistani state, however, are probably the ISID officers in the field who were tasked with managing the liaison relationship with the Taliban over the years. Some simply feel loyalty to their old clients. Others are content to exploit their leadership’s own ambivalence about the Taliban. And some others are prepared to disregard leadership directives that enjoin interdicting the Taliban for either nationalist, ideological, or personal reasons-if they believe they can get away with it. Whatever the cause, the field operatives of the ISID are widely perceived in Afghanistan and in the United States as being less than fully committed to targeting the Taliban leadership in the manner required for the success of counterterrorism operations in the FATA and beyond.(45)

At first sight, this is indeed a curious phenomenon because nothing in the organizational structure of the ISID suggests that it is either an autonomous or a rogue entity. The reportedly 10,000-strong ISID is staffed primarily by Pakist ani military officers who are assigned to the service on deputation for a fixed period of time, and its leadership reports to the chief of army staff. The pay, promotions, and operations of the directorate are also regulated by military rules and procedures, and by all accounts the Pakistan Army is a professional and bureaucratically efficient organization. Consequently, the notion that ISID officers might be undermining policies pursued by the corporate leadership of the Pakistan Army appears counterintuitive at first sight and cannot be reconciled with the image of the Pakist an Army as a tightly centralized organization unless due credit is given to three realities.(46)

To begin with, the ISID, similar to many other intelligence organizations worldwide, has considerable operational latitude because of the nature of its activities in the covert realm: this includes access to financing “off the books,” recruitment of agents from diverse sources to include those with unsavory backgrounds, and the systematic use of retired case officers who can conduct officially permitted operations while still providing the st ate with plausible
deniability. Further, the implementation of many ISID operations is typically regulated by “directive control” as opposed to “detailed control,” where field officers have the exibility to accomplish strategic goals without having to secure prior approval of every particular from their superiors. And, finally, because ISID is simultaneously an external intelligence organization as well as a coercive instrument for implementing the preferences of military authoritarianism in Pakistan, Musharraf’s management of this organization historically was manifested primarily through the promulgation of broadly defined policies, which were then implemented by a chain of subordinates who acted upon their underst anding of his strategic intent and which simultaneously served to protect him from detailed knowledge of what may frequently have been highly troublesome activities.

Given these realities, the pervasive belief about ISID unreliability in the war against terror, and particularly against the Taliban, can be accounted for-despite the otherwise professional character of the Pakistan Army-only by one or more of the following hypotheses:

That, despite their public claims, President Musharraf and his corps commanders are not yet committed to a policy of eliminating the Taliban and especially its leadership, root and branch; consequently, Musharraf and his commanders have not directed their military and intelligence services to systematically implement such a strategy.

That, although President Musharraf and his corps commanders have settled on a strategy of eliminating the Taliban in principle, the operational predicates of this policy insofar as they apply to the leadership and other high-value t argets have not yet been specified deliberately, thus permitting line-level officers to use their discretion when it comes to supporting or undermining particular counterterrorism operations.

That, although President Musharraf and his corps commanders have settled on a strategy of eliminating the Taliban, to include its leadership and other “diehard militants,” the large size and complex bureaucratic structure of the ISID permit its field officers, and especially the retired case officers still on its active payroll, to covertly ignore or violate leadership directives in many instances for nationalist, ideological, or personal reasons without fear of immediate retribution.

Whatever the real explanation for ISID recalcitrance may be-and the truth probably implicates a complex admixture of factors-the fact remains that the Pakist ani campaign against the Taliban, and particularly its leadership, remains hobbled by convolution and hesitation. During the past several years, this has resulted in a deepening entrenchment of the Taliban and their sympathizers throughout the seven administrative agencies of the FATA and a growing expansion of their in uence in the Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, and Swat Valley areas of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.(47) Since October 2007, for inst ance, the idyllic mountain region of Swat, barely 90 miles from Islamabad, has been occupied by self-styled “Pakistani Taliban” forces led by Maulana Qazi Fazlullah and his Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws) shaheen (fighters), who may be present in the area in greater than brigade strength. This development suggests not only that the Taliban movement and its sympathizers have moved beyond the traditionally stateless regions close to the Durand Line and into more settled areas within Pakistan but also, and more ominously, that what began as localized terrorist operations now threatens to evolve into a mature insurgency with the militant opposition able to eject government forces from a given territory, hold ground against state opposition, and coerce any local opponents into cooperating in order to sust ain the newly secured safe haven.(48)

This intensifying talibanization in the sensitive areas of the North West Frontier Province has had diverse effects, including increased tensions with and between the traditional tribes resulting in both growing intertribal con icts as well as bolder attacks on the Pakistan Army and paramilitary units in the region. In one dramatic encounter, more than three hundred Frontier Corps infantry men were taken hostage by local milit ants in August 2007 in South Waziristan, to be freed only after President Musharraf ignominiously released more than two dozen previously jailed Islamists, including Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the highest-ranking Taliban official captured by the Pakistani military.(49) On occasion, the tribal dissatisfaction with local t alibanization, and particularly with some of the groups that support it, has been all to the good as, for example, when indigenous tribes in the Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan, supported by Pakistani military forces, attacked and expelled numerous Uzbeks belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-a constituent of Osama bin
Laden’s International Islamic Front-who had settled in that locale. Unfortunately, such successful cleansing operations have been all too few. The main consequence of talibanization in the FATA instead has been, as one observer put it, to “provide more opportunities to the ISI[D] to indirectly support some Taliban commanders sympathetic to Pakistan’s objectives” in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.(50)

The growing talibanization in the FATA and beyond has in fact resulted in the creation of a secure sanctuary for a variety of terrorist groups now conducting anticoalition military operations in Afghanistan. The evidence suggests that Taliban presence is strongest in the Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, and Oruzgan provinces in southern Afghanistan and is either significant or conspicuous in Paktika, Khowst, Nangarhar, Konar, and Nuristan provinces in eastern Afghanistan. In these areas, the Taliban have been able to deploy and sustain a large number of armed fighters in situ, which has permitted the movement to effectively displace the Afghan state by usurping its traditional functions such as maintaining law and order; extracting resources through taxation; administering justice through various adjudicative mechanisms backed by local militias; and dispensing welfare through the maintenance of schools, provision of social services, and the oversight of economic activities.

Performing these statal functions is possible because the Taliban undoubtedly continue to derive support from the Ghilzai Pashtuns in Afghanistan; however, their record of increasingly ruthless retribution against any uncooperative tribal leaders does not hurt either. In this context, the Taliban’s ability to sustain the strong coercive presence they currently have in the southern and eastern Afghan provinces is enhanced considerably by their access to the safe
haven in the FATA whence they can draw a large number of fighters, procure diverse kinds of ordnance and combat equipment, and t ap into different streams of financial resources(including, but not restricted to, the zakat, the Islamic tithe) for the prosecution of the ongoing jihad against the Karzai regime and the foreign forces now present in Afghanistan. As one respected analysis has noted, “using [the sanctuary provided by the FATA] to regroup, reorganize and rearm,” Taliban and other foreign militants, including al-Qaeda sympathizers, “are launching increasingly severe cross-border attacks on Afghan and international military personnel, with the support and active involvement of Pakistani militants.”(51)

The fruits of this activity are witnessed in the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Since the successful presidential election in October 2004-an event that received the full support of the international community and heralded hope for a new Afghanistan-the Taliban insurgency has metastasized in scale, intensity, and fury. By 2006, the level of violence had increased dramatically, and previous operations that had been centered on assassinations, ambushes, and isolated hit-and-run att acks were now supplemented by more ominous tactics involving beheadings and suicide bombings, which historically have been utterly alien to Afghan culture.(52) Equally problematic has been the employment of ever more sophisticated improvised explosive devices, rockets, missiles, and man-portable air defense weapons, many of which continue to be fabricated in the arms foundries in the FATA but are now also increasingly supplied by al-Qaeda and foreign powers such as Iran. Even more remarkably, Taliban military operations have gradually evolved from singular covert attacks mounted by tiny groups to more complex, set-piece milit ary operations under-taken by larger units, often involving attempts to seize and hold territory against superior forces, and employing more diverse and sophisticated crew-served weaponry, including indirect fire systems such as mortars and unguided rockets, as supplements to the traditionally ubiquitous personal firearms and direct-fire weapons.(53)

The strategic objectives of these new modes of warfare have also become more complex. Rather than simply harassing the new Afghan government, which seemed to be the original intention, the current milit ary activities of the Taliban are accompanied by sophisticated forms of information operations. Betraying evidence of lessons learned from their al-Qaeda accomplices, Taliban operatives use a variety of techniques ranging from sending crude low-technology “night letters” often conveying threats to specific individuals, to circulating DVDs and videotapes containing political propaganda, to exploiting more advanced technology such as radio, television, mobile and satellite telephony, and the Internet. In general, all these technologies are used to signal to the Afghan tribes that the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul is inevitable-despite whatever t actical losses might be suffered at the hands of NATO forces in the interim-and that resist ance or neutrality is therefore futile. As one analysis pointed out, even if this campaign does not persuade the Afghan people, “[t]he Taliban’s own hearts and minds activities are now prolonging and exacerbating an already difficult insurgency problem for the Afghan Government and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the south of the country.”(54)

Finally, and perhaps most important, both the Taliban’s information and its actual war-fighting operations have moved beyond simple terrorist attacks aimed at disrupting the Afghan government toward more ambitious objectives revolving around the progressive domination of territory. Focused today primarily on NATO’s Regional Command (South) for both symbolic and strategic reasons, the Taliban leadership appears intent on slowly seizing critical areas, district by district, through a strategy of covert infiltration in the Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabol provinces as a prelude to wresting control of the city of Kandahar, which is intended to become the base for first dominating the South and eventually all of Afghanistan itself. If this evolution gradually succeeds, the Taliban insurgency in southeastern Afghanistan will have successfully metamorphosed from a guerrilla operation into something resembling a more conventional civil war with grave advantages to the militants in their struggle against the Karzai government in Kabul.

Although the safe havens in the FATA and the ability to derive local Ghilzai support in the southern and eastern Afghan provinces (by providing the benefits of security, justice, and even development) have thus enabled a dramatic transformation in both the character of the ongoing Afghan war and the fortunes of the Taliban as an insurgent organization, a particularly dangerous consequence-especially from a U.S. perspective-has been the enhanced prospects for survival they have offered al-Qaeda. There is little doubt today that the survival of the Taliban sanctuary in the FATA (to include the talibanization of the wider area more generally) has been singularly responsible for the continuing regeneration of al-Qaeda as an organization because it has permitted the leadership and the operatives of this terrorist group, who are relatively smaller in number, to safely “dissolve” into a larger geosocial environment that is either hospitable to them directly or that protects them by disguising their presence amid a larger pool of Taliban adherents.

The al-Qaeda leadership, which is believed to be currently ensconced somewhere in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA, has further enhanced its immunity to interdiction by pursuing what appears to be a subtle strategy toward its Taliban hosts. Recognizing that the Taliban’s Pashtun cadres remain the original denizens of the FATA and the adjacent areas in eastern and southern Afghanistan, al-Qaeda’s overseers have been careful to tread lightly: despite their independent access to significant streams of foreign resources, they do not seem to have levied any excessive demands in terms of either hospitality or security, nor have they used their superior access to advanced military-technical capabilities worldwide to attempt any “takeover” of the Taliban movement. Rather, they appear to understand that an independent Pashtun insurgency that answers to no one but its own indigenous leadership stands the best chance of not only regaining control in Afghanistan but also securing the continued support of the tribal elements in the FATA, which in turn only better conduces to al-Qaeda’s survival over the long term.

Al-Qaeda leaders thus have repeatedly endorsed the Pashtun leadership of the Taliban, centered on Mullah Omar’s coterie, on many an occasion publicly, beginning in 2002 when Osama bin Laden conferred on Mullah Omar the title of Emir Al-Momineen (Leader of the Faithful).(55) The increasing sophistication of the Taliban’s military operations, the new integration of suicide attacks into its modus operandi, and its increasing emphasis on information operations for a group that historically despised the modern media also indicate that al-Qaeda elements continue to assist Taliban forces with at least technology and training, and possibly financial assist ance, as partial recompense for the refuge they receive in the FATA as they continue to bide their time awaiting the reestablishment of Taliban control in Afghanistan.(56)

Pakistan’s failure to target the Taliban and especially its leadership since 2001 has, therefore, had several deleterious consequences. To begin with, it has resulted in the creation of a safe haven for various terrorist elements in the FATA, whence the Taliban war against the Karzai regime can be prosecuted and the al-Qaeda leadership protected and regenerated as it plans more cat astrophic attacks on the West and on the United States in particular. It has also permitted the Taliban to nurture their indigenous bases of support within southern and
eastern Afghanistan itself, whence they can slowly evolve into a tumorous state within a state. Further, it has bred a cancerous nest of violent extremism inside Pakistan resulting in the rise of new Islamist militant groups, sometimes labeled the Pakistani Taliban, that are either sympathetic to or affiliated with al-Qaeda and committed to waging a holy war against the Pakistani government, the liberal elements in Pakistani politics, as well as other foreign adversaries such as India, Israel, and the United States. The invigoration of these indigenous radical outfits has in the process produced a new generation of foot soldiers available to different extremist entities throughout the country and strengthened the social bases of support for the otherwise marginal Islamist parties in Pakistani politics. Finally, it has added to the already long and intract able list of problems confronting Pakistan as it struggles to transform itself into a moderate and successful Muslim st ate: in particular, it has condemned the Pakist ani leadership, including acknowledged moderate leaders like Musharraf, to prosecute antiterrorism operations under highly disadvantageous conditions and in an area that by history and tradition has long been lawless, has been bereft of any concentrated state penetration, and that had no regular military presence worth the name until recently, yet is dominated by those very groups that have strong ethnic and increasingly ideological ties to the same terrorist elements sought by the Pakistani state.(57)

If the foregoing discussion amplifies how Pakistan’s counterterrorism performance has been structurally compromised by motivational and institutional problems, this is by no means the whole story. An equally important source of inadequacy has been the operational complexity of the counterterrorism operations themselves and Pakistan’s myriad weaknesses in coping with these challenges. These difficulties-three of which are illustrated in the discussion that follows-only complicate the challenges caused by the larger problem of whether Pakistan believes eliminating the Taliban decisively is in its national interest.

First, Pakistan’s inability to secure the tactical intelligence required for successful counter-terrorism operations against key Taliban and al-Qaeda elements in the FATA has now become painfully obvious. Although the ISID and the army’s director general of military intelligence have primary responsibility for the collection of t argeting intelligence in the FATA, their ability to carry out these tasks has been severely hampered in recent times. In part, this is undoubtedly because many Pakistani intelligence officers are simply sympathetic to radical Islamist elements who have been their clients for many years. Even when this is not the case, however, state intelligence activities have been hindered by the peculiarities of the political structures in the FATA and the corrosive changes that have been occurring therein.

It is often insufficiently recognized that, although the tribal areas are physically located within Pakistani territory, they are not governed by either Pakistani laws and regulations or the political institutions normally associated with national politics. In fact, the relationship between these tribal areas and the Pakistani state is regulated not by any common laws but by formal treaties between the resident tribes and the federal government in Islamabad. The existence of such treaties exemplifies what two analysts have rightly labeled “the anomaly of [the] FATA”:(58) it signifies that the link between the tribes and the Pakistani government resembles one that exists between coordinate, and not superordinate and subordinate, political entities. This is further corroborated by the fact that these treaties not only guarantee the tribes’ immunity to the codified laws and regulations that govern political life in the rest of Pakistan but also bestow on them exclusive responsibility for the management of their own internal affairs. With the exception of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a written document more than a century old that elaborates the principle of settling disputes through arbitration by tribal jirgas, most of the governing rules in the FATA are essentially unwritten, being based on a combination of rewaj (tribal customs) and Sharia (Islamic law).

The foundation of maintaining order and authority in such a system, which is anchored in custom, tradition, and legal practices going back to the British Raj, lay in the inculcation of harmonious relations between the political agent-a mid-level civil servant with sweeping powers who, although deputed by the governor of the North West Frontier Province as the highest-ranking official representative in each tribal agency, was ultimately responsible to the federal government in Islamabad-and the tribal maliks, or elders, who managed tribal affairs day to day and who until 1996 were the only individuals permitted to vote in elections for Pakistan’s National Assembly. The ties between the agents and the maliks were critical to the production of good intelligence: the agents disbursed the resources provided by Islamabad to acquire the information required to keep the government up to date about developments along the frontier, and the maliks used the subventions provided to buttress their own influence, access, and st anding with the tribes they supervised.(59)

Although it was possible to alter this traditional structure of management in the FATA, successive authoritarian regimes in Islamabad eschewed that alternative because the system of direct control through the political agent invariably appeared more attractive to Pakistan Army leaders who were innately uncomfort able with the idea of democratic alternatives involving the introduction of universal adult suffrage, the development of represent ative institutions, and the presence of civilian political parties in local politics. As a result, the traditional governing mechanisms, centered on the interactions between agents and maliks against the backdrop of the privileges encoded in the old treaties, were only reinforced by Islamabad despite the fact that the bonds between these agents and maliks had became increasingly discredited because of the widespread corruption and politicization that came to characterize their relationship.(60) As a result over time, the tribes along the frontier no longer looked up to their own maliks as sel ess leaders or to the political agents as fair representatives of a federal government that sought to advance their welfare.

By the time the 1980s set in, the anti-Soviet jihad brought about a further-and deadlier-acceleration of this crisis. Egged on by the initiatives of Pakistan’s Islamist president, Zia ul-Haq, the FATA witnessed a steady social transformation that resulted in the traditional authorities-the political agents and the maliks-being slowly supplanted by new religious leaders, the maulvis, who viewed issues of political loyalty primarily through religious or ideological lenses. The progressive demise of the old social order thus made the long-standing Pakistani human intelligence collection apparatus dramatically ineffective as the radicalized maulvis, viewing the protection of the Taliban and al-Qaeda cadres in the FATA as a politico-religious obligation, appear determined to deny the Pakistani state the necessary information required to apprehend these targets. The widespread outcry in the frontier areas against the U.S. war in Iraq, coupled with the growing perception that Musharraf ‘s prosecution of counterterrorism operations represents illegitimate support for a U.S. administration involved in a global anti-Muslim crusade, has only strengthened the determination of the maulvis and the new Islamists, who have filled the “power vacuum”(61) caused by the demise of the agent-malik relationship in the FATA, to protect the terrorist targets sought by Pakistan and the United States.(62)

The limitations of Pakistani technical intelligence capabilities in the context of counter-terrorism operations also do not help matters any. As a matter of fact, Pakistan does have an impressive array of national intelligence collection capabilities. These systems, which are focused primarily on gathering signals and communications intelligence (SIGINT and COMINT), are largely under ISID control although the actual intercept operations are conducted by inter-services signals units that employ technical personnel drawn from the army’s Corps of Signals, the air force, and the navy. For the most part, however, strategic SIGINT and COMINT collection in Pakistan-the intercept, analysis, and dissemination of electronic signatures and communications waveforms-is disproportionately oriented toward targeting India. Islamabad’s most sophisticated assets, accordingly, focus on the detection, direction finding, surveillance, and intercept of the high frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF), ultra high frequency (UHF), and satellite bandwidths used by Indian diplomatic and military communications.(63) These resources, together with the tactical SIGINT and COMINT systems possessed at the corps level in the Pakistan Army, make Islamabad certainly capable of monitoring the communication devices used by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, because these in fact
most likely resemble those supplied by the ISID to various Kashmiri terrorist groups and recovered over the years by the Indian military. The insurgency in Kashmir revealed that Pakistani supported terrorist groups in South Asia, including those operating in Afghanistan, generally use HF radio, satellite telephony, and cellular phones for long-range connectivity, with commercially available line-of-sight VHF and UHF radios produced by companies such as Yeasu, Kenwood, and I-Com for their operational and tactical communications.(64)

Targeting the communications traffic generated through these systems, however, requires Pakistan’s national and t actical collection assets to be systematically tasked for this purpose, but both Indian and Afghan military intelligence officials believe that New Delhi continues to remain a higher-priority target for Pakistani technical collection in comparison with either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Even when this is not the case, however, Pakistani surveillance systems may continue to be ineffective in the counterterrorism mission for many reasons. If Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives use low-power devices sporadically for tactical communications, the short range and random nature of these transmissions may defeat even a technically competent operator if no surveillance devices are in proximity to the threat. Further, sophisticated technologies such as frequency hopping, portable encrypted, or digital burst radios, many of which are available commercially, can be used to elude even skilled surveillance especially if the monitoring systems are not available or are not dedicated fulltime to the mission. Finally, the increased use of the Internet by Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, including their growing use of encryption software, makes it hard for the ISID to monitor such communications systematically because, in the absence of prior cueing, high-speed computation married to sophisticated search algorithms would be required if the relatively large volume of Internet traffic, even within an otherwise relatively low tele-density state like Pakistan, is to be successfully monitored.(65) It is simply not clear whether Pakistan possesses such capabilities.

In principle, U.S. advantages here could serve to compensate, but the growing appreciation of the capabilities of U.S. assets has resulted in these opposition forces-both Taliban and al-Qaeda-increasingly relying on more primitive but more secure means of communication, such as “snail mail” and human couriers, for their operational planning. This workaround, in turn, denies both Pakist an and the United St ates the kind of targeting data that might otherwise have become available through technical intelligence.(66)

Recognizing these problems, Pakistan has begun the arduous task of rebuilding both its technical and its human intelligence collection assets in the FATA. The latter capabilities are indeed the most critical, but these also take the longest to mature and to yield their fruit. A long-term Pakistan Army presence in the FATA amid conditions of relative peace is, therefore, an essential precondition for Islamabad to be able to develop and consolidate an effective human intelligence network. The $750 million U.S. assistance program to the FATA, if properly directed, could help considerably in advancing this goal of local st ability; but the complicated and time-consuming nature of this endeavor, the uncertainty about the program’s effective implementation, and Washington’s failure to condition the availability of these funds on Islamabad’s implementation of political reforms in the tribal regions-to include, inter alia, the drastic revision of the Frontier Crimes Regulation; the elimination of the political agent as part of the larger process of integrating the FATA into Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province under the full jurisdiction of the provincial and national legislatures and the judicial system; and the withdrawal of restrictions on political parties operating in the FATA with an eye to introducing conventional political institutions-imply that neither the United States nor Pakistan ought to expect quick breakthroughs in their efforts “to build confidence and trust between the Government of Pakistan (GOP) and [the] FATA tribal communities”(67) leading to the demolition of the al-Qaeda and Taliban networks that have regenerated in this area over the last few years.(68)

Second, the arrival of the Pakistan Army in strength in the FATA has resulted in social disruptions that have undermined its counterterrorism effectiveness. Although the insertion of the Army’s XI Corps and the SSG battalions into the autonomous areas was a brave and necessary decision of the part of General Musharraf, it has nonetheless eroded the delicate compact that previously existed between the FATA and the Pakistani state. The resulting alienation and resentment on the part of the indigenous population have been re ected in significant counterterrorism problems. The Pakistan Army-which draws its cadres largely from outside the FATA and is primarily non-Pashtun in composition-is a highly professional force, but its maneuver units have often been stymied by their inability to secure the cooperation of the local populace, which views it today as an unwelcome intruder. The army’s SSG is very effective in t actical counterterrorism operations but, being an elite unit, is far too diminutive to make a difference at the theater level.

The Frontier Corps, which is composed primarily of tribal levies and is the resident paramilitary force, could be potentially the most effective element, but it is often compromised by its close ties with the local inhabitants. Riddled with sympathizers, inadequately motivated, suspicious of both Islamabad’s and Washington’s intentions, poorly trained and equipped for counterterrorism operations, yet present in strength throughout the FATA, the Frontier Corps (along with its other local siblings such as the Frontier Constabulary, the tribal police [khassadars], and tribal militias [lashkars]) represents the perfect exemplar of the structural challenge facing Pakistan’s counterterrorism effort: its best local units, the ones that share affinities with the tribes they patrol and consequently the forces likely to secure potentially the most useful intelligence, are also the fighting elements least able or willing to cope with the battle-hardened terrorists they are deployed against.(69)

Unfortunately, the infantry elements of the Pakistan Army that have been pressed into the fight have their own problems as well. Unlike the Indian Army, which thanks to two decades of combating Pakistani-supported subconventional con ict now has considerable counter-terrorism skills, the infantry battalions of Pakistan’s XI Corps are configured primarily as strategic reserves for possible conventional warfare against India. Counterterrorism operations are not their forte, and, while they have done a decent job of learning by doing, they still betray a proclivity for operational responses that while sensible against a conventional adversary are less than effective (and, perhaps, even counterproductive) when dealing with irregular forces: large unit deployments, intense (and sometimes indiscriminate) employment of fire, and sledgehammer cordon-and-search tactics.(70)

While the attrition strategies of the Pakistani military have been criticized by many for their detrimental consequences, it must be recognized that these are not always attributable to the “self-proclaimed invincibility of the [Pakistani] armed forces.”(71) Rather, the hostile terrain in which counterterrorism operations are conducted and the unexpectedly heavy firepower that Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists have mustered in the past have been the two factors most responsible for the military’s recourse to the relatively coarse counterterrorism tactics that are invariably derided.

It is not difficult to sympathize with Islamabad’s predicament. For starters, the topography of the FATA is incredibly inhospit able as far as counterterrorism operations are concerned. The general geography of the area is characterized by harsh, rugged, and inaccessible mountainous terrain with steep slopes being the rule rather than the exception. The crest elevations in the region vary from 3,600 meters to 4,700 meters in the Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai agencies of the central FATA, dropping somewhat to between 1,500 meters and 3,400 meters in the southern agencies of North and South Waziristan. These mount ain ranges running roughly from northeast to southwest function as a complex barrier that breaks up the terrain into numerous tiny basins or valleys that are dotted with minuscule settlements surviving either through livestock grazing, subsistence agriculture, or petty trade. The size of these settlements is generally very small, ranging from literally a few dozen people in some instances to a few thousand at most in the largest hamlets. The lines of communication between these outposts are invariably tenuous, extending along the ridgelines of the adjacent mount ains or traversing them through numerous passes, tracks, and trails, many of which support only pedestrian traffic or pack animals. Because many of these routes are intestinal and insignificant, they are often known only to the locals who, along with smugglers, drug runners, and arms peddlers, have exploited these conduits in the natural terrain to carry out their business undisturbed for centuries.(72)

These terrain features produce three significant operational consequences that have great impact on the conduct of military operations. First, the isolation of the hamlets amid craggy geophysical features and the small sizes of the populations sheltered within them make it virtually impossible for outsiders to monitor any personnel movement to or from these locations, especially if the transit occurs on foot, by animal, or by isolated vehicular traffic (where possible). This is especially true if the movement concerned occurs in adverse weather or at night. Second, the consanguineal character of the tribal populations living in these areas implies that strangers cannot travel within the area without being readily detected, and safe passage in such circumstances usually occurs only when the local inhabitants are persuaded about the alien’s peaceful intentions through some form of attest ation by individuals known to the resident tribes. Third, the distances between the populated outposts can be significant given the absence of paved or metaled roads and, consequently, quick movement across the terrain invariably requires either strenuous marches on foot on or off established paths (depending on circumstances) or the use of animals, accompanied by guides in most cases. In several locations vehicular traffic is in fact possible, but, because such movement invariably hews to well-established roads and pathways, covert entry and exit through such access routes is generally difficult.

This concatenation of features abundantly explains why Pakistani counterterrorism operations have often run into tactical difficulties requiring recourse to “excessive” force. The isolated setting of many FATA settlements where terrorist cadres find refuge essentially prevents the Pakistani pursuers of the terrorists from being able to approach these locales clandestinely. Even small commando units operating on foot are susceptible to premature detection by the locals, and the munitions and weapons required to be carried over the harsh terrain and along the great dist ances within the region often tax the abilities of even the fittest infantry units, which must conserve their strength for the arduous military action at the end of their insertion. This consideration invariably mandates traveling on est ablished tracks and paths, but even off-track approaches do not provide any assurance that the attacking force will be able to close in on its target undetected.

Because the risk of compromise is consistently high, many terrorist refugees have been able to simply escape at the first warning of military units moving en route to their hideouts. Early engagements with the Taliban and al-Qaeda cadres who chose to remain bivouacked also revealed-often to the surprise of their attackers-just how heavily armed they were; in fact, the character of their military equipment could often make the difference in whether they chose to escape or stand their ground and fight. Whenever they settled upon fighting, their employment of heavy weapons was invariably made doubly effective by the natural advantages accruing to the defense especially in mount ainous terrain-gains that were further magnified by the clever use of stealthy tactics, the cunning utilization of the surrounding topography, the erection of effective positional defenses, and the exploit ation of the timely warning provided by the local inhabitants.(73)

The persistence of such challenges compelled the Pakist ani military to seek operational work-arounds that offered some chance of success. The solution that proved most attractive in many circumstances was to forgo tactical surprise, which might have ensued from the exclusive use of small units relying entirely on covert foot penetration, in favor of larger operations that sought to exploit tactical superiority through the employment of heliborne elements for both the transportation of substantial strike teams to some location in proximity to their designated target and for the firepower required in support of the actual assault. Because the final engagement in such situations usually involved a heavily armed and a partially or fully alerted adversary-if the latter had not already escaped-the attacking Pakistani combat teams were often forced to employ even heavier weapons than might have been originally intended, including mort ars, antitank recoilless ri es and guided missiles, field artillery, helicopter-and aircraft-fired cannon and unguided rockets, and occasionally even general-purpose bombs delivered by tactical aircraft.

The lessons offered by such engagements since 2002 are stark and clear: unless the tribal populations residing in the FATA are sympathetic to the government and are willing to either warn the army of the militants’ presence in their midst or desist from alerting the terrorists to the military’s anticipated arrival in their hamlets, counterterrorism missions will either fail or be condemned to rely on even greater applications of brute force for their success.(74)

The inevitable, but unintended, consequence of implementing such solutions has been significant collateral damage among civilians in the tribal areas. The residents, in response, have reacted to these losses by mounting violent attacks on, and repeated seizures of, Pakistani troops and paramilit ary forces deployed in the area. The more extremist outfits, to include al-Qaeda elements, have sought to exact their revenge by undertaking lethal suicide att acks against Pakistani military and intelligence personnel both within the FATA and deep inside the nation’s heartland in an effort to compel President Musharraf to terminate his counter-terrorism operations conclusively. These continuing attacks on Pakist ani military personnel have, by many anecdotal accounts, lowered morale within the frontline units now operating inside the FATA and caused increased desertions, suicides, and frequent discharge applications.(75) Not surprisingly then, these developments have induced deepened soul-searching on the part of local commanders who wonder about the strategic wisdom of the ongoing war on terror and question the benefits specifically accruing to Pakistan. The growing antagonism caused by the collateral damage associated with U.S. military strikes from the Afghan side of the FATA has not helped make the Pakistan Army’s problems any easier in this regard.

Throughout Pakistani society in general, there is a growing weariness with the counter-terrorism operations presently being waged on the country’s soil. Recent polling, for example, suggests only weak support for using force against Islamic militants operating within Pakistan, and most respondents overwhelmingly oppose allowing outside forces to combat al-Qaeda on their national territory. A survey recently conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the U.S. Institute of Peace found that just 44 percent of urban Pakistanis favored sending the Pakistan Army to the tribal areas to “pursue and capture al Qaeda fighters,” and only 48 percent would allow the Pakistan Army to act against “Taliban insurgents who have crossed over from Afghanistan.” In general, the survey concludes that “Pakistanis reject overwhelmingly the idea of permitting foreign troops to attack al-Qaeda on Pakistani territory. Four out of five (80 percent) say their government should not allow U.S. or other foreign troops to enter Pakistan to pursue and capture al Qaeda fighters,” and three out of four (77 percent) oppose allowing foreign troops to attack Taliban insurgents based in Pakist an.(76) Other polls reveal similar levels of disenchantment with the U.S.-supported campaign against terrorism. One report summarized it:

…despite their own concerns about terrorism, Pakistanis overwhelmingly oppose U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism-six-in-ten (59%) oppose America’s anti-terror campaign, while only 13% back it. Like many other Muslim publics throughout Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, Pakistanis also oppose other key facets of U.S. foreign policy. Three-quarters (76%) say the U.S. should remove its troops from Iraq, and a similar proportion (75%) believe the U.S. and NATO should withdraw from Afghanist an, which shares a 1,500 mile border with Pakistan.

But Pakistanis are not just worried about the use of U.S. force in neighboring countries. They also fear they could become a target. More than seven-in-ten (72%) are very or somewhat worried that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country. And 64% name the U.S. as one of the countries posing the greatest potential threat to Pakistan, more than even long-standing arch-rival India (45%), with whom Pakistan has fought three major wars in the last sixty years.(77)

Musharraf has attempted to cope with this increasing national weariness and to circumvent the problems caused by his army’s operations, minimize its casualties, and soothe the roiling political environment in the tribal areas by episodic strategies of appeasement built around so-called peace accords with the pro-Taliban locals in South and North Waziristan.(78) Under these accords, the indigenous residents were tasked with preventing cross-border movements of terrorists into Afghanist an and further attacks on Pakistani civilian and military targets. They were also to ensure either the ejection or the surrender of all foreigners, meaning the non-South Asian cadres loyal to al-Qaeda, from the FATA in exchange for which the Pakistan Army would withdraw to its barracks, suspend its combat operations against the terrorists, and defer to the tribes in regard to resolving disputes relating to the sta tus of particular individuals.

Musharraf ‘s understandable objective in pursuing such a solution was to restore the status quo ante-hold the tribes responsible for maint aining peace and security as they had done traditionally-but it was a strategy that was doomed to failure because it did not appreciate the extent of radicalization in the FATA and the tribes’ new determination to protect their al-Qaeda and Taliban cortege against the Pakistani government and the United States, which were viewed as the greater threats. Thus, although several tribal groups have sought to cooperate with the government in rooting out the radicals in their midst, the more extremist entities, not surprisingly, used the breathing space provided by the accords to recruit, train, and rearm the terrorists in anticipation of a heightened and continuing campaign in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army’s attack on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad proved to be the proverbial straw that finally destroyed the charade embodied by the peace accords in the FATA, but the failure of these agreements has left Musharraf in an unenviable limbo where neither peace nor war seems able to deliver the counterterrorism goals pursued by the Pakistani state.(79)

Third, the operational context surrounding the counterterrorism effort in the tribal areas and in Afghanistan has changed considerably-to the disadvant age of the Western coalition-since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. To begin with, the Taliban movement, which was never a tight and cohesive political entity in any case, has become an even looser network of affiliated individuals and groups since it was forced from power in Kabul. Today, the Taliban “alliance” can be characterized as a disparate congeries of several elements united only by a common religious ideology, a desire to regain power in either Afghanist an or their local areas of operation, and a deep antagonism toward the United States and its regional allies. Several distinct elements can be identified in the current Taliban coalition:

The leadership shura centered around Mullah Omar and his cohort in Quetta and the subsidiary war councils in Quetta, Miran Shah, Peshawar, and Karachi;

The Taliban cadres who survived the defeat in Afghanistan, which are loosely controlled by the regional shuras and continue to draw on the madaris in the FATA and the refugee camps in Pakist an for their continuing recruitment;

The tribal networks of former mujahideen commanders like Jalaluddin Haqqani who operates in Paktika, Paktia, and Khowst provinces and provides a key bridge between al-Qaeda and the Taliban; Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who leads the Hezb-i-Islami and operates in Nangarhar, Konar, and Nuristan provinces; Anwar-ul-Haq who leads the Hezb-i-Islami (Khalis) also operates in the Nangarhar area and is believed to lead the Tora Bora Milit ary Front; and Saifullah Mansoor, a veteran field commander who is known to be active in the eastern areas;

The Pakistani Taliban commanders like Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan; Maulana Faqir Muhammad who is associated with the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-
e-Muhammad and who operates in the Bajaur Agency; Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, also affiliated with the same group but operating out of Swat; Mangal Bagh Afridi, who leads the Lashkar-e-Islami in the Khyber Agency and is believed to be part of a larger local opposition network led by Mufti Munir Shakir; and Sharif Khan and Nur Islam, tribal leaders who have demonstrated considerable operational effectiveness in South Waziristan;

The drug lords in eastern and southern Afghanistan, especially in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, who are either taxed or willingly contribute revenues that are indispensable for the Taliban war against Kabul;

The sundry former anti-Soviet commanders who control small groups of fighters and are engaged primarily in criminal activities such as bank robberies, kidnappings for ransom, carnegie and assassination of local officials while they simult aneously offer their services as guns for hire;

The disaffected Afghan Pashtun tribes, most conspicuously the rural Ghilzai, who, feeling disenfranchised in the current governing arrangements, continue to support the Taliban with manpower and sanctuary within Afghanistan; and, finally,

Al-Qaeda, which, while distinct from all the foregoing groups in that its focus of operations remains the global jihad, nonetheless collaborates with the Taliban in order to assist the Taliban in recovering control of Kabul while it continues to preserve its sanctuary in the FATA in the interim.

The implication of such a diverse target set is that destroying the Taliban today has become much more difficult because its previously weak hierarchical structure has become even more diffuse, with truly diverse entities coordinating as necessary but with each also carrying out its own local agenda.

This reality, in turn, implies that while some specific nodes in this network will have to be defeated “kinetically” if the Taliban threat is to be erased, these tactical successes will have to be procured despite the political hesitation in parts of the Pakistani state and the real operational limitations of the Pakistani military. The complexity of Islamabad’s relations with many of the constituent elements in the Taliban coalition does not help either: although
Islamabad may readily cooperate in targeting some of the Pakistani Taliban commanders, drug lords, petty former anti-Soviet captains, and al-Qaeda elements, the ties nurtured by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services with the Taliban leadership and the tribal networks of key former mujahideen commanders make these targets relatively inviolate, at least in the near term. For understandable sociopolitical reasons, Pakistani leaders are also likely to find it very difficult to conduct any large-scale interdiction operations aimed at the Taliban foot soldiers and the disaffected tribes-even if only in the FATA-partly because of the unmanageable chaos that would ensue in a very sensitive area of great importance to the Pakistani state and partly because of the fact that the insurgents drawn from these groups today are truly protean, capable of participating in milit ary operations when required but at other times uidly mutating into ordinary tribals.

There is no doubt, therefore, that winning the war on terror in Afghanist an will require dealing with the sanctuary enjoyed by various militant groups inside Pakistan. But it is probably an exaggeration to conclude “that the solution lies not in Afghanistan, but across the Khyber Pass in Pakistan.”(80) What happens in Afghanistan itself is critically important-not only in regard to ongoing military operations but, more fundamentally, in respect to recon struction, economic development, nation building, and political reconstitution-because the counterterrorism campaign will not be won until the political environment in Afghanistan improves to the point where these insurgent forces are denied the conditions that allow them to survive and ourish. As General James L. Jones succinctly stated in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “I am convinced that the solution in Afghanistan is not a military one.”(81)

It is in this context that Afghanistan’s-and not just Pakistan’s-political failures are particularly galling. Despite the advances in developing a constitutional government in Kabul with strong international support, the Karzai regime has turned out to be conspicuously ineffective. The inability of the government to deliver basic services, education, justice, and economic development, even in those areas not directly threatened by the insurgency, has fueled great frustration with President Karzai throughout the country. The growing corruption witnessed at all levels of government only exacerbates this resentment. And the runaway upsurge in poppy cultivation, which in 2006 yielded an all-time-high output of 6,100 metric tons, has resulted in a situation where “militia commanders, criminal organizations, and corrupt officials have exploited narcotics as a reliable source of revenue and patronage, which has perpetuated the threat these groups pose to the country’s fragile internal security and the
legitimacy of its embryonic democratic government.”(82) The complexities of intra-Afghan politics only compound the situation further: many Pashtun groups, for example, stung by the government’s inability or unwillingness to address their specific grievances, often view the local insurgents as more effective instruments for achieving their immediate security or development al goals. Any efforts made by the government to assuage Pashtun bitterness directly, however, complicates its relations with the non-Pashtun groups, who are apt to see most initiatives aimed at bolstering central authority, reinvigorating the traditional Pashtun tribal structures, and negotiating with Pakistan as evidence of a surreptitious attempt to reassert Pashtun hegemony over the rest of Afghanistan.(83)

The Karzai government has thus far not succeeded in steering clear of these competing pressures, and its sharply alternating policies have not helped its standing either. Its most recent st ab at neutralizing the growing insurgency by implementing a reconciliation program involving the “moderate Taliban” is a good example.(84) After resisting such an idea for a long time, in part because of opposition from former Northern Alliance figures supportive of the government, President Karzai changed course and embarked on an effort to reintegrate the less extreme Taliban members into the national mainstream. The idea is indeed sensible in principle but difficult to implement successfully in practice. That President Musharraf is its most ardent advocate has not raised the credibility of the program particularly, because it is often viewed in Afghanistan as a Pakistani strat agem to evade fulfilling its obligations to erase the insurgent sanctuaries in the tribal areas. In any event, the notion of reconciling moderate Taliban into Afghan society, while certainly commendable if it is understood to mean coopting the poor and disenfranchised confederations such as the Ghilzai, is invariably tricky and possibly even counterproductive because of the difficulties of distinguishing genuinely alienated individuals, who might be desirous of integration, from their more diehard and utterly intract able counterparts. One very thoughtful analysis concluded:

While more efforts should have gone into reconciliation in the early days, seeking to quell the insurgency now by rewarding criminal behavior would only perpetuate a culture of impunity and betray the trust of those who have backed the new, democratic, participatory institutions. It appears that the concept of reconciliation is being used carnegie endowment for international peace interchangeably with amnesty. While such compromise may bring some measure of short-term relief, it would ultimately do nothing to break the cycle of violence.(85)

Not surprisingly then, this Program Takhim-e-Solh, which translates roughly into the Strengthening Peace program, has not been a noteworthy success. It does not appear to have made any significant dent in the manpower available to the insurgency, even as it has increased the fissures between Karzai and his non-Pashtun allies, has created new political threats to his 2009 presidential ambitions, and has failed to undermine the Taliban’s social base of support in the interim.

One news report summarized the current crisis within Afghanist an laconically by declaring: “Government corruption and poppy cultivation are rampant and public services remain a wreck; food prices are soaring, unemployment remains high and resurgent Taliban forces in the south are pressing toward th[e] capit al.”(86) Defeating this last threat obviously represents a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma: Taliban resurgence prevents the Karzai regime from effectively extending central control in the east, south, and southeast of the country, while thelack of effective state presence in these areas is precisely what makes the Taliban’s return possible in the first place. Unfortunately, the three critical elements that could help Afghanistanbreak out of this cruel trap are constrained for different reasons.

To begin with, and as the foregoing discussion has elaborated, Pakistan is hobbled by political hesitancy and myriad operational limitations.

To make things worse, NATO forces in Afghanistan are constrained by various “national caveats,” that is, operational restrictions that prevent the alliance’s International Security Assist ance Force (ISAF) from undertaking the necessary combat operations required to prevent the Taliban from consolidating their foothold in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. Although ISAF is formally charged with the provision of security throughout Afghanistan, the
main thrust of its effort revolves around supporting the approximately thirty-four provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) operating throughout the country.(87)

The PRTs are joint military-civilian units of between sixty and one thousand personnel engaged in reconstruction activities aimed at enhancing local security in order to permit the larger nation-building exercise to succeed. This essentially humanitarian mission, however, presumes the consent of local residents for its success and requires the PRT to be neutral and impartial with respect to any overarching political rivalries that may otherwise characterize its operating environment. The PRT is supposed to be robust enough to defend itself against attack, but it is emphatically not intended to be the spear point of change through offensive military action. Although the vision underlying the PRT is defensible, the fact that the social change it engenders has consequences for the local balance of power within Afghanistan implies that its activities are entirely unwelcome to those who oppose the larger nation-building project. Consequently, the PRTs specifically and the international community’s reconstruction activities more generally have become the target of concerted attacks by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan. It is in this context that the national caveats handicapping ISAF-some seventy-one at last count-become relevant because they prevent the various contingents that compose the 38,000-strong force from effectively engaging the adversary as required in accordance with t actical necessity.(88) Thus, although ISAF’s area of operations has now extended to all of Afghanistan thanks to its stage 3 expansion to the South and its stage 4 expansion to the East, the differential rules of engagement under which each national contingent now operates ensures that its full combat power cannot be brought to bear uniformly over the entire battlefield-to the obvious advant age of its Taliban and al-Qaeda adversaries.

To make things worse, although ISAF is declared to be NATO’s highest-priority mission, the alliance has had enormous difficulty convincing its member states to make the requisite contributions of manpower, equipment, and finance to secure victory in the combat operations in Afghanistan.(89) As things stand today, NATO fields some 1.2 soldiers per thousand Afghan inhabitants. Even if the 85,000 Afghan security personnel and the 12,000-odd U.S. forces dedicated to Operation Enduring Freedom are added to the number, the ratio of security forces to population hovers at about 4 soldiers per thousand inhabitants. This level of force presence is abysmal, given that a considerable body of research suggests that successful nation-building operations require at least 10 soldiers per thousand inhabit ants, and preferably 20 soldiers per thousand inhabitants if there is an active con ict.(90)

NATO thus far has simply not been able to contemplate, let alone provide, combat forces at anything approximating these levels required for success in Afghanist an. The British, the Canadians, and the Dutch have supplied the largest contingents actually involved in combat operations; although the Germans and the It alians have a significant presence, they are not involved in active combat. The French, too, while politically supportive of the ISAF mission in Afghanist an have declined to support the effort through either enhanced contributions or a restructuring of their current force posture. Although French forces remain among the most capable units within ISAF, the thousand-odd troops currently present in Afghanistan are deployed in the relatively secure areas in and around Kabul, with Paris continuing to resist NATO entreaties to dispatch these forces to the eastern and southern areas of Afghanist an where the Taliban opposition is most active.

The NATO presence in Afghanistan is thus characterized by a curious paradox: the most capable European st ates, largely those in western Europe, have simply declined to make the robust contributions required to win what is universally acknowledged as the “good war,”(91) while the alliance’s newest entrants from eastern Europe appear far more willing to contribute to the ISAF effort even though they lack the depth of national and military resources possessed by their western European counterparts. Although the early U.S. disinclination to involve NATO in Afghan peace operations played some role in sust aining this paradox, the later European disenchantment with the U.S. war in Iraq, Washington’s treatment of terrorist detainees, and the U.S. emphasis on att acking the adversary as opposed to protecting the population all appear to have contributed toward the western European inclination to stay aloof from any war-fighting ent anglements.

This reluctance to contribute on the part of the stronger European allies is also reinforced partly by the presence of competing security priorities and the remarkably weak domestic support for any foreign milit ary operations.(92) Above all else, however, it is owed to the alliance’s failure to create a consensus on the implications of a failure in Afghanistan for European security; the lack of a clarifying continental debate on the goals, strategy, and tactics associated with winning the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban; and the stunning unwillingness on the part of the wealthier “post-heroic”(93) European states to actually fight a war that would require them to expend blood and treasure by remaining ensconced, deployed, and operating with their full panoply of milit ary capabilities in southern and eastern Afghanistan until the adversary is eventually routed.

Finally, the principal combatant elements conducting Operation Enduring Freedom, through war-fighting actions against the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, are also handicapped by several limitations. Among the most important of these is the availability of deployable troops. The 10,000-odd soldiers that the United States contributes to this combat operation, supplemented by token forces provided by the United Kingdom, Canada, and a few others, are increasingly insufficient given the growing scale and intensity of the Afghan insurgency. Although coalition forces are superbly trained and equipped and have proved themselves devastatingly effective in combat with their Taliban adversaries, they are simply insufficient to maintain the large-scale presence that is now required to win the war in southern and eastern Afghanist an, given the virulence of the challenge.

In the initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom, when military operations essentially consisted of search-and-destroy operations that targeted roving bands of terrorists, the current force size was probably appropriate because the superior mobility, firepower, and training of U.S. forces permitted them to sanitize large areas of territory despite their relatively small numbers. With the Taliban insurgency now nourished by local roots particularly in the Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Zabol provinces, simply defeating the insurgents in battle is insufficient because they appear able to replenish their numbers relatively easily using both local recruits and imports from across the border, and, more import ant, they are able to return covertly to the contested districts after their tactically victorious U.S. adversaries withdraw to their rear bases. Defeating this strategy requires a long-term presence of military forces in situ, which the division-sized U.S. combat ant elements simply cannot provide.(94)

NATO’s inability-and reluctance-to fulfill this role and to include combat operations whenever required merely compounds the problem with the result that the local inhabitants, especially those opposed to the Taliban, are compelled to make their peace with the insurgents merely as a means of preserving their security. The surreptitious return of the Taliban in this fashion to any given district invariably results then in the ejection of the nongovernmental organizations working therein, the interruption of state-organized developmental assistance, and a crisis in local governance-all of which exacerbate the vicious circle that further undermines security. Given this dynamic, there is good reason to fear that, just as in Vietnam several decades earlier, U.S. and allied military forces could win every t actical engagement with the Taliban and yet lose the general war for Afghanistan.(95)

Attempting to defeat this problem with the small number of combat ant forces available only ends up overusing them. The Fort Drum, New York-based U.S. 10th Mountain Division, for example, has already deployed to Afghanistan thrice in five years, and when deployed in the field it is invariably overextended operationally because of the need to cover those alliance contingents that are unable to engage in combat operations when required because of their nationally constrained rules of engagement. The only solution to this problem will be to beef up the U.S. milit ary presence in southern Afghanistan: this may necessitate deploying more troops and equipment but, more importantly, entails creating a dedicated U.S. command operating under NATO aegis with full and exclusive authority to conduct the war as required without being hampered by the need to support the less able allied contingents.

The slow progress in raising the indigenous Afghan security forces has not helped either in the interim. Most NATO officials interviewed on this subject declared atly that the Afghan National Police is currently incapable of satisfactorily performing even basic law enforcement functions and, further, that it would be a long time before the Afghan National Army would be capable of operating as a tactical partner with allied units in counterinsurgency operations and even longer before it could do so independently. Last, and despite many recent improvements, the coordination among the multiple national militaries engaged in reconstruction, counternarcotics, and counterterrorism in Afghanist an has simply not been as effective as it could be. In fact, problems of command and control among various coalition elements remain a serious and continuing impediment to the success of the Afghan stabilization effort.(96) The vicious interaction of these many problems implies that the chicken-and-egg dilemmas confronting Afghanistan in regard to security and state presence are unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

On balance, therefore, the failure to eliminate the al-Qaeda and Taliban cadres in Afghanistan is owed to a complex cluster of causes. Pakistan’s initial reluctance to interdict the Taliban stragglers who settled in the FATA and the leadership shuras that found homes in Quetta and elsewhere in Pakist an played an important role in permitting this organization to regenerate. This process has been aided, however, by Afghanistan’s own missteps in governance, including the failure to deliver security and economic and social development as well as to limit the runaway expansion in the cultivation of poppy in southern Afghanistan. The Pakistani effort to systematically interdict al-Qaeda while simultaneously going easy on the Taliban is riddled with inescapable contradictions. Although this strategy provided some early and import ant fruit, its tensions are now exploited by both the Taliban and al-Qaeda as well as by the vitally important tribal constituencies that are increasingly less bystanders than full participants on the wrong side in the ongoing war on terror in the FATA. The operational, technical, and organizational limitations of the Pakistani counterterrorism forces deployed in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world provides the final component of the explanation for why Islamabad has not done better. There is thus no doubt that Pakist an’s reluctance to prosecute counterterrorism operations indivisibly has played an essential role in the failures along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but it is by no means the whole story, and any political posturing that suggests otherwise contributes neither to our underst anding of the problem nor to its resolution.


39. Michael Abramowitz and Karen DeYoung, “Bush Seeks Increased Pakistani Cooperation: Musharraf Vows Fight against ‘Talibanization’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2006.

40. “Musharraf Vows to Fight Extremism,” CNN.com/world, August 10, 2007, http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/08/12/pakistan.jirga/index.html; “Musharraf Says Not All Taliban Terrorists,” Daily Times (Pakistan), August 13, 2007.

41. Ibid.

42. For a useful overview of the multiple considerations informing Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy, see Barnett R. Rubin, Afghanistan’s Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2006).

43. For more on the issues related to Pakhtunistan, see Feroz Ahmed, Ethnicity and Politics in Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998).

44. For an excellent summary of the current problems facing the Pakistani military in the North West Frontier Province, see Hassan Abbas, “Is the NWFP Slipping Out of Pakistan’s Control?” Terrorism Monitor (Jamestown Foundation), vol. 5, no. 22 (November 26, 2007), pp. 9-12, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/TM_005_022.pdf.

45. Jones, “Pakistan’s Dangerous Game,” pp. 18-26.

46. The issue of the ISID’s role in fomenting terrorism, including the extent of its autonomy, is reviewed in Eben Kaplan, “The ISI and Terrorism: Behind the Accusations,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, October 19, 2007, http://www.cfr.org/publication/11644/.

47. Hassan Abbas, “Increasing Talibanization in Pakistan’s Seven Tribal Agencies,” Terrorism Monitor, vol. 5, no. 18 (September 27, 2007), pp. 1-5, ww.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/TM_005_018.pdf.

48. Christine Fair, “Pakistan Loses Swat to Local Taliban,” Terrorism Focus, vol. 4, no. 37 (November 13, 2007), pp. 3-4, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/tf_004_037.pdf.

49. Griff Witte, “Pakistan Seen Losing Fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” Washington Post, October 3, 2007.

50. Abbas, “Increasing Talibanization in Pakistan’s Seven Tribal Agencies,” p. 1.

51. “Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants,” Asia Report no. 125 (Islamabad/Brussels: International Crisis Group, December 11, 2006), p. i, http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/asia/south_asia/125_pakistans_tribal_areas_appeasing_the_militants.pdf.

52. An excellent analysis of the phenomenon of suicide bombings in Afghanistan can be found in Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan (2001-2007) (Kabul: United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, September 1, 2007), http://www.unama-afg.org/docs/_UN-Docs/UNAMA%20-%20SUICIDE%20ATTACKS%20STUDY%20-%20SEPT%209th%202007.pdf.

53. “Countering Afghanistan’s Insurgency: No Quick Fixes,” pp. 5-8.

54. Tim Foxley, “The Taliban’s Propaganda Activities: How Well Is the Afghan Insurgency Communicating and What Is It Saying?” SIPRI project paper. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, June 2007, p. 1, http://www.sipri.org/contents/con ict/foxley_paper.pdf.

55. See “Bin Laden’s Letter to Mullah Mohammed Omar,” http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bin_Laden%27s_letter_to_Mullah_Mohammed_Omar.

56. The Taliban-al-Qaeda relationship is usefully discussed in Jones, “Pakistan’s Dangerous Game,” pp. 21-23; and in Riedel, “Al Qaeda Strikes Back,” pp. 25-26.

57. For a devastating indictment of Pakistan’s policies toward the Taliban that amplifies these themes, see “Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants.”

58. Barnett R. Rubin and Abubakar Siddique, “Resolving the Pakistan-Afghanistan Stalemate,” Special Report no. 176 (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, October 2006), p. 12, http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr176.pdf.

59. Christine Fair, “Confronting the Pakistan Problem,” Internet interview with Frontline, October 3, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/taliban/pakistan/fair.html.

60. For a useful discussion of the challenges, see Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema and Maqsudul Hasan Nuri, eds., Tribal Areas of Pakistan: Challenges and Responses (Islamabad: Islamabad Policy Research Institute/Hanns Seidel Foundation, 2005).

61. Fair, “Confronting the Pakistan Problem.”

62. For an excellent overview of these problems, see Mariam Abou Zahab, “Changing Patterns of Social and Political Life among the Tribal Pashtuns in Pakistan,” IEP-CERI/INALCO, unpublished manuscript.

63. A good survey of Pakistan’s SIGINT and COMINT capabilities can be found in Desmond Ball, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) in South Asia: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence no. 117 (Canberra: Australian National University, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, 1996), pp. 41-62.

64. Ramesh Vinayak, “Wireless Wars,” Tactical Link Systems, 2000, http://www.tactical-link.com/india_pakistan.htm.

65. For more on terrorists’ use of the Internet, see Abdul Hameed Bakier, “GIMF Develops Defensive and Offensive Software for Jihadi Operations,” Terrorism Monitor, vol. 5, no. 18 (Septem-ber 27, 2007), pp. 7-9, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/TM_005_018.pdf.

66. Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson, “Bin Laden Trail ‘Stone Cold’,” Washington Post, September 10, 2006.

67. “FATA Fact Sheet,” United States Agency for International Development, September 2007,

68. Jane Perlez, “Aid to Pakistan in Tribal Areas Raises Concerns,” New York Times, July 16, 2007.

69. Hassan Abbas, “Transforming Pakistan’s Frontier Corps,” Terrorism Monitor, vol. 5, no (March 29, 2007), pp. 5-8, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/TM_005_006.pdf.

70. Moeed Yusuf and Anit Mukherjee, “Counterinsurgency in Pakistan: Learning from India,” AEI National Security Outlook, September 2007, http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.26888/pub_detail.asp.

71. Ibid., p. 2.

72. For an overview of the physiography of the FATA, see Fazle Karim Khan, A Geography of Pakistan: Environment, People and Economy (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 19-25.

73. For a useful survey of the challenges associated with military operations in mountainous terrain, including those pertaining to counterterrorism missions associated with Afghanistan, see Major Muhammad Asim Malik, “Mountain Warfare-The Need for Specialized Training,” Military Review, vol. 84, no. 5 (September-October 2004), pp. 94-102.

74. The author is grateful to several senior serving and recently retired Pakistani military officers who were deployed to the FATA for sharing their insights in regard to contemporary counterterrorism operations in the tribal areas.

75. Rajat Pandit, “Multiple Con icts Bleed Pak Army,” Times of India, October 30, 2007.

76. See “Less than Half of Pakistani Public Supports Attacking Al Qaeda, Cracking Down on Fundamentalists,” World Public Opinion.org, October 31, 2007, http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/home_page/424.php?lb=hmpg1&pnt=424&nid=&id.

77. Richard Wike, “Musharraf’s Support Shrinks, Even as More Pakistanis Reject Terrorism…and the U.S.,” Pew Global Attitudes Project, August 8, 2007, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/561/pakistan-terrorism.

78. “Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants,” pp. 13-20.

79. Farhana Ali and Mohammad Shehzad, “Pakistan’s Radical Red Mosque Returns,” Terrorism Monitor, vol. 5, no. 20 (October 25, 2007), pp. 3-6, http://www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/uploads/TM_005_020.pdf.

80. Jones, “Pakistan’s Dangerous Game,” p. 15.

81. “Oral Statement of General James L. Jones, USMC, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, September 21, 2006, http://www.senate.gov/~foreign/testimony/2006/JonesTestimony060921.pdf.

82. Christopher M. Blanchard, “Afghanistan: Narcotics and U.S. Policy,” CRS Report for Congress no. RL32686 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, June 19, 2007), Summary. A joint United Nations-World Bank study on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan succinctly summarized the magnitude and the nature of the problem when it declared: The magnitude and importance of Afghanistan’s opium economy are virtually unprecedented and unique in global experience-it has been roughly estimated as equivalent to 36% of licit (i.e. non-drug) GDP in 2004/05, or if drugs are also included in the denominator, 27% of total drug-inclusive GDP. The sheer size and illicit nature of the opium economy mean that not surprisingly, it infiltrates and seriously affects Afghanistan’s economy, state, society, and politics. It generates large amounts of effective demand in the economy, provides incomes and employment including in rural areas (even though most of the final “value” from Afghan opium accrues outside the country), and supports the balance of payments and indirectly (through Customs duties on drug-financed imports) government revenues. The opium economy by all accounts is a massive source of corruption and undermines public institutions especially in (but not limited to) the security and justice sectors. There are worrying signs of infiltration by the drug industry into higher levels of government and into the emergent politics of the country. Thus it is widely considered to be one of the greatest threats to state-building, reconstruction, and development in Afghanistan. See Doris Buddenberg and William A. Byrd, eds., Afghanistan’s Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics, and Implications for Counter-Narcotics Policy (Washington, D.C.: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank, 2007), p. 1.

83. For a very useful survey of the multiple challenges facing Afghanistan, see Ali A. Jalali, “The Future of Afghanistan,” Parameter s, vol. 36 (Spring 2006), pp. 4-19.

84. Haroun Mir, “The Benefits of Negotiating with Moderate Taliban Leaders,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, vol. 9, no. 8 (April 18, 2007), pp. 3-5, http://www.cacianalyst.org/files/070418Analyst.pdf.

85. “Countering Afghanistan’s Insurgency: No Quick Fixes,” p. 20.

86. Kirk Semple, “In Afghanistan, Anger in Parliament Grows as President Defies Majority’s Wishes,” New York Times, September 26, 2007.

87. For an insightful discussion of PRTs, see Charlotte Watkins, “Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs): An Analysis of Their Contribution to Security in Afghanistan” (master’s thesis, Oxford Brookes University, September 2003).

88. Nile Gardiner, “The NATO Riga Summit: Time for Backbone in the Alliance,” WebMemo no. 1261, Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., November 27, 2006, p. 2, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Europe/upload/wm_1261.pdf.

89. John Ward Anderson, “NATO Conicted over Afghanistan,” Washington Post, October 21, 2007.

90. John Godges, “Afghanistan on the Edge,” Rand Review, vol. 31, no. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 14-21, http://www.rand.org/pubs/corporate_pubs/2007/RAND_CP22-2007-08.pdf.

91. David Rohde and David E. Sanger, “How a ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad,” New York Times, August 12, 2007.

92. For a review of these problems, see Paul Gallis, “NATO in Afghanistan: A Test of the Transat-lantic Alliance,” CRS Report for Congress no. RL33627 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, July 16, 2007).

93. The characteristics of “post-heroic” societies and their implications are innovatively explored in Edward N. Luttwak, “Toward Post-Heroic Warfare,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 74, no. 3 (May/June 1995).

94. The long-term presence of military forces, for example, will be a critical ingredient that determines whether NATO’s recent victories-for example, retaking the northern Helmand town of Musa Qala from Taliban control-can be consolidated. Although the recovery of Musa Qala was undoubtedly both an operational and a psychological victory for the Afghan National Army and NATO forces, the recapture of the town does not in any way imply the definitive defeat of the Taliban. In fact, an analysis of the Musa Qala operation suggests that its Taliban occupiers simply retreated into the mountains as the NATO assault gathered steam. If past practices are any indication, the Taliban fighters who merged back into the rural population after their retreat are likely to seep back into town and attempt to recontrol it after a decent interval. Defeating this strategy will require a long-term presence in the area of effective Afghan and NATO forces, both of which are currently in short supply.

95. This appears to be the fear currently enveloping U.S. policy makers, according to recent news reports; see Karen DeYoung, “U.S. Notes Limited Progress in Afghan War: Strategic Goals Unmet, White House Concludes,” Washington Post, November 25, 2007.

96. For a useful review of the multiple challenges, see Andrew Feickert, “U.S. and Coalition Military Operations in Afghanistan: Issues for Congress,” CRS Report for Congress no. RL33503 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, January 11, 2006).


2 Responses to “Explaining Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Performance”

    November 9, 2008 at 6:57 am

    Assalamualaikum Wr.Wb.
    mas, ini mirza SKI (Smanisda) mau request, boleh minta alamat e-mailnya mas wawan ngga?

    skliyan mungkin saya boleh minta file-filenya yang mas punya…

    Terima kasih.


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