The summer vacation season is now in full swing, with Americans cramming into cars, buses, and plush, high-tech, space-age plastic, angel-winged specimens of much-better-than-your-flying-tenement-Airbus A380 ‘murican aerospace technology, happily traipsing south to exotic climes while crude prices just as happily wave to them while heading in the complete opposite direction. If you’ve got a trip planned, I hope it’s a happy one. If, however, it’s Pakistan you’re heading to, maybe you ought to think about that Plan B at the time share in West Virginia. Unless you’re cool with having a concierge who looks like this:
“Would you like a reservation at the Peshawar Hooters? The waitresses there are quite lascivious and sometimes drop their burqa to reveal some serious clavicle. They are immediately killed of course.”
I kid. The Hooters is in Wana. In any event, Pakistan hasn’t really put its “best foot forward” on the tourism front in the past two weeks. First there was the siege of the Red Mosque, home to a fundamentalist Islamic terror squad indelicately located smack in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and rumored to have friends in high places within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI. The siege ended with a full-blown military incursion into the compound that left at least 87 dead, including 11 members of Pakistani special forces. In retaliation, militants likely based out of the viper’s nest that is the Pakistan-Afghan border launched suicide attacks in Peshawar that killed over 70 people. The violence of the past 14 days should serve as a reminder that while Iraq might be grabbing all the ink (totally coincidentally, the United States presidential election is right around the corner), we have a serious national security problem simmering in the border area of Waziristan that merits serious attention.
Iraq’s battlestreets are likely training the next generation of jihadi foot soldiers and field commanders the way the anti-Soviet uprising in Afghanistan of the 1980s produced the current crop of battle-hardened Islamofascists, but the planning and direction for anti-superpower jihad 2.0 will likely come from Waziristan. Here’s a map of the area:
Waziristan is part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), a semi-autonomous, mountainous area on the Pakistan-Afghan border. It’s mostly populated by Pashtuns, a historically fierce and independent ethnic group who subsist largely as shepherds and farmers; in their spare time, they enjoy polo (really) and blood feuds. Skilled warriors who have lived in the region for centuries and therefore have an intimate strategic knowledge of the terrain, the Pashtun people are virtually impossible to dislodge from their homeland; the British and Russian empires learned this the hard way in the long-running episode of 19th and 20th century military and diplomatic stagecraft known as the Great Game. What all this means is that Pervez Musharraf’s Islamabad government controls the area in name only. The tribal chiefs and their allies control who stays, who goes, who is safe, and who is not.
In 2004, Pakistan’s government took a shot at upending this arrangement, and the army entered Waziristan gunning for al-qaeda and taliban militants. The tribesmen took exception, and al-qaeda-allied fighters in North Waziristan humiliated Musharraf’s forces. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 Pakistani soldiers died. The result was Pakistan limping into a treaty with the North Waziri militants in September of 2005; the treaty provided for some reconstruction efforts from Islamabad in exchange for a promise from the tribesmen to not shelter foreign jihadists – in other words, keep their house clean and vermin-free. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.
The Peshawar bombings and suicide attacks of the July 12-14th weekend are a clear illustration of mounting terrorist strength in the border regions. As these events continue to unfold, it becomes clear that the 2005 treaty essentially functioned to give the Taliban and al-qaeda some breathing room and allowed them to reconstitute both leadership and operational strength. Where osama bin laden‘s gang used to have the sovereign nation of Afghanistan to plan their crimes, they now have a totally lawless area with no easily targetable power structure to disrupt. Most worrisome, at least some of the extant terror factions are abetted by the ISI.
Washington, we have a problem. The developments in Waziristan over the past 3 years represent, in my opinion, one of the “hidden costs” of the Iraq War. Victory in the War on Terror will be predicated on the West’s ability to identify emerging terrorist safe havens and to disrupt existing ones, and to cultivate relationships with governments and indigenous populations in those areas. While we’ve been funneling a disproportionate amount of money and intelligence resources to Iraq, the post-9/11 gains we made against al-qaeda and other terrorist groups are being rolled back as these networks rebuild and resurface elsewhere. My point is this: somehow, someway, we might secure Iraq. But by then, who will rule the Maghreb?
Filed under: War of Civilizations