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The Waziristan Problem

A recent upsurge in violence in Pakistan’s tribal regions (or Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province) is a cause for great concern for the United States and her allies in the War on Terror. In the past, Pakistani forces conducted several offensives in the region, with mixed results.

Pakistan Tribal BeltThe tribal area of North Waziristan has seen an increase in clashes between Pakistani forces and pro al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. A rocket attack against a Pakistani outpost in Sarbandji village near the town of Miran Shah killed seven Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan claims fourteen “terrorists were killed when our forces returned fire, and they included some foreigners and a local commander of the miscreants”, with “miscreants” being code for al-Qaeda.

Pakistani troops are said to be “continuing a siege of Hasokhel and Milagan villages in search of suspects wanted in last week’s soldier deaths.” This follows news that Pakistani tribal leaders are accusing U.S. helicopters of firing across the border, purportedly killing eight civilians. Cross border operations in Pakistan are nothing new. al-Qaeda member Haitham al-Yemeni was killed in a missile strike from a U.S. predator drone in May of 2005. And Hamza Rabia, according to counterterrorism analyst Dan Darling, was an Egyptian who “certainly was the head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan” was killed in a “CIA missile attack on an al-Qaeda safehouse in Asorai in Waziristan”

The unrest in Waziristan highlights the very trouble state of affairs in Pakistan and their fragile role in the War on Terror. On one hand, they have provide some of the most stunning successes against al-Qaeda operatives, including the capture or deaths of some of the most senior leaders, including warlord Nek Mohammed, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, al-Qaeda’s former commander in Pakistan and purported number three in command, Abu Zubaydah, the former operations chief of al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramsi Binalshibh, senior al-Qaeda operatives and masterminds of 9-11. It is estimated up to a thousand al-Qaeda operatives have been detained or killed.

On the other hand, Pakistan has taken few lasting steps to dismantle terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate in Pakistan. Political pressures in the country, which include powerful Islamist parties and the support for LeT’s (and other domestic terrorist groups associated with al-Qaeda) actions in Kashmir make President Pervez Musharraf’s fight against al-Qaeda impossible at times. Pakistan’s security services and military is said to be riddled with sympathizers and supporters of the Islamist cause.

Complicating Pakistan’s problem is the ever present problem in Balochistan, the autonomous province in the southeastern region of the country. The Balochi people are fiercely independent and have the luxury of sitting on over one-half of Pakistan’s natural energy resources. Pakistan has fought a violent insurgency in the past, and violence is ever prevalent in the region. The Pakistani government recently accused India of fueling the Balochi insurgency, and claims to possess evidence of this.

Pakistan has succored terrorist groups as a strategic reserve against India, their mortal enemy in the subcontinent. The creation of the Taliban was predicated on the theory of creating a strategic depth to their west. This has created the conditions for al-Qaeda to make inroads into the tribal regions, as al-Qaeda ideology is very appealing to Islamist elements. Pakistan is always looking east towards its Indian enemy, yet is increasingly having to look at the enemy within. The current problems in Waziristan bear close watching, both for the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Listed below are links that reference The Waziristan Problem:

» Tribal Unrest in Pashtunistan from Stormwarning's Counterterrorism
Frankly, I am at a loss for why “certain” people (mostly those who read message boards and less than objective sources) are surprised that the tribal region of North West Pakistan is a area of revival of the Taliban and [Read More]


Pakistan, poses some of the most thorny problems. It has always managed to maintain a multi-faced status. Musharaff is probably the most skilled politician in the world.

Just a few facts -
6th Largest Population
7th Largest Military
2nd Largest Contributor of UN Peacekeepers.

This area sounds like a tough nut to crack, an area that isn't going to sufficiently convert to our side through half-ass strikes (Yes, we have gotten a lot of guys there, but as you illustrate, the problems there are much more fundamental. In the book I'm reading now, American Soldier, I like the quote of General Franks' father: "Kill it at its roots Tommy, and the tree will fall").

I'm not sure what can be leveraged besides money (if that even) if there isn't the critical mass in political circles to strong-arm this region into joining the forces of good. Afghanistan is really part of a bad-tasting sandwich with instability on all sides, not to mention within.

Looking more and more like Iran is anxious to be next in line. It must be pretty tempting for the Bush Administration to envision a land bridge of free states from Afghanistan to Iraq, even assuming the resulting instability in the relative short-term. Having almost finished reading American Soldier, there must for sure be a "Commander's Concept" in place for Iran. I look for hints in President Bush's upcoming State of the Union for how the Administration will treat Iran the rest of its 4-year term, in the context of existing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I thought this entry at StrategyPage summed up the problem pretty well.

January 8, 2006: While the Taliban may be faltering in Afghanistan, it remains powerful in Pakistan. There, Taliban gunmen still battle Pakistani troops, and even cross the Iranian border to kill or capture Iranian troops. This reflects the fact that the Taliban actually represent the beliefs of conservative Pushtun tribes, who are fighting a bloody battle against new ideas.

Taliban Reorganize to Stave off Defeat

I want to add a point regarding Pakistan's problems in Balochistan; Baloch rebels may have tried to kill Musharraf in December, and last week they blew up a key pipeline. Although not directly related to the Taliban/al-Qaeda threat, multiple points of instability tend to feed on one another.

The Wall Street Journal had an article on this last week, Suspected Rebels Blast Gas Pipeline in Pakistan. I think that subscription is required, but here is a key excerpt:

Suspected separatists have blown up a natural-gas pipeline in southwestern Pakistan, disrupting supply to a U.S.-Anglo power plant and providing the latest sign that a regional insurgency against President Pervez Musharraf's government is gathering intensity.

The simmering conflict between Pakistani security forces and suspected separatists in Balochistan province flared up Wednesday evening near Pakistan's biggest natural-gas plant in the Sui fields, Pakistan's main source of gas. Four separatists died in the fighting. A spokesman for the Balochistan Liberation Army, a militant group, claimed responsibility for the two pipeline explosions, some 220 kilometers from the provincial capital Quetta.

The pipeline blasts came as the Pakistani military has cracked down on Balochistan nationalists following a rocket attack on Dec. 15 during a visit to the province by Gen. Musharraf. With the support of air force jets and helicopter gunships, government security forces have killed some 200 people, Baloch leaders claim. The government hasn't commented on casualties...

I would like to extend Mr. Sowell's comment. In wandering around the Internet I came across a site maintained by the Baloch people in Pakistan. It documents their side of the battle against the majority Punjabis in Pakistan.

The link below presents both their side of the story and pictures of some of the 200 people killed in the Pakistan Army attack.


Army operation in Marri and Bugti area of Balochistan 86 killed 100’s wounded

This is an area I pay a good deal of attention to and I see this situation in an entirely different light.

First, the Taliban and their Uzbek and Chechen terrorist allies have found going in to Afghanistan to be hazardouos to their health. The US (and now NATO) troops in the south have been effective in interdicting the terrorists and the locals have been increasingly intolerant of them in their villages.

Second, this situation has forced Pakistan to pick sides. Their effort to work with the US on one hand and also try to satisfy the strong pro-Taliban element in their security services has begun to crumble. Recent signs from some of the tribes around Miramshah, for example, also show that these tribes have decided it is in their best interest to side with the Musharraf government then to side with the terrorists.

I'm not sure how reliable the Asia Times is, but they have just posted an interesting article. The article makes the claim that two sons of insurgent tribal chief Nawab Khair Bux Muri are emerging as organizers of a strong financial network to fund the insurgency in Balochistan.

The article makes the case that these funds are coming from London through Qatar. Western intelligence agencies are suspected of playing a role in supplying the money (this is a suspicion, not a verified fact).

US turns against Musharraf

StrategyPage has an interesting summary this morning of what they believe is currently happening in Balochistan. They believe that while independence is a long term goal (the Baluchis have been inspired by the Kurds) the attacks on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was a revenge action for the IRGC killing the brother of the Baluchi leader, Notani.

I had not realized that a similar battle between the Baluchi and the Pakistan state over greater autonomy from 1973 to 1978 claimed 50,000 casualties, most of them civilian.

The Baluchis Are Rising

The ultimate question is: Who controls and will control Pakistan's Nuclear weapons? I am sure we have Nuclear Subs offshore on a permanent basis, but that is NOT ENOUGH?

Pakistani Government can choose to defuse the Balochistan unrest to some extent by increasing Baloch share in the energy revenue [which appears to be the issue being used by the rebels]and increasing their participation in the construction of the new port of Gawadar. It may well be that there is some other agenda but why not deal with what is upfront? There is no point in messing with tribesmen in semiautonomous agencies. US cannot have enough forces there to face the aftermath and Pakistan itself possibly couldn't afford to escalate troubles with its own people who like to live their own way and live in very difficult terrains. There might be some other ways of dealing with the problem.

The problem of balochistan is that the people are not very educated but the ones who are educated know well that pakistan(federal) government has been exploiting baloch gas & other natural resources.The fact is that no debate is allowed in pakistan on this issue even many people from punjab(the majority) dont know about balochistan.They think balochistan is a city of quetta province and also they dont know about the people and their nature.For example they always say balochi(we call ourselves baloch and our language is balochi like turk-turkish).One minister from punjab visited balochistan(there is no sea near punjab),when he came to Gawader to resolve the problem of drinking water,he said there is lot of water here(sea water) people say that there is shortage of water.(hahaha he even didnt knew that sea water is not used for drinking purposes unless it is desalinated).Ask Musharraf how many meetings(not speeches) he had held with baloch sardars or even other baloch leaders raising the issue.They say the sardars not allow education n facilities to flourish.I ask them how much development has they made in districts not having sardari system(nil).If someone from another country visits balochistan they say :this region is very different from other parts of the country.There is relatively no development and whatever is developed is done without consulting the baloch people.The agencies are involved in changing the results of the elections and making people fight each other and use the personal enemities to hide main issues like provincial autonomy because the army has fed in the minds of people of punjab that if army is strong then only can pakistan survive and the army thought is that "giving provincial autonomy to provinces will lead towards a break up in the country". and this thinking has separated East pakistan(now bangladesh) from us.thanks a lot