THE KHYBER MAIL


*Covering Balochistan through the Afghan Back Door
*Pakistan’s Military is, Again, Left to Pick up the Pieces
Book Review: 'Madrid - The History' By Gerald Clarkson
*India’s Afghan Moment
*Afghanistan, Some Reasons to be Cheerful
*The Veil & Islam by Qazi Faez Isa
*America’s Obsession With Israel and Iran
*US Aid to Pakistan, By Humayun Gauhar
*By George Friedman
*Mules Back in Afghanistan
*ISI
*Contributed by Gerald Clarkson
*An Exceptional Secret Service
*The Magic of Taxila *The Frontier Mail *Outlook India
*Taliban Humour *Taliban Humour-II
* Afghanistan Assessment
* Pakistan Assessment
* Pakistan's Regional Role Today With Afghanistan and India Post Mumbai
* Changing the Conversation Between America and the Muslim World
* The World's Reality - Sadiq Saleem
* Exclusive Analysis - Afghanistan Risk Outlook 2009-2010
* NATO Review: Crimson Snow* Bookdealer Review
* Dr. Humayun Khan on Jules Stewart’s Crimson Snow and Afghanistan
* General Syed Ali Hamid * A Better Sort of Opium War


Exclusive Analysis

The ‘Taliban’ and ‘al-Qaeda’: Does Afghanistan Pose a Threat to the West?


Despite NATO efforts to engage insurgents, a key structural obstacle to effective talks is the fragmented nature of the insurgent groups in Afghanistan, which is often obscured by an assumption that all anti-NATO/Afghan government groups are ‘Taliban’ in name, background and allegiance. This background insight piece looks at the differences between the armed groups active in Afghanistan in terms of both strategy and tactics and what this means for violent risks in Afghanistan. It also considers the danger that Afghanistan once again becomes a secure base from which major terrorist attacks on the West are planned.


In May 2008, Exclusive Analysis published ‘Afghanistan – the Year Ahead’, a report looking at the direction of the insurgency in Afghanistan and the likely success of the NATO response. At the time, the view ran counter to conventional wisdom and assessed that the insurgency was gaining the upper hand and that NATO’s strategy was failing to secure anything but time-limited and geographically localised successes. In 2009, insurgent advances are likely to intensify, despite efforts to engage Taliban leaders in negotiations. We expect talks to be ineffective, primarily because of the fractured nature of the ‘Taliban’ and their limited authority over the various fighting groups in Afghanistan. A similar challenge has prevented lasting ceasefires in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where competing local agendas have disrupted agreements with the central government. In 2009, we expect talks with the Afghan Taliban to lead to temporary lulls in fighting in certain specific districts in key conflict provinces where talks are underway, such as Musa Qala in Helmand where British troops are talking to tribal leaders. However we expect this to fall far short of a significant and sustainable reduction in fighting and terrorist attacks. A recent decision by NATO to engage in counter-drug operations will likely alienate many potential allies amongst Afghans and increase violent risks accordingly.

 

What risks do the Taliban and foreign fighters in Afghanistan pose to the West?

We see almost no evidence of Taliban militants planning to attack targets in the West or of core al-Qaeda figures operating extensively out of Afghanistan.


There have been no arrests of Afghans in the process of undertaking global jihad outside Afghanistan. The case that Afghanistan’s stability is central to Western security interests rests on a pre 9/11 assessment of the Taliban, which has now changed. Specifically, a number of the Afghans (most notably Abdul Rasul Sayyaf) who hosted bin Laden pre-9/11 have now changed sides and are supporting President Karzai. We also think it is very unlikely that any of the old al-Qaeda leadership is now in Afghanistan and even if they were, we assess that their ability to direct activity in the West has been significantly diminished. We do not, therefore, think that there is substantial evidence to support claims that defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan would significantly increase security in Western Europe and the US. Indeed, the 7/7 attacks in London were unrelated to support from, or military operations in, Afghanistan.

Within the last few months there has been an influx of non-Pakistani and non- Afghan fighters to Afghanistan, but there is no evidence that these fighters are planning attacks on the West.


These are idealistic, active, mostly young males who want to join what they perceive to be the frontline of global jihad. Our sources on the ground have heard Turkish on Taliban radio communications, likely from German Kurds, but there have also been Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks. There is no evidence that these fighters are planning attacks on the West and indeed the environment in Afghanistan (which makes complex planning of sophisticated international plots difficult) and the type of people who migrate there to fight (who are simple fighters interested in fighting on the frontline) suggest this remains unlikely. The limited core al-Qaeda involvement that still occurs is almost certainly confined to Pakistan’s Waziristan region, which, as argued in Exclusive Analysis’ February 2008 report ‘Does Waziristan Pose a Terrorism Threat to the West?’, is a constrained operating environment for them, as it is for other outsiders.


Many foreign fighters are from Pakistan and have mixed combat capability depending on where they are recruited, though they are generally much more radicalised than local Afghan fighters.


There is evidence of a significant number of fighters entering Afghanistan from Pakistan to fight alongside various local insurgents. Fighters from Pakistan, who account for around 40% of those fighting against NATO forces in Helmand, tend to fall into two categories: battle-hardened fighters from Pakistan’s Waziristan region and foot soldiers recruited from madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan. The former tend to be more experienced and well-trained fighters, whereas the latter are often deployed in suicide missions. Both groups are nonetheless much more religiously radical than the local Afghan fighters, to the point where the latter are intimidated by them. Religious radicalisation was not a feature of the anti-Soviet jihad and until the 1990s was not in the Afghan tradition. Indeed, this returns to the point previously made about the increasing use of combat tactics new to Afghanistan, such as suicide bombings, since 2001. There is a big difference between foreign fighters from the Arab world and those from Pakistan, although they have been conflated in media commentary. Because fighters from Pakistan tend to be referred to more generally as ‘foreign’ in the press, the impression is given that the foreign elements participating in the insurgency in Afghanistan is much greater than it really is. However, as above, there is new evidence of non-Pakistani foreign fighters alongside signs of growing activities from Pakistani terrorist groups in Afghanistan, particularly Kashmiri groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Ansar ul-Islam and militants aligned to the Swat insurgency of Sufi Mohammad.

 

The ‘Taliban’ and the neo-Taliban

Although NATO has killed many Taliban fighters, forcing them to avoid set-piece confrontations, it is the Taliban and not NATO influence that is spreading.

This is due to a combination of strategic and tactical factors, including declining commitment on the part of some coalition partners and the Taliban being regarded by some local tribal groups as the better alternative to Western-style government insofar as those groups do not like having a secular democracy imposed on them and because the Taliban is perceived as providing better security. The Taliban, itself a broad term, covers a range of Pashtun opposition forces/tribal groupings and draws on a conservative Islamist tradition with a long history in Afghan politics. The Taliban is likely to spread operations to previously benign areas in western and northern Afghanistan and is in the process of incorporating non-Pashtun Afghans, e.g. Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras and more recently non-Afghans, into the insurgency. There are limited indicators of strategic success for NATO in Afghanistan, which will increase the risk of greater public questioning of the operations over the coming year, especially if there is a high-profile attack on NATO troops or Western civilians or military setbacks covered extensively in the media.

Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan operate independently from each other and from the Quetta central shura, which coordinates overall Taliban policy and propaganda but exercises limited authority over actual combat operations against NATO forces.


The Taliban is a mainly Pashtun movement that governed most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when it was removed from power by US forces and the Northern Alliance. The central shura (council) of the Taliban, operating from Quetta in Pakistan, coordinates overall policy and propaganda under the leadership of Mullah Omar, who had fled from his main base in Kandahar to Pakistan following the fall of the Taliban. Nonetheless, operational command is principally held by a younger generation of field commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, including the likes of Mullah Dadullah, who had led the fight against British forces in Helmand before he was killed in May 2007. These Taliban field commanders tend to operate independently of each other. In fact, there is a certain degree of hostility among them as they compete for a more prominent leadership role inside Afghanistan. At the same time, while there remains some reverence for Mullah Omar as the Commander of the Faithful, a title bestowed to him by his supporters in 1996 before he captured Kabul, Taliban field commanders are increasingly operating according to their own strategy and tactics outside the rules of engagement defined by the central shura in Quetta. Indeed, the tactics used by Taliban field commanders against NATO forces exhibit a marked departure from previous Taliban combat methods, most visibly demonstrated by the growing adoption of suicide attacks instead of engaging in direct confrontation with NATO forces in battle. Suicide bombings were very rarely seen in Afghanistan pre-2001 and do not feature in the traditional Pashtun style of combat, which is direct and requires fighters to face their enemies in battle. These factors help to substantiate the view that foreign actors (mainly from Pakistan) are exporting new tactics to fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan.


While they all seek to remove NATO forces from Afghanistan, neo-Taliban militant groups in Pakistan have a fragmented and localised agenda and often come into conflict with Pashtunwali militants, who are opposed to attempts by neo-Taliban militants to make peace with the Pakistani government.


Operating separately from the Quetta central shura and Taliban field commands in Afghanistan are the neo-Taliban militants (sometimes referred to as the Pakistan-Taliban), whose operations extend across Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The neo-Taliban militants have a common objective of removing NATO forces from Afghanistan and indeed many have experienced fighting alongside the current Taliban field commanders. However, neo-Taliban militants are operating in an environment characterised by a complex set of tribal codes, conflicts and interests that often constrain their ability to concentrate on fighting NATO, as opposed to one another. Attempts by certain neo-Taliban groups to negotiate peace deals with the Pakistani government, for instance, are strongly opposed by tribal militant groups practising Pashtunwali, a customary code of conduct and honour that is exclusively local in nature, predates Islam and is presently primarily concerned with the repudiation of any external military presence in the Pashtun homeland (Pashtunkwah). This means that Pashtunwali militants are also highly resistant to Pakistan’s military deployment in the tribal areas. In addition, neo-Taliban militants follow the orders of local mullahs and tend to eclipse the authority of Maliks and Khans (the traditional tribal leaders in the Pashtunwali code), thereby bringing them into direct conflict with the Pashtunwali militants. At the same time, the neo-Taliban militancy is by no means cohesive in ideology and different groups operate with individual and localised agendas. The Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, for instance, is a neo-Taliban group demanding the imposition of Sharia law in the tribal areas, though its operations are principally confined to the Swat Valley in the NWFP.


While many Pashtun tribes converge to fight against NATO and Afghan forces, they also regularly fight each other. Tribal politics are most polarised in the east rather than in the south.


There are numerous Pashtun tribes with no affiliation to the Taliban, but that are nonetheless fighting the Afghan government and US or NATO troops due to a mix of tribal grievances (such as not being incorporated into the post-2001 power arrangement, or having their poppy fields eradicated) and anger against foreign military operations in their homeland. In some cases, Taliban field commanders are able to persuade local tribal leaders to fight against NATO forces by offering them cash and arms. The Pashtun tribal structure is also highly divisive; while Pashtun tribes converge to fight against Afghan and foreign forces, equally, they also fight against each other. In the east, tribal structures are more rigid and locals are more likely to act in accordance with them. This makes it a more fertile recruitment ground both for the Taliban and the government as an agreement with a local leader will capture his whole constituency. There is also greater polarity between tribal groups in the east, which means that an alliance with the Taliban by one of the groups would be likely to encourage an alliance with the government by their tribal enemies. Tribal politics in the east are further complicated by the presence of small groups of Pakistani militants practising Salafism, a school of Sunni Islam. In contrast, in the south, tribal structures are less disciplined (albeit still strong) and this has led to more frequent shifts in local conflicts and alliances. In Helmand, a combination of fear of the Taliban and a lack of space for the local population to remain neutral has often led to the local Pashtuns being equated with the Taliban by analysts. However, in our assessment, there is greater opportunity for establishing anti-Taliban alliances with local communities in Helmand and the south more broadly, than in the east.


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Dr. Humayun Khan* on Jules Stewart’s Crimson Snow and Afghanistan

Jules Stewart is a prolific author. In the past three years, he has produced four very readable books, all relating to the Indian subcontinent, particularly the North-West Frontier. He has never actually lived or worked here, yet he brings to his writings a rare understanding of and sensitivity to the cultural realities of this fascinating part of the world and the men who have walked across the pages of its history. He is also a brave writer, in that he does not hesitate to enter fields that have been heavily exploited over the years. The First Afghan War, which began in 1839 and ended in disaster in 1842, has been a favourite topic of historians, novelists and military strategists. There is a plethora of literature on the subject, ranging from the antics of George Macdonald Fraser’s loveable rogue Flashman, to the detailed archives of Viceroys, Generals and sundry firsthand observers. Yet, Stewart has not been deterred by this and has come out with a work that even the experts on the subject will find both informative and entertaining.

Crimson Snow appears at a time when we see before us, once again, how nations and their leaders forget the lessons of the past and plunge, unthinkingly, into the same deep waters that have been the unmaking of their illustrious predecessors. The invasion of Afghanistan by US and NATO forces must arouse a sense of déjà vu in London, Moscow, Teheran and, indeed, Islamabad, capitals which, in one way or another, have committed the same mistake that Washington is now engaged in: that is to try and engineer the course of the Afghan nation’s future. This small, poor and strategically located country, with its fiercely independent people, has shown time and again, that such intervention is always fraught with peril. Afghanistan may be easy to conquer, but it is impossible to occupy. Its problems can never be solved by outsiders. Great empires like the Greek, the Mongol, the British and the Soviet have been taught this lesson. Perhaps the Americans need to go back to their history books. If they do, their prescribed course of reading will now include Stewart’s work. Even General Sir David Richards, former commander of NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force, in his Foreword says ‘I wish this excellent book had been published before I deployed to Afghanistan.’

The First Afghan War was one of the monumental blunders made by Britain during the two hundred years or so of a generally successful Imperial experience. Stewart brings out vividly how this was largely a result of ineptitude on the part of the highest-ranking British personalities, from the Governor General downwards. Lord Auckland is once again portrayed, as he has been by all writers on the subject, as an ill-informed, somewhat panicky mediocrity, who was easily manipulated by his ambitious and scheming advisers. He was out of touch with day-to-day events, having fled the foetid capital of Calcutta for the brisk mountain air of Simla. Here he made his decisions on the basis of belated and inaccurate reports and plunged his country into a pointless war, keeping his employers in London only partially informed. The powerful Secret Committee of the Honourable East India Company was misled into believing imaginary threats from Persia and Tsarist Russia. Stewart draws a telling parallel between this and the false excuse of weapons of mass destruction used by Washington and London for the invasion of Iraq more than a hundred and fifty years later. Auckland has been vilified by all historians as one of the most forgettable panjandrums to come out to India, but he did leave a memorial in the form of Auckland House, Simla, one of the best girls’ schools in South Asia.

Of course, the Governor General was not the sole culprit. Being a poor judge of men, he had sent the devious and lecherous Alexander Burnes as his envoy to the court of Amir Dost Mohammed. Burnes had earlier gained fame as an explorer and his books on Kabul and Bokhara had made him the darling of London society. In a sense it was not a bad choice, because Burnes had become a friend of the Dost during his earlier visits and, indeed, his first dispatches were correct in describing the Amir as a wise and popular ruler. However, when he found that the Russophobes in Calcutta had the ear of the Governor-General, he changed his tune and sent in reports that encouraged the folly that was about to be committed. Apart from Burnes, there was the arch-bureaucrat, William MacNaghten, who had ambitions of his own. Both men enjoyed a brief period of glory, when they rode abreast of the military commanders of the Army of the Indus, as it entered Kabul after its pyrrhic victory and both were rewarded with the highest political office in the occupied land. A little over two years later, they had been hacked to pieces by vengeful Afghans.

Stewart narrates all these events with remarkable accuracy and detail. In fact, if there is any criticism to be made, it is that his research has been so thorough that he tends to go too much into the minutiae of which platoons and which regiments, in what strength and with how many guns, took part in each of the military engagements. Yet, even this is forgivable, for though the war is remembered most for the stupidity of the Generals and the Political mandarins, it was also characterised by some of the most glorious displays of individual courage by young officers, whose names illuminate the annals of British military history.

Added to the poor choice of political and military personnel, there was also the misplaced confidence in the Pretender, Shah Shuja, who had been cooling his heels as a pensioner in Ludhiana. He lacked all of the qualities required in a Ruler of a turbulent land like Afghanistan, where feuding tribes and chieftains had to be constantly manipulated in order to retain their loyalties. He had been living as a pensioner in Ludhiana for many years and had never shown any signs of leadership. Once placed on the throne in Kabul, he provided convincing proof of the adage that a Ruler who relies exclusively on the support of a foreign power can never succeed. Since those days, this has been repeatedly proved again and again both in Afghanistan and in its neighbourhood.

The whole tragic affair was a disaster from the start. The much flaunted Army of the Indus was, in fact a rabble of soldiery, animals and camp followers which was severely decimated by hunger, disease and desertion even before it reached Afghanistan. It retrieved some glory in battles like Ghazni and entered victorious into Kabul. From then on, it was downhill all the way. An enfeebled commanding General, a disobedient second-in-command and rigid political officers failed to take even the minimum precautions against unexpected trouble which, when it did arise, found them dithering and indecisive. General Elphinstone’s favourite phrase, even in the face of a full-blown crisis, was ‘let us see what the morning brings’. Eventually the British garrison had to enter into an agreement with the son of Dost Mohammed for safe escort to Jalalabad. The exodus began on a cold January morning in heavy snow. It was the most ill-organised retreat imaginable, with hundreds dying in the first twenty-four hours either of the cold or at the hands of raiding Ghilzais. Akbar Khan reneged on his promises and sixteen thousand men, women and children entered the narrow gorges and defiles to be mown down by tribesmen occupying the heights. Some forty or so were taken as hostages by Akbar Khan and survived to tell the tale, notable among them being the indomitable Lady Sale, whose husband was commanding the garrison at Jalalabad where retreating army was headed. In the end, a lone Dr. Brydon straggled into view of the fort there, the sole survivor of the ignominious retreat. The humiliation of the British Empire was complete.

It is all a stirring tale of ambition, misjudgement, deceit, heroism and tragedy and no one has told it better than Jules Stewart. The final disgrace was the second invasion by General Pollock’s Army of Retribution, where, in as savage an act as ever performed by wild tribesmen, Her Majesty’s disciplined forces burnt Kabul’s Grand Bazaar to the ground and indulged in an orgy of killing. An inglorious episode was brought to a dishonourable end. And yet, less than forty years later, there came the Second Afghan War, where once again the occupying British Garrison, including the illustrious Louis Cavagnari, met the same fate as MacNaghten and his cohorts. The lessons of Afghanistan, Stewart reminds us, have never really been learned. We see evidence of that to this day.


* Dr. Humayun Khan was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, where he took an Honours Degree in Economics and Law. He went on to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and was called to the Bar. He joined the Civil Service of Pakistan and has served as Assistant Commissioner Nowshera and Tank, Deputy Commission Bannu, Political Agent North Waziristan, Malakand and Swat and Secretary to the North-West Frontier Province in the Home and Tribal Affairs Department. He was later Minister in the Moscow Embassy, Deputy Permanent Representative at the U.N. in Geneva, Ambassador to Bangladesh and India and High Commissioner to the U.K. He was Foreign Secretary under Benazir Bhutto and Head of the Commonwealth Foundation.

In Praise of the Pakistan Army

Major General (retd) Syed Ali Hamid

I recently attended the launch of the latest book on the Pakistan Army by Shuja Nawaz. I would like to reflect on an angry question posed to the author from the audience. ‘Sir’ he said, ‘you have said in your book that the Pakistan Army lost the war in 1965 and 1971.’ I think there was some more, and a bit about Kargil, but I cannot recollect exactly. It was not question that disturbed me. In a free society (and I pray that Pakistan remains so), everyone is entitled to his view. What did disturb me was the fact that after his question, part of the audience spontaneously clapped. I would like to believe that this dissatisfaction was not a criticism of the combat record of the Pakistan Army, but reflected the animosity the majority of the public feels towards the last nine years of military rule.

Whatever the reason, it disturbed me that criticism of the Pakistan Army today draws such a spontaneous and negative response from a Pakistani audience. This is not the first time it has happened. I have witnessed it lately in other forums, on TV and elsewhere.

It is commonly understood that the performance of an army in combat is directly linked to its morale, which in turn is directly proportional to the support from the nation and the public at large. More the public support, the better the army fights. In this the Pakistan Army is no different, but in other ways it is unique. It fights well and hard whether or not the cause for which it is fighting has popular appeal. Whetherthe nation claps and cheers or not, it does what it is supposed to do: fight.

The Pakistan Army’s mission is to fight when ordered to and to the best of itscapability. It is a mission that the Army has never declined. It fought in 1948, It fought in 1965, it fought in 1971 and it fought in Kargil. The politics of it aside when ordered, it fought the insurgency in Balochistan and is fighting the insurgency in FATA. For 60 years it has sat on the Line of Control and fought whenever the situation escalated. It fought in Siachen and it fought in Kargil. This is the spirit of thePakistan Army, its culture, its ethos.

Our adversaries know that this Army has never and will never refuse a fight. It is one of the fundamental pillars of our deterrence strategy, as important if not more so than our nuclear capability because it is related to ‘will’.

Henry Kissinger defined deterrence as a combination of possessing a capabilityand displaying the ‘will’ to use it. Capability is material, will is mental. Capabilities can be acquired, but the will to fight has much deeper roots that take decades if not centuries to grow. It is to do with our military culture, our traditions, esprit-de-corps, motivation and above all leadership.

So often we have heard in the context of the combat history of the Pakistan Army the phrase, “The young officers and men fought well but the senior officers let them down.” Does leadership stop at the level of the company commander? Who motivates the young officers? Who instils in them the values of military culture, tradition andesprit-de-corps? Who instils in them the will to fight? It is the senior officers. I was in Chamb in 1971 as a raw captain. I saw some young officers and soldiers failing the test of combat. It also happened amongst a few of the colonels and brigadiers. But I also witnessed remarkable feats, both at the junior and senior level.

In retrospect, however, what was more remarkable was the will to fight against an opponent three times larger in number and with the best of equipment that the Soviets could provide. In its history, the Pakistan Army has in a general war scenario always confronted adversaries much larger in size, whether on its eastern borders with India or facing the might of the Soviet Army occupying Afghanistan.

If the Pakistan Army ‘lost’ in East Pakistan, it should be remembered that this not the first time that it happened to a first-rate fighting force, nor the last. In recent military history 9,000 men, remnants of the encircled German 6th Army, surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad. A hundred thousand of the British Army surrendered to the Japanese in Singapore. The Americans may have met a similar fate in Vietnam had they not possessed fleets of aircraft, helicopters and ships to evacuate their troops and had the South Korean Army not fought a rearguard supporting action. We still have to see how the situation unfolds in Iraq and Afghanistan. But these nations don’t clap when their army is criticised for its failures.

For those who clap next time someone criticises the Pakistan Army, remember that the officer or soldier does not expect you to clap when he manning a post at 21,000 feet above sea level in Siachen where day temperatures are -20 Celsius. He is simply doing his duty. He does not expect you to clap when he is sitting in a tank in the Cholistan Desert during summer training where the temperature in the shade exceed 55 degrees Celsius. He is simply doing his duty. He does not expect you to clap when Taliban snipers drill an AK-47 on through his legs, or worse. This happens in the line of duty. But he also does not expect you to clap when the Army is criticised in public. The Army is his pride, his existence, his strength, and being part of the Pakistan Army is where he gets his ‘will to fight’. Do not destroy this will or else oneday, when the nation is faced with a dangerous threat, the Army will (God forbid) throw down its arms and walk back to the barracks. Will you clap then?


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©Jules Stewart 2010