Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan – Foreign Policy

March 29, 2009 1 comment

Foreign Policy magazine published a great article titled “The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan“, written by Nicholas Shmidle who spent two years in Pakistan (06-07) and is soon publishing a book about his time there. Myself being a relative layman when it comes to the complicated situation, I can’t point out many inconsistencies but it definitely serves for an interesting read.

Firstly Shmidle draws a line between the commonly confused FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and NWFP (North West Frontier Province), two different areas that are often confused. The first point of interest is that these areas have been troubled for quite a long time, this is not a recent development. Shmidle includes a nice quote from Lord Curzon on Waziristan, an area effectively run by the Taliban:

“No patchwork scheme — and all our present recent schemes, blockade, allowances, etc., are mere patchwork — will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine.”

On the supposed “border” between Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Pashtuns ignore the border separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, named the Durand Line after the Englishman who drew it in 1893; the Pashtun “nation” encompasses wherever Pashtuns may live. Fighting the Americans, therefore, was seen as self-defense, even for the residents of FATA.

An interesting example of where colonialism in frontier areas wreaked havoc by trying to impose the Westphalian system of nation states by drawing random borders not defined by any real demographic or rational reason other than possibly the interests of occupying powers. We see similar issues in areas of post-colonial Africa, for example.

Here we have an interesting example of the fractitiousness of what outsiders know as one force the “Taliban”, in fact it is not one force and hardly united and even locals differentiate between them quite often:

(Maulvi) Nazir is only interested in fighting U.S., Afghan, and NATO forces across the border. He is not part of the TTP and has not been involved in the wave of violence sweeping Pakistan of late. Therefore, in the minds of Pakistani generals, he is a “good” Taliban versus Baitullah Mehsud, who is, in their mind, unequivocally “bad.” That’s just one example of Talibs living in Pakistan who do not necessarily come under the title “Pakistani Taliban” or the “Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan” moniker.

Sipahs, Lashkars and Jaishes:

Although Lashkar-e-Taiba is committed to fighting the Indians over Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Janghvi is bent on killing Shiites, and Jaish-e-Mohammed seems ready to attack anyone. The proliferation of these terrorist militias became so bad that in January 2002, Musharraf was obliged to declare, “Our army is the only sipah and lashkar in Pakistan.”

Issues with the Frontier Corps, the real front-line against the “War on Terror” or would that be “overseas contingency operations” now? Lol:


First off, the FC falls under the Interior Ministry, not the Defense Ministry, which overseas the half-million-member Army and has received the lion’s share of U.S. aid since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Defense Ministry’s dominance of the aid game means that the money Washington gives Islamabad to reimburse Pakistani security forces for operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda, money known as Coalition Support Funds, hardly, if ever, trickles down to the FC units manning a border post in South Waziristan who are, truly, on the “front lines” of the so-called war on terror.

Second, there is an issue of command structure because the FC is officered by regular Army colonels and generals. And finally, there is the problem that, owing to the widespread anger among Pashtuns toward the United States and the Pakistani establishment, no one can say whether the FC won’t simply hand over night-vision goggles and new weapons to the Taliban, especially when oversight by U.S. officials in FATA, parts of NWFP, and Baluchistan is so scarce.


Scary stuff. And an amusing account of the Pakistani army:

There is some leeway in the grooming standards and fitness levels expected by the Pakistani Army — especially for officers. Mornings are for praying and sleeping; lunches are for buffets; and evenings are for gallons of tea. Not much time for exercise, is there? And mustaches? The thicker, the better. Beards? The longer, the better. Does that mean that the Pakistani Army is composed of Islamic fundamentalists salivating at the opportunity to fire some nukes? Yes and no.

Umm. lol? On the famous ISI that we hear so much about, we have:

The ISI is the intelligence wing of the military. The Army, meanwhile, has its own intelligence wing, confusingly named Military Intelligence (MI). The Interior Ministry has its own: Special Branch. And so on and so forth; there are more intelligence wings in Pakistan than there are varieties of dal. And when Pakistanis on the street suspect that they’re involved in something nefarious, they simply refer to “the agencies.” That way, there’s no need to specify which agency was responsible because no one has any idea who is behind what, frankly.

Moreover on the perceived Islamism within the ISI:

The ISI draws from the ranks of the regular Army (in addition to some civilians), the same Army that is commanded by Sandhurst-educated, Johnnie Walker Black Label-loving Anglophiles.

And this is pretty much where he wraps it up, not exactly a conclusive conclusion as, at the moment, we’re getting a picture of more or less utter chaos everywhere, seems… about right? Good luck in “Afpak” Mr. President! And for those of you that are now better informed and view the region with more interest, why not get news from the source? Here’s a link to the Urdu-Pashtu Media Project, a project that concerns itself with the translation into English of Urdu-Pashtu media. No more BBC and Al-Jazeera, we now have the Pakistan Daily and the Indian Urdu Daily. Good times.

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