Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 30, 2009

Pashtun pride pressures US plans

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 30, 2009

There are roughly 14 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan, out of a total  population of  28 million. Pashtuns are the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan where there are nearly 30 million speakers of Pashto in a total population of 180 million.

While linked by language, geographic proximity, and observance of the Pashtunwali code of conduct, Pashtuns are divided into at least sixty contentious clans and even more tribes.

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, is Pashtun.  So is Mullah Omar, chief of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Hakimullah Mehsud and his Mehsud tribe are Pashtun as are the Waziri, long-time rivals of the Mehsud.  Both the Mehsud and Waziri have their homelands in Pakistan’s FATA.  Asfandyar Wali Khan, head of Pakistan’s Awami National Party, is also Pashtun.

Before his death Baitullah Mehsud had successfully crafted alliances with the Waziri and other cousins to support the largely Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan.  It is not yet clear if the alliances will survive him.  Rumors suggest an intense internal struggle before Hakimullah finally secured his succession to leadership of the Taliban-in-Pakistan (TTP).  There is evidence of al-Qaeda — and its funding — working to preserve Pashtun alliances along the Afpak border.

There is also evidence of the Pakistan military reverting to form and finding cause to avoid ground operations in FATA.  I was surprised when early this summer it seemed the comparative success of operations in Swat had enboldened military plans for FATA.  I am not surprised to see the long delay extended indefinitely.

Bobby Ghosh reports, “A senior Pakistani military official tells TIME a ground operation in the mountainous wilds of South Waziristanwould be too difficult and would risk triggering a ‘tribal uprising’ in a region over which Islamabad has little control.That assessment is shared by some Pakistan experts in Washington, who say the country’s military, despite some success against militants in the Swat Valley, simply doesn’t have the ability to confront the TTP head-on. ”

Instead of exploiting divisions in the aftermath of Baitullah’s death, it appears Pakistan will give AQ and Hakimullah time to consolidate.  This is likely to be achieved by increased TTP operations against both Pakistan and coalition forces in Afghanistan.  Hakimullah has also renewed his predecessor’s promise of a direct attack against the United States.

Score one for Pashtun parochialism.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, despite a low turn-out in most Pashtun populated — and Taliban intimidated — areas, it appears that President Karzai could be re-elected.  But the more votes he wins, the more suspicion grows of ballot-stuffing in the Pashtun heartland of Southern Afghanistan.

Being stuck with an unpopular and, perhaps, illegitimate chief-of-state does not advance US plans for Afghanistan. 

 According to Jeremy Page writing in the Times (London), President Karzai, “flew into a rage when the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan raised concerns over alleged election fraud at a meeting in Kabul.”

But the widely reported “explosive encounter” may be a fiction choreographed to position the President with his fellow Pashtuns.

According to Helene Cooper in the New York Times, “Administration officials accused Mr. Karzai’s agents of leaking to the news media select portions of the exchange… in order to make it look as if Obama administration were trying to force the rightful winner of the Afghan presidential elections — Mr. Karzai — into holding a runoff to satisfy American demands. Mr. Karzai, a senior administration official said, ‘has a longstanding pattern of creating a straw man of America’s positions, and rallying people around that. But contrary to those reports, no one shouted, no one walked out’  of the meeting, he said.”

Score another for Pashtun parochialism.  

Patronizing the prejudice of one’s political base is a time-honored skill.  But it is a double-edged sword where parochialism — unmitigated tribalism — is more powerful than the claim of any unifying measure of culture, nation, or faith.  While Karzai increasingly drapes the mantle of parochialism over his shoulders, Mullah Omar does not lead with his Pashtun identity, but flies the flag of Islamic unity, social stability, and political integrity. 

Late Saturday the Daily Telegraph reported, “General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander in the country, wants to double the size of the Afghan security forces, decrease war fighting operations against insurgents and root out corruption among local government officials in a renewed effort to win over the “heart and minds” of the population.”

“The top level recommendations are contained within a wide-ranging review of the Afghan war strategy which has now been completed and is due to be dispatched to General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command (Centcom), before arriving in Washington in the next two weeks.”

Also according to the Telegraph, “Gen McChrystal, a former specialforces chief, has also recruited Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former British SAS commander, who will head a team in Afghanistan with the sole purpose of trying to negotiate with the Taliban.  Lt Gen Lamb worked closely with Gen McChrystal in Iraq and was one of the architects of a strategy which convinced Sunni insurgents to abandon their alliance with al-Qaeda.”

While Karzai, Hakimullah, and AQ appeal to Pashtun parochialism, Mullah Omar and Stanley McChrystal are each trying to stoke a passion — at least a hope —  for something beyond narrow Pashtun pride.

More Background

ISAF Counterinsurgency Guidance: One of McChrystal’s first acts was development and release of this document.  A quick quote: ‘Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy. ISAF will succeed when the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan earns the support of the people.”

Seven days that shook Afghanistan (New York Times)

A tribal strategy for Afghanistan (Council on Foreign Relations)

The Idiots Guide to Pakistan (Foreign Policy)

KabulPress: An interesting blog where Pashtuns (and other Afghans) write for themselves and the wider world, sometimes in English.

Pashtun ethnic grievances at heart of Afghan war: Associated Press story published widely on August 15.

Monday Morning Update

Lots of media piling on the story that the Telegraph (above) reported on Saturday.  BBC reports from Brussels provide some authentically new information.

US needs fresh Afghan strategy (BBC)

Afghan strategy needs change (Washington Post via Reuters)

New strategy needed to defeat Taliban (Associated Press)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 30, 2009 @ 11:52 am

Knowing very little about this area of the world or US strategy this Post provides a very useful introduction! One question–Is there a unified political/military effort by the US that encompasses all of the AF-PAK policy and relations? Or is the US also even in its chain-of-command split between military and civilian systems and stovepiped?

Comment by christopher tingus

August 31, 2009 @ 5:26 am

I agree with Mr. William R. Cumming as most informative, however quite weary that we will never understand the complexities of respective relationships in the region.

We must be careful not to impose ourselves as only invited guests to protect and to afford continued support in a heartfelt manner, however we must physically remove ourselves as quickly as we are able once the locals feel more secure. Any presence must require more international hands on involvement.

God Bless our beloved America who cares to reach out and cast away those who seek the darkness….

Each human being made in the likeness of God and so many choosing to harm, to punis, to exploit in self-agenda rather than clasping hands despite respected differences to seek a more tolerant way of Life for all nearly seven (7) Billion souls God has created to enjoy Life and its freedoms and responsibilities –

As my youth of Life only a memory and enlightened so by my more experienced ways of understanding Life and the insight of our forefathers who fled tyranny to nurture this land, this Republic, this America which has been the beacon of hope for so, so many and where even today lines of people wait each day outside respective embassy and consulate to secure a visa to come to America…

…it is disheartening to see so many stricken and downtrodden by governments of tyranny and cowardly “Brutes of Tehran” who prefer spilling the precious Persian blood of “Nada” for instance subjecting the meek to such punishment as the world so riddled with the corrupt versus the Love of God –
As my years wane and the autumn approaches, seeing even government policymakers here locally and in the beltway succumb to preferance to rule with heavy hand as master rather than devoted servant of the good and most charitable American people, a melting pot of traditions, cultures “vigilant” of those from within and outside seeking its demise by those with evil in their soul, as I begin to outline my first book to chronicle the past, present and very uncertain future, I am worrisome that we heer in America no longer teach nor understand the Rights of the Constitution and the pledge in oath that all take as servants to the people – it is WE THE PEOPLE that have been given the responsibility to stand tall against any other individual seeking to take our Rights as individuals to live responsibly and lawfully – to share our Love and compassion for all.

God Bless each of us in the Love of our Creator who weeps to see each who chooses to abuse rather than to uphold Life in each soul as it has been so beautifully crafted by the hands of Love!

Each and every US soldier who has voluntarily placed his / her self in harm’s way in any locality away from the shores of this great nation and especially in amidst the tribal AF region not for conquest and control, but to lend a hand in thwarting the plague of evil doers subjecting so many to such harm should be afforded respect and local assistance by tribal leaders and people to identify those seeking only the interests of the themselves versus the majority interests who deserve respect and opportunty to celebrate Life not the death of beloved ones and a Life subjected to hopelessness –

Look not further than the Arab cities erected from the sand with marble and gold, while the Palestinian people are used as pawns to continue this conflict among the Hebrew and Arab.

These oil rich nations will soon succumb to the technology of the 21st century as electricity and battery operated evolution of the chosen mode of transportation and the opportunity for the Arab league and those who hoard the billions and billions of dollars in coffers rather than to educate their many youth and truly care for the less advantaged will be impoverished just as we here in America are becoming impoverished by those whose incestuous ways of lust in power as evidenced by the Pelosi-Frank mentality have placed Mr. & Mrs. Citizen Joe on Main Street USA is such peril – we must all be weary of the uncertain path before us –

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

CEO & Managing Director
Bibles With Love, Ltd.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 31, 2009 @ 10:26 am

I point out that population and ethnicity in Afghanistan are always estimate. Never has there been a national census of population and of course beliefs NADA!

I do have one additonal comment! On another blog got into the issue of the honesty and corruption of higher ranking US officers, including flag rank! I believe so far only one US Lt. Colonel be prosecuted for fraud in Iraq! Know of none in AF-PAK but wondering how strong US Inspector General ops are military and civil in both AF-Pak and Iraq? Sometimes in my opinion we see others as corrupt even while overlooking our own corruption!

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