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“The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan” – An excellent primer from Foreign Policy

Posted on: July 30, 2009

Everyone in Washington is talking about Pakistan, but few understand it. Here is how to dazzle the crowd at your next Georgetown cocktail party.

Don’t let this humorous invite fool you. This is a very informative article about a very dangerous place in the world. Have no doubt, Pakistan is far more a tinder box than the West Bank, Iran, North Korea or Indonesia.  Unlike these other places, Pakistan flies under the radar, simmers just under the surface, while all the time stewing in a melange of hate, fear, opportunism, tribalism and ancient anathemas. From the moment and the manner of its birth, the long, agonizing, divisive, rancorous fratricidal feuding that preceded its splitting off from the British Raj, and animosity against the independent, secular, democratic India – that is, since birth – Pakistan has been at war with itself. It has in turn been itself divided,  with Eastern Pakistan becoming Bangladesh (see the post, Godfather to Bangladesh). Today, Pakistan is at the brink looking into the abyss. Who will pull it back, or push it over the edge?

Afghanistan-Pakistan Border / Map by Reuters News Service

Afghanistan-Pakistan Border / Map by Reuters News Service

“The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan”  lives up to it’s title. This article in Foreign Policy was authored by Nicholas Schmidle of New America Foundation. You don’t need to agree or disagree with their ideas to appreciate this article. With wit and light touch, it gives essential facts and concepts of the Pakistani situation. It is neither dark nor dense, just enough to give some context to the nightly news and the headlines.

I am glad I stumbled upon it, and quite glad to pass it on to readers of this blog. I know that you all, like rest of Americans, have a keen interest in Pakistan, what happens there, and how our men and women in uniform do in that part of the world.

A very highly recommended article. I urge you to read the entire article here.

For those who can’t wait to get there, here are some snippets with the original headings:

1. The Troubled Tribals.

First off, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas are not part of the North-West Frontier Province. The two are separate entities in almost every sense of the word. While the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is, well, a province with an elected assembly, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are geographically separate areas governed through “political agents” who are appointed by the president and supported by the governor of NWFP (who is also a presidential appointee). […]

Sharmajee says: The phrase Northwest Frontier is a misnomer in the current geographic scale of Pakistan. It was more suitable to the enormous area of the erstwhile British Raj, when Northwest referred to a corner of the entire subcontinent. The bulk of British India bordered the Persian West Asia along what is now the NWFP, a term leftover from the colonial days. It’s a telling sign of a new nation that never adopted its own terminology; just as it never got over its infantile hatred of all things modern, democratic and secular.

Foreigners are prohibited from entering FATA without government permission. If you see a newspaper dateline from a town inside FATA, chances are that the Pakistani Army organized a field trip for reporters. Those traveling unaccompanied into, say, South Waziristan have either a death wish or a really good rapport with the Taliban, who effectively run North and South Waziristan and large portions of the other agencies and frontier regions. The recalcitrance of the tribesmen is hardly something new. In the words of Lord Curzon, the former viceroy of India: “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.”

2. A Taliban Who’s Who.

In December 2007, the smattering of bearded, black-turbaned, AK-47-toting gangs in FATA and NWFP announced that they would now answer to a single name, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban Movement. For decades, Pakistani jihadists have used such fancy names to declare splinter groups (many of which go unnoticed), but some analysts latched onto the TTP as gospel and postulated that, overnight, the Talibs had become disciplined and united. In the process, such analysts have overlooked important distinctions and divisions within the pro-Taliban groups operating in Pakistan. […]

In Swat Valley, where Islamabad recently signed a peace treaty with the Taliban, the fissures among the militants are more generational. Swat, unlike South Waziristan, is part of NWFP and shares no border with Afghanistan. In the late 1980s, a group calling itself the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, TNSM or the Movement for the Establishment of the Law of Mohammed, launched a drive to impose Islamic law in Swat and its environs. They resorted to violence against the state in the 1990s on numerous occasions, including once taking over the local airport and blocking the main road connecting Pakistan to China. […]

So far, the treaty has held, unless you count the soldiers who were killed by Fazlullah’s Talibs for not “informing the Taliban of their movements.”

3. Kiss My Lashkar

In Arabic, the language of Islam, a lashkar describes an irregular tribal militia. Say you’re a tribesman in South Waziristan who has beef with a member of a rival tribe. You need a posse. So you raise a lashkar.

But Pakistan’s jihadi groups, to glorify their agendas, have long used the word lashkar in their names. (Other common Arabic names for army include sipah and jaish.) 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.”

4. Border Guards

The Frontier Corps (FC) are a paramilitary force composed of roughly 80,000 men tasked with border security, law enforcement, and increasingly, counterinsurgency in FATA, NWFP, and Baluchistan. (Rangers fill similar tasks in Punjab and Sindh, the provinces bordering India.) By almost any definition outlining the ideal counterinsurgent, the FC would be it: They are almost all Pashtuns, more familiar with the language, the people, the tribes, and the terrain than any regular Pakistani soldier or U.S. troop could ever be. But their biggest advantage also happens to be their biggest liability, because Pashtuns are renowned for their sense of community; asking one Pashtun to kill another, especially when it’s seen as being done at the bidding of an “outsider,” be it Punjabi or American, would be like your boss telling you to kill your cousin. Not gonna happen, right? […]

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.
(Emphasis added)

5. Finger on the Trigger.

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.[…]

Most Pakistani soldiers consider India to be their mortal enemy and would like nothing more than to incinerate their neighbor. They get that from the grade-school textbooks. And they will usually frame the conflict between them and India as one between Islam and Hinduism. This ground has been pretty well covered by others who write about Pakistan.

But we should realize that anti-Indianism doesn’t translate to Talibanism, […]

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. […]

What makes the ISI different is not so much its personnel as its agenda, an agenda that might, on any given day, include ferrying money to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan or training Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters to wage jihad against India in Kashmir.

One final piece of wisdom about Pakistan:

We should know what we are talking about when we talk about Pakistan.

NOTE: Emphasis added in the excerpts above.

The above has been generous excerpts from the original article meant to give you a flavor of it. You should read the entire original, and supplement it with other accounts. As usual, with anything dealing with Pakistan, what you read is not always what you thought you read, specially with news agencies reporting from afar.

Finally, there is this joke among analysts and think tank folks that, most countries have militaries, but in Pakistan the military has a country.

Af-Pak Boder / Source - University of Texas

Af-Pak Boder / Source - University of Texas


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