What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

An Afghanistan-oriented exploration of Pakistan - continued

In recent weeks I have tried to bring in interesting sources and discover connections myself regarding issues related to Pakistan that don't get the same amount of coverage as other developments - not to compete with excellent sources like the ones I've just linked to, but to get together important facts for myself and for the readership, that are also important in affecting the situation in Afghanistan. So instead of writing about the Red Mosque clashes in the summer, the bloody assassination attempt against Benazir Bhutto, or the declaration yesterday of a martial law-like state of emergency by President Musharraf, I wrote and I am writing e.g. of the significance of problems hindering polio eradication in Bajaur Agency (FATA), or the southern and eastern Afghan conflict premium in food prices drawing the smuggling of all kinds of food from Pakistan, creating shortages and price hikes there, not just in the border areas. Also I was glad to read Hassan Abbas' recent overview for Jamestown of the situation in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), which I valued especially since it comprehensively discussed the whole set of less visible and in some ways more real conflicts there, and not just what the media likes to cover (e.g. "the bad Uzbeks get slaughtered by good Uzbeks and our tribespeople" sort of stuff) - I discussed that over here.
This time I'll just point to some other sources I've read from recently that also shed light on important aspects of the Pakistani situation; again with special regard to the Taliban's rear-base areas - this time in Baluchistan. I'll do so by importing here some crucial excerpts.
For starters, a general trend extrapolation from the Pakistan Policy blog:
" Violence in Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and now Swat could spread further into the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and even into pockets of Punjab and Sindh. The short-lasting but deadly bursts of violence in Pakistan’s major cities could also regularize. "
The ICG has a very good, recently published backgrounder on Baluchistan, so let's have a look at one of their points, too (available here; registration may be required later on):
" “Balochistan is completely under the thumb of the intelligence agencies”, said a journalist in Quetta. “They make and break political parties, manipulate elections and even allot cabinet portfolios”. " (From page 11.)
Is there a contradiction between an intelligence agency capable of having a thumb on a province and seemingly more and more omnipresent extremist violence in its country in general? Why is Arif Rafiq asking questions like "Will he (Musharraf - P.M.) conclude that his greatest threat is not the country’s civilian politicians or judiciary, but vigilantees who cut off the heads of Pakistani soldiers and incinerate civilians in the streets"? My question is of course as rhetorical as Arif Rafiq's. To use a fresh and good source to seek an answer to such questions, Newsweek has a very good article, focused partly on Balchistan's capital Quetta (starting page here). First, here's a picture of Quetta (see copyright info):
And then the promised Newsweek excerpt, to shed light on what's going down there in the darkness, citing from page 2 of the five-page article, first of all:
" Taliban fighters now pretty much come and go as they please inside Pakistan. Their sick and injured get patched up in private hospitals there. Guns and supplies are readily available, and in the winter, when fighting traditionally dies down in Afghanistan, thousands retire to the country's thriving madrassas to study the Qur'an. Some of the brainier operatives attend courses in computer technology, video production and even English. Far from keeping a low profile, the visiting fighters attend services at local mosques, where after prayers they speak to the congregation, soliciting donations to support the war against the West. "Pakistan is like your shoulder that supports your RPG," Taliban commander Mullah Momin Ahmed told NEWSWEEK, barely a month before a U.S. airstrike killed him last September in Afghanistan's eastern Ghazni province. "Without it you couldn't fight. Thank God Pakistan is not against us."
Dozens of Taliban commanders have moved their wives and children to Pakistan, where they live in the suburbs of cities like Peshawar and Islamabad. This keeps them out of the reach of Afghan authorities, who have been known to arrest relatives in order to track down guerrilla fighters. Mullah Shabir Ahmad is a member of the Taliban's 30-man ruling council, or shura. He's moved his family to a modest neighborhood of nearly identical brick and mud-brick houses in Quetta. Inside his home he shows a visiting NEWSWEEK reporter a room filled with new bolts of cloth, Ramadan gifts from the city's Taliban sympathizers. He spends roughly half the year inside Pakistan, shuttling between Quetta, Karachi, Peshawar and the tribal belt to raise funds, recruit new fighters and plot strategy with other commanders.
The insurgents have no centralized supply system. Instead, each senior provincial commander operates his own network. Din Mohammad, a tall, portly man in his mid-30s, looks after the needs of insurgents who fight for commander Gul Agha in southern Helmand province. With cash from Afghanistan and from his own fund-raising efforts he buys shoes and warm clothes for Taliban fighters, walkie-talkies and satellite phones—even weapons, explosives and remote-control devices. The benign stuff he trucks into Afghanistan openly. The lethal items are hidden in shipments of clothes and food or under the baggage of Afghan refugees on their way home. Some Taliban chiefs prefer to shop for themselves. Earlier this month Mullah Rehmat, a Taliban commander, rested at a youth hostel in Peshawar while he waited for the master gunsmiths of Dera Adam Khel village to finish a $750 sniper rifle he'd ordered.
The contrast to 2002 is striking. Back then, in the first flush of Musharraf's crackdown on extremists, a NEWSWEEK reporter met Agha Jan, a former senior Taliban Defense Ministry official, in an orchard outside the city of Quetta. A nervous Jan recounted how he had to change homes every two nights for fear of capture, and he fled when some local villagers approached. Jan now has a house outside Quetta, where he lives when he's not fighting with Taliban forces across the border in his native Zabul province. Reporters in Peshawar, a strategic Pakistani border city some 50 miles east of the historic Khyber Pass and the Afghan border, say it's not unusual these days to receive phone calls from visiting Taliban commanders offering interviews, or asking where to find a cheap hotel, a good restaurant or a new cell phone. "
On page 3 an interesting anecdote shows a Taliban spokesperson playing Jason "We Could Be Having This Conversation Face to Face" Bourne with a journalist:
" Last August, a NEWSWEEK reporter received a phone call from the spokesman for a senior Taliban leader, inviting him for dinner at a popular restaurant in Peshawar. The reporter replied that he was already there. As he looked around, he saw the smiling jihadist sitting a few tables away. They shared a kilo of Afghan barbecue as the spokesman confidently talked about the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan and how comfortable they felt operating inside Pakistani cities and in the frontier tribal area. "
And two more excerpts that shed light then on the special (fragile?; merely interest-based?; possibly changing?) relationship between the Taliban and Pakistani security services:
" Taliban fighters say they are careful not to antagonize their hosts; the attacks against Pakistani troops have generally been conducted by Pakistani tribals, sometimes with the support of Qaeda operatives. But that's a fine distinction. "
(From page 5 then:) " The Taliban don't think they're putting anything past the ISI—"the black snake," as they call the agency. Mullah Shabir Ahmad, a provincial commander, spends upwards of six months of the year inside Pakistan. "The Pakistanis know what we eat for lunch and dinner," he says. Mullah Momin Ahmed, visiting his family in Quetta shortly before his death in September, agreed: "Pakistan knows everything about us, but it seems to ignore us." "
This is all definitely interesting. The "black snake" has bitten the Taliban before. One can mention the recent example of March and July arrests of leading Talib figures in or near Quetta proper, or the near immediacy with which Talib commander mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani died upon entering Afghanistan on December 19, 2006, which (the latter incident) might hint at some surprisingly reliable intel arriving to an air asset in a timely manner over on the other side of the border. Still, if anything, this relationship is hard to decipher. And that of course is what constantly reminds analysts of the "Pakistan could implode from within" scenario.
But with smuggling going on in the Afghan-Pakistani border area, hardly distinguishable business groups and criminal gangs actually also are a factor in a place like Quetta. It's not just Pakistani security sector faction A and B plus armed Pashtun extremists with a preference for one or the other side of the Afghan-Pakistani border for an area of operations looking for a balance there. E.g. former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Muttawakil's brother was gunned down in July, 2005, in a gang warfare incident there, possibly as merely a passer-by (even if by chance it wasn't really a stray bullet that hit him, it shows something that gang warfare can be used for disguise, doesn't it?). So here's another interesting excerpt this time from an interview with a UNHCR staff member based in Quetta (find it scrolling down to the second half of a post at the ADN blog):
" QUETTA, Pakistan, October 5 (UNHCR) – Lynda Lim has worked with refugees in her native Malaysia. Currently a community services officer with UNHCR in the city of Quetta in south-west Pakistan’s Balochistan province, the UN Volunteer braves late-night blasts and bumpy rides to address women’s issues in conservative Afghan communities. She spoke recently to UNHCR Senior Public Information Assistant Babar Baloch. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Has your field experience prepared you for Quetta?
A: Quetta is very different from my previous field experiences. Before I came, I was told about the very conservative atmosphere where women have to be appropriately dressed and covered; to be prepared for limited mobility due to the cultural and security situation. But I did not expect it to be as conservative as this. Being a woman, I find it strange when handshakes with local men are not permitted. I should not be seen walking on streets alone and must be accompanied by a man. Another shock is the sporadic bomb blasts that constantly awaken me in the middle of the night. " (Highlighting by me - P.M.)
And UNHCR has more than enough to do in the area for that to be enough of a complication. There are refugees in and on the outskirts of Quetta from several conflict-struck areas in Afghanistan, in the FATA, and in Baluchistan proper. ICG was definitely correct with its timing in publishing its Baluchistan paper now. It will certainly be an interesting test of Chinese intentions and influence if Baluchistan continues down the currently observable path, given how that might not be very optimal regarding their Gwadar port project. See picture below for a finish (copyright info):

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