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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The neo-Taliban take time out with Syed Saleem Shahzad

Ever since it came out I wanted to bring in some excerpts from the first instalment of Syed Saleem Shahzad's two-part article on the "neo-Taliban" in Asia Times Online. As all SSS pieces tend to do, it makes for interesting reading. I must add, however, that some of SSS' conclusions I tend to treat with reservations at times. But this time he put together things that add up to something quite insightful indeed. So I'll insert here several interesting parts I'd like to comment on.
Firstly, regarding the possibility of hot pursuit for NATO.
" For its part, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders are preparing to take up the fight. According to Asia Times Online contacts familiar with developments, a joint Pakistan-NATO operation was approved at a meeting of Pakistan's corps commanders at the weekend. Significantly, they agreed that the boundaries would not necessarily be drawn between Afghanistan and Pakistan. "
That sounds like some nice carrot offered by Musharraf's regime before the Negroponte visit this last week, although depending on the outcome of the latter some action may in fact come in follow-up.
Getting on, and getting down to the business of debriefing insurgents, SSS quotes a media specialist guerrilla on what keeps them fighting.
" Jarrah began, "Before answering you, I will ask you a question. Who is qualified to claim that he has actually seen world?" Before I could reply to this rather strange question, Jarrah answered himself, "The one who has experienced true love, the one who has lived in an alien atmosphere and place, and the one who has spent time in captivity. "The mujahideen have experienced all three things in the past seven years. We have been reared on a true love for our global struggle, we were forcibly displaced from one place to another and we spent lots of time in the detention centers of Cuba [Guantanamo], in Pakistan, Bagram [Afghanistan] and Abu Ghraib [Iraq] and braved the brutalities of the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency], the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence] and Afghan intelligence," Jarrah said. "
Interesting myth-building, especially since this narrative is something I'm sure I've read elsewhere before, I just can't link to it right now. Those looking to criticise it might point to how this myth handles the adventure of seeing the world as something exclusively for men - the three stages of getting to know the world named here are definitely not for a woman in the Islamist insurgent's world. From an insurgency-analysis perspective it's perhaps more interesting how the myth talks about a collective experience of all mujahedeen, referring to Abu Ghraib as a formative experience on a collective level, somehow shared by even those who haven't ever moved outside of the FATA in Pakistan before.
" "We carried out attacks on a daily basis until last Thursday [November 8]. We assign a particular group for a particular assignment. There are different sorts of attacks. We do send attackers called fedayeen in which fighters loaded with rockets and hand grenades and AK-47 guns attack an American base or the Afghan National Army or the intelligence headquarters in Sarkano. "In such fedayeen attacks, there is zero chance of survival [for the attackers]. (...) The fighters have acquired a lot of confidence due to their successes and now they confidently play tricks. Recently, we used Afghan National Army uniforms and laid siege to American troops in Nooristan and killed and wounded many of them." "
Again an interesting excerpt. So, while ISAF's high figures for enemy casualties may sometimes be just estimates that doesn't mean they are inflated too much necessarily. The tricky issue then is that all the insurgents dying are not taken into account as a negative by an insurgent network that seems to take manpower-resupply for granted. And one may suspect that all the fedayeen experience these people are arranging for participants may function specifically to provide them with the baptism of fire, and the formative experience of possibly or actually getting wounded and losing friends. Something that might be beneficial for guerrilla units' battlefield cohesion.
By the way, the above quote is also interesting because it might reveal how an incident in which six U.S. and three Afghan troops were killed, and eight more U.S. and eleven more Afghan troops wounded, might have come to happen - if the attack in which fake ANA uniforms were used according to the quoted insurgent is indeed the same as the one I've just linked to news of. Place (Nuristan) and time period (November) do seem to match, so quite possibly that is the case.
Moving on again, regarding all the moving back and forth over the border going on:
" "They rotate throughout the day and night. Some of the people will go back to Pakistan to stay with their families and new ones will join us. Some will finish their guerrilla operations in the Kunar Valley and join us here to rest, and then a new guerrilla group will be launched," Jarrah said. "But do you sometimes have a serious dearth of fighters?" I asked. "Not at all," said Jarrah, laughing. "Instead, the real issue remains how to accommodate all the guerrilla groups because people are flooding to us to join the jihad and we don't always have enough resources to provide for them all at the same time. But I think we will increase our resources soon, and then you will see a flood of fighters finding its way against the foreign occupying forces." "
It seems to me like in some places in the FATA going over the border to fight on the other side for a while is increasingly treated as something normal. Something that men engage in from time to time, as it fits their regular life.
This sort of spirit it may refer to how the incident in which Pakistani Khasadars (tribal police militia) killed Waziristani al-Qaida leader Abu Marwan al-Suri back in 2006 (in April; not in May as it is given in the ATO) is described. Quoted on the second page of SSS' article's part two, an insurgent says, "This is a force of peons. Had Marwan been killed by any elite commando force of the Pakistani army, we would not have been so saddened, but for a person like him to be killed by a third-rate force like the Khasadars, it was bad. (...) Every mujahid felt humiliated. Brother ... our blood is not so cheap to be played around with by any third-rate person." It would be interesting to know what the "our blood is not so cheap" part exactly means, but for now I tend to put it down to what there is directly suggested in the text - Khasadars' being regarded as non-worthy opponents for people looking to fight a Western military alliance on the other side of the border.
Well, that's it from me for now, but do read the rest of the two-part article, too.
To finish off, regarding how exactly the neo-Taliban's area of operations stretches from the Pakistani border areas to Helmand, you may want to check out this revealing finding at the Peace Like a River blog that I long since wanted to reference. As I was happy to point out in a comment over there, Jeff's empirical research nicely visualised insurgents' suspected Main Supply Route (MSR). Air strikes are good indicators there.

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