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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"There's a legitimate chance of being overrun here"

That's gone now. Just like back in Bamiyan. (Pic source.)
They tried to blow up this carving of the Buddha in the Swat valley on September 11 this year, but then they only managed to damage it. Now that there's a state of emergency in Pakistan, officially to make the fight against terrorism more efficient, they finally managed to blow it up, during the day. The timing might have a little bit to do with sending a message perhaps. They sure like blowing stuff up anyway, but still.
So they did it during the day, but then it's not really a surprise any more, having seen what the state of emergency really means in the Swat valley - it's exactly what it is; it's a state of emergency... an extraordinary situation.
Pakistan still puzzles me. I used comparisons with black holes and stuff in the past, talking of an information black hole re: the case of the FATA for instance. Well, obviously my experience cannot be anywhere near what such a black hole looks like to U.S. soldiers manning the eastern Afghan frontier, at places like FOB Tillman (named after an American NFL football star, Pat Tillman, who died in Nangarhar), in Paktika province.
They are just as puzzled as me, it turns out, but they even have to deal with the consequences.
A bit more exactly, to be loyal to the London Times' reporting, up till now this is the picture they had:
" Despite monthly meetings to co-ordinate halting cross-border movement by militants, the Pakistani forces had never once warned Attack Company of insurgents heading toward them. "
Now there might be something like a change perceived. A bit more cooperation.
" To cap the American delight at the sudden spirit of co-operation, US soldiers in hilltop observation posts watched as Pakistani troops fired on five groups of militants as they struggled back towards the border under a hail of American shrapnel. "
Puzzlement tops right here:
" American officers said they had witnessed infiltrating militants pass through Pakistani army checkpoints unchallenged before crossing into Afghanistan. Yet at other times the Americans have watched fierce gunbattles between Pakistani troops and militants. "
Well, for now I won't try to make anything out of this. All in all, with or without the Pakistani army's cooperation, holding the line looks difficult enough:
" “This has been as much or more contact than I had in Iraq,” said Captain Hammonds, Attack Company’s commander. “There’s a legitimate chance of getting overrun here. "
Meanwhile there are interesting pieces of information regarding the fence on the Afghan-Pakistani border that I wrote a series of posts on, back in the spring.
" There is no barrier along the border in Attack Company’s area of responsibility other than one 10km stretch of barbed wire across a plateau east of FOB Tillman. Insurgents from Pakistan crawled under the wire at night recently and set up four rocket launchers only 40ft beyond it. Behind the rockets — aimed at an American observation post — they hung a booby-trapped jihadist flag on the the barbed wire. “It’s a s*** fence,” said Captain Hammonds of the wire, which more or less corresponds to the Durrand Line drawn by the British to divide Waziristan and Afghanistan more than a century ago. “We’ve videotaped the bad guys lifting up the fence and coming through: we’ve called the Pakistanis, who did nothing. So we killed them. Then the Pakistanis come and clear them up later.” "
The really sad part begins here:
" When they (the U.S. unit currently stationed at the FOB - P.M.) first arrived at FOB Tillman in May they set about liaising with local elders to identify reconstruction projects they could perform, as not a single aid agency has visited the area.

They arrived with a budget of $3.5 million and drew up plans for 16 schemes throughout their area of responsibility, which is deeply impoverished, even by Afghan standards. Most involved new roads and flood defences, to help protect crops devastated by freak summer rains. (Schooling was low on the project agenda. The school nearest to FOB Tillman has been blown up three times already.) The local tribal elders were delighted. But the money never came through.

Other then $10,000, the bulk of the budget appears to have been diverted to Iraq. None of the promised projects has materialised, and now enemy attacks are on the up. "

That's sad indeed if you consider that without starting some economic development even killing a lot of these fence-crossing insurgents will not be anything like success. From a structural point of view, taking circumstances into account, one might as well put out signs saying "Pashtunistan insurgent factory" along the border. If my pattern of thought isn't convincing, consider some fresh anecdotal evidence from Helmand province, via IWPR.
You could consider the following case both a success story (in the sense that somebody managed to start a legal business here) and the indication of the long hard road ahead:
" While the Taleban do not offer a fixed pay scale, those who work with the insurgents are given basic expenses covering such items as food, clothing, medical care, transport and communication. Many see it as their only choice.
Twenty-two-year-old Mahmud from Lashkar Gah joined the Taleban when he could find no other source of income. "I fought for the Taleban for two years because I had no other job,” he said. Joining the Taleban gave Mahmud a chance to save up enough money to start his own small business.
Nowadays, he buys goods in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and sells them in the districts at weekly “mila” or markets. "
It gets even more like the "indication of the long hard road ahead" option, as the article touches on the obvious: the Taliban is not the only career option for someone young from Helmand. There's the drugs trade as well.
" ... discovering that the Taleban’s pay scale was not high enough to allow him to pay the new, inflated walwar, Torjan has now turned to Helmand’s other growth industry. “I have decided to start smuggling drugs,” he said. "
Playing into all of this beside a lack of legal jobs are social customs as well. For example, the institution of the walwar, the bridegroom paid in cash to the bride's family, plays into the hands of those with the financial resources to lend and thus make people indebted to them. But surely it's not possible to change Helmand too much without committing a healthy amount of resources to the task, and using those efficiently. No, not to pay extraordinary salaries to contractor staff, I mean. Is that too much to hope for?
I realise I just got from the Swat valley through Helmand province to the land of rhetorical questions. So that's where I'll finish for now.

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