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

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shady

I've written of the Khyber Agency and the spectacle of a crackdown, Pakistani Army-style, on Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-i-Islam there (see here and here). The story went like this: Haji Namdar, a guy who was paid this spring even by the U.S. for help against bad guys as such, helped the Pakistani Army carry out its great mopping up operation against the supposedly opposing Lashkar people so that all that eventually happened was that in the process some people got arrested. Even a local jirga backed up the reconciliation process after the Pakistani army "destroyed militant hide-outs," i.e. destroyed a house claimed to belong to Mangal Bagh. Great counterinsurgency stuff. The Pakistani Army wasn't there to fight the insurgents but to make them irrelevant, one could single-mindedly say.
However.
I dug up from my own blog something from before that I failed to mention the last time: the Pakistani Army was securing its logistics in the Khyber Agency by paying the relevant local powerbrokers for route security according to some reports. Since most politically relevant kidnappings and vehicle stoppings and hijackings took place in the area by the local faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan, led by Hakimullah Mehsud, I suppose the payments had to go to the Lashkar-i-Islam and not Mehsud's men...
Pic (AFP/Getty Images - source): Mangal Bagh gives a press conference on July 2 in the Khyber
And as to Haji Namdar, this is the guy we are talking about, proud dispenser of $150,000 of American taxpayer money - Imtiaz Ali accounts to us, from over at the Jamestown Foundation:
"There was no organized militant group (in Khyber Agency - P.M.) until late 2003, when a local tribesman, Haji Namdar, returned from Saudi Arabia and established an organization named Amr bil maroof wa nahi anil munkir, borrowing the name from the Afghan Taliban’s “Suppression of Vice and Promotion of Virtue” organization. He placed a ban on music and in some places worshippers had to sign the mosque's register to verify they had offered prayers. His organization sent threatening letters to music and CD shops in Landi Kotal, a town on the main Peshawar-Torkham highway (Dawn [Karachi], August 15, 2007). Haji Namdar even established his own private jails with names such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to punish those who defied his orders (BBC, August 26, 2004). He was the first to establish pirate FM radio stations in the Khyber Agency—a phenomenon which quickly gained currency in the whole region. Tribal officials issued directives for the closure of these radio stations, but these fell on deaf ears (Dawn, December 2, 2004). Namdar hired a firebrand religious scholar as the on-air preacher: Mufti Munir Shakir, a controversial mullah who was expelled from his hometown in the Kurram Tribal Agency due to his extreme views against Shiite Muslims."
Lashkar-i-Islam, in other words, comes from Haji Namdar himself. From him who could now pacify Lashkar-i-Islam without gunshots apparently. And from Imtiaz Ali's carefully assembled narrative it becomes clear that he wasn't attacked for working in any way with the Americans by "Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-i-Islam." The assassination attempt against him was claimed by the local TTP faction already mentioned above.
Read the rest of the article as well to see how "foreign" (i.e. non-Khyber native) preachers managed to escalate a Deobandi-Barelvi conflict in Khyber, which nevertheless saw Islamists of all kinds take over control in some of the area.
This is all basically what I warned of a very long time ago. Trying to play off factions against one another in an area one has scarce knowledge of, when even that scarce knowledge is filtered through fixers from Pakistan's security services coming from some faction of those securuty services themselves, will not be very efficient. Well, it may even be counter-productive.
For example, looking at the Khyber story, all I know is not what really happened. I have no idea of that, I think. What I do seem to know with more certainty is that players like Mangal Bagh, Haji Namdar, Pir Saif ur-Rahman or Hakimullah Mehsud are more significant there than before. And ultimately neither of those people look like friendlies to me.
If it is logistics security for ISAF that is regarded as the short-term, key stake for which trying to contain Islamist influence is traded off, I'll be curious to see if it works in the future.

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