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08 May 2009


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505th PIR

Great article! Heartening. Am personally glad to see evidence that whole peoples will not go quietly into that Whahabbist night!


Fascinating, Clifford, thank you.


1. my sense. Bunar is a staged theater. (But we'll know few month from now, how taliban will react as a movement.) I am surprised they feel ready to start an open fight.

2. taliban exist and will continue to exist because of various peculiarity in government institution and politics.

for eg. the religious school that teaches this type of idology" is actually a party supported institution. It serve their political ends.

The overwhelming majority of the Taliban movement were ethnic Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, along with a smaller number of volunteers from Islamic countries or regions in North Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. The Taliban received valuable training, supplies and arms from the Pakistani government, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI),[8] and many recruits from Madrasahs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, primarily ones established by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).[9]


the military training, funding are also all legitimate and the power that be felt it's to their end. (heck we even train various loose organization that we have no control of how they associate and transfer military techniques)

3. Everybody wants to be the guardian of Islam. The more corrupt, weak and illegitimate a regime, the more they play this game. (Saudi, Pakistan, Malysia, Indonesia, etc)

4. ultimately everybody's either mis-judge or underestimate taliban true skill. They are not particularly organized arm group or resistance, but they are very skilled guerilla operators. They apply uprising, mass discontent analysis, public speeches, religious victimization, geopolitical analysis, global commerce an information exchange, etc all rooted in religious school populism. (The closest thing to US analog would be firebrand preacher meets supremacist militia. but firebrand and us militia don't exactly read soviet guerilla manual or political books) they thrive in chaos, lawlessness, corruption, political games, unemployment, refugee camp.

All in all Pakistan is perfect. It has all the element for taliban to keep surviving for a long time. (no, 700,000 men pakistan military force won't do jack. The more wild fire power, the better. It's pure intel game.)

In fact: a) Pakistan polity will milk the taliban situation. Free money and weapon. Plus they still think they can control and understand the taliban. b) even if they finally realize how deep their trouble is, they don't have the sophistication to chase taliban key players that has gone underground. (classic urban guerilla war ensues)

The taliban game is not about one month or two from now, or until next election even. It's decades. it's guerilla war in decaying state.

It is the spiraling toward decay and chaos that one has to watch. Botched military operation, mass perception of political sell out, inter religious war, high unemployment, mass refugee movement, corruption, war... etc.


what did I tell ya. Karachi is shaky ..
they better keep track who has weapon and weapon training down there at baluchistan.


Babak Makkinejad

Clifford Kiracofe:

If the Punjabis are indeed attached so very much to their "saints", I sense a great opportunity for the (Imami) Shia proselytization among them, no?

It seems to me that they are closet Shias.


What a marvelous informed exposition.

Please forgive me for returning to the future.

In keeping with the focus of this discussion on the importance of various groups on the decisions of the current Administration, I think it is helpful to compare and contrast the early (pre-9/11) days of the Bush Administration with the early days of the Obama Administration. And I honestly believe that avoiding this comparison is deadly.

When Bush was finally certified as President and began his Presidency, his popularity began to fall. And it continued to fall until 9/11.

Obama was elected in a landslide, and the opposition party is in a state of incredible disarray. But...Obama is confronted with an economic disaster unlike any the nation has seen since 1929, and...and his responses to date have not inspired confidence in people who you would dearly like to show confidence: Krugman, Stiglitz, Volker, etc.

And then one begins to think. What has been going on in Wall Street under the Bush and now Obama Administrations has been a transfer of wealth to a small minority of the population that would make the French aristocracy of 1780 weep with envy.

And, unfortunately for that minority, this fact is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day, despite the intense efforts by the agents of the minority to obfuscate.

So, the future.

Everything is in place to distract the populace with another war, a much larger war encompassing a much larger swathe of the Middle East than just Iraq. Iran is the new Nazi Germany, a Nazi Germany armed with nuclear weapons. We must go to war.

What is missing is the casus belli. That is our future: a future of one casus belli after another, until one finally clicks.

And that is how we must view "The Taliban". They are just one more casus belli, one more reason to arm and stay at war.

So that the theft on Wall Street can continue unobserved.

William R. Cumming

Very informative post and hope it is correct in its analysis and conclusions.

It is interesting where the Taliban "chooses" to probe its opposition!


Women are integral to growing of rice in Southeast Asia. In Northern Europe women performed farm tasks necessary to survive winter. Thus they have influence and power in both cultures. Men can’t piss them of too much or they won’t be fed or bedded.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the basic tenants that held together the American Empire were unraveled by greed. To avoid a communist take over, the Western Elites were forced to accept modernity, science, truth, and equal rights for women and workers.

No longer! Since Bush, the First.

If El Qaeda was the existential threat to the capitalist system that the Soviet Union was, America would be assisting the forces of modernity and women’s rights in South Asia. Instead, the basic strategy is “kill them all and let Allah sort them out” in place of supporting strong states, establishing law and order and getting the economic system in order. Robber Barons and War Profiteers are in charge.


Clifford, you wrote:

Perhaps the merry band of 40ish NeoCOINist officers (and a certain Australian buddy of theirs) should take their pasty white faces out of the library and get the asses into the field and into the dung-littered mud.

If you're going to engage in ad hominem arguments, you should at least get your facts straight. Pretty much all of the so-called "COINdinista's" have spent at least as much, if not more, of their lives in the mud than the library, Kilcullen included. Personally, I disagree with them on many issues but see no reason why that disagreement should include petty insults.

As for the rest of your comment/post, I heartily agree and it's annoying to me how the press ominously notes how close the Pakistani Taliban are to Islamabad, as if several Taliban divisions are on the cusp of sweeping down and laying siege to the city.


Col. Lang:

I’d be interested in Professor Kiracofe’s take on how much the intense (over) reaction in Washington to the actions of the Taliban might have something to do with the administration’s concern about the need to attenuate the influence of the Chinese in Pakistan. Juan Cole reports today:

“Some 60 Chinese companies are carrying out 122 projects in Pakistan, and there are 10,000 Chinese engineers and technical experts there. China would like to see the situation stabilize in part because Beijing wants less rather than more American military presence on its borders.”


I offer this as confirmatory evidence. This is the sort of thing that continual war keeps well out of the spotlight.

Stephen Friedman

Cold War Zoomie

I see this as a "good" event - "good" only in the sense that the Taliban are making a full throttle offensive, and appear to be pissing off the locals just like the knuckleheads in Anbar province did a few years back. As the civilians flee out of Swat, then maybe finding the Taliban becomes easier. I just hope aid organizations have enough capacity to help the refugees while Pakistan clears out that valley.

Now may be a good time to give to your preferred international aid agency. These guys are excellent:

Doctor's Without Borders

What I haven't been able to determine yet is how much support we're giving Pakistan right now for this particular crisis. If the Taliban is pissing off the population, now is the time for us to kick in with some serious Hearts & Minds operations.

But this concerns me:

The United States will soon provide $400 million in emergency economic assistance to Pakistan, President Barack Obama said as he vowed to support the democratic government as quickly as possible towards overcoming militant insurgency...“We are helping Pakistan combat the insurgency within its borders—including $400 million in immediate assistance that we are seeking from Congress, which will help the government as it steps up its efforts against the extremists,” Obama said, emerging from trilateral talks he hosted with President Asif Ali Zardari and his Afghan counterpart.

Pakistan Times

I'd rather have us on the ground dispensing aid ourselves rather than giving the money to Pakistan to do it. We all know what happens then. Sure, keep bribe money flowing...uh, I mean foreign aid...for the government officials, but do the heavy lifting ourselves for this specific event.

But I doubt Pakistan would let us do that without some serious arm twisting. Of course, that's what foreign aid is for!


aha, I am not the only one thinking Bunar is a show piece.


It’s hard to figure out what’s going on in West Pakistan. The Taliban moves into Buner. Then they move out. Or the government kicked them out. Whatever.

And I suspect that’s the point.

I think the Pakistani government is playing a complicated double game, trying to chivvy the Taliban back into Afghanistan, selectively pressuring groups that have a presence further from the border and a more aggressive agenda inside Pakistan with a carrot and stick military/political approach, while laying off groups that are willing to use their redoubts in NWFP and FATA only for rest and resupply as they stick it to the West in Afghanistan. (For an analysis of the Awami National Party's anxious and equivocal efforts to play footsie with local Taliban-affiliated militants in Swat on its own behalf and with the support of the central government, see this post.)



I for one am now declaring Pakistan dead. They worth more as failed than functioning state. Count down until regime change. Or failed coup.

Baluchistan sparsely populated province has copper, uranium, gas.

Somebody is pouring massive amount of money on Baluchistan independence movement. Even a non state actor will contemplate this since it is highly profitable.

Forget it. It's time to get the hell out of Afghanistan.


Game on
How crucial Balochistan is to Washington can be assessed by the study "Baloch Nationalism and the Politics of Energy Resources: the Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan" by Robert Wirsing of the US Army think-tank Strategic Studies Institute. Predictably, it all revolves around Pipelineistan.

China - which built Gwadar and needs gas from Iran - must be sidelined by all means necessary. The added paranoid Pentagon component is that China could turn Gwadar into a naval base and thus "threaten" the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.


At present, most Baluch leaders do not call for independence. They are ready to settle for the provincial autonomy envisaged in the 1973 Pakistani constitution, which successive military regimes, including the present one, have nullified. What the Baluch, Sindhis and a third, more assimilated ethnic minority, the Pushtuns, want above all is an end to blatant economic discrimination by the dominant Punjabis. Most of Pakistan's natural resources are in Baluchistan, including natural gas, uranium, copper and potentially rich oil reserves, both onshore and offshore. Although 36 percent of the gas produced in Pakistan comes from the province, Baluchistan consumes only a fraction of its production because it is the most impoverished area of Pakistan. For decades, Punjabi-dominated central governments have denied Baluchistan a fair share of development funds and paid only 12 percent of the royalties due to the province for the gas produced there.

Clifford Kiracofe

"Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration's emphasis on the war in Afghanistan, including an influx of additional troops, has exposed weaknesses in U.S. military planning that top officers are scrambling to address.

The U.S. military command structure in Afghanistan was designed for a much smaller force. But with the increase ordered by President Obama, the number of U.S. troops will rise to 60,000 by the end of summer and is expected to reach 68,000; NATO troops are increasing to 35,000. The U.S.-led force needs a larger headquarters operation, military officials and experts said.

Some officials favor assigning a second commanding general with a large staff of officers -- similar to the approach taken when the number of troops was increased in Iraq in 2007." ... etc.


Clifford Kiracofe

"Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan's Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to "eliminate" Taliban fighters.

As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave
The government had initially hoped to bring an end to two years of violence in the former tourist haven by signing a controversial peace deal which saw it agree to the establishment of sharia law in the valley and in neighbouring areas. However,the ceasefire appeared to encourage Taliban militias and their fighters slipped into the adjacent area of Buner.
The military operations are taking place in three districts over some 400 square miles. Much of the fighting has been in the city of Mingora, home to 360,000 people before the insurgency. Among those who remain, some have said they had been prevented from leaving by the Taliban who may to use them as human shields."

Pakistani generals Beg and Gul are ardent supporters of the "Talibanization" (read Wahhabization) of Pakistan. They helped create the Taliban back when.

The Saudi's very own "religious police" organized same for the Taliban. Presumably the folks in Swat have memories.

Three countries recognized the Taliban's Wahhabistan: Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Pakistan, as I recall. Winks and nods from Washington...yes....Unocal and all that not to mention Zbig's geopolitics and neo-Great Game stuff.

For a quick refresher on that era see Ahmed Rahid's book entitled "Taliban" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001). He explains the UNOCAL pipeline project for those interested.

On the Wahhabi-Deobandi thing, one can start with:
Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).


Re: "Bunar is a staged theater."

From The">http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8040858.stm">The BBC:

'Same coin'

I interviewed a large number of refugees in Swabi, but I did not meet a single person who actually saw the army and the Taleban as members of opposing camps.

Instead, I heard, they were "two sides of the same coin".

"The Pakistani army has hurt us badly - but while they have killed civilians, I swear I haven't seen a single shell directed at the Taleban," says Shahdad Khan, a refugee sheltering at a camp in Swabi's Shave Ada area.

Others question the Pakistani military's stated commitment to "eliminating" the Taleban.

"No way," Siraj tells me.

"The army brought the Taleban to our area! It's politics. The Taleban and the army are brothers."

Clifford Kiracofe

"Aid groups have warned of a human tide of up to 500,000 people fleeing their homes. The UN said an estimated 200,000 have fled the Swat valley and its main town, Mingora, in the past few days alone, while another 300,000 are poised to flee if they get the chance. This would create a total of one million people forced from their homes by fighting in the past 12 months. It represents the biggest internal displacement of people in Pakistan since independence more than 60 years ago...
While journalists are, in effect, prevented from reaching the war zone, the military's operation – which involves more than 5,000 troops pitched against an estimated 5,000 Taliban fighters – appears unexpectedly firm, and officials said that 140 militants had already been killed in the past two days. Some observers had wondered whether the army, trained and prepared to fight a conventional war against India, had the will or the capability to take on a well-trained guerrilla enemy."...etc.

5,000 troops against 5,000 Taliban? (is this a typo?) What do these numbers indicate, if anything? Shouldn't the ratio of Pak forces be higher?

Quickie Wiki on Swat sit:



Shame, used to be some nice trout fishing up there.

Sidney O. Smith III

Once again, Professor Kiracofe embodies the spirit underlying the motto of a famous school as well as an extraordinary American family:

Non Incautus Futuri

Here’s loose translation of this Latin phrase: Only two types of people -- those who sell out and those who stand tall.

With that in mind, surely it is reasonable to argue that the historical figures --Washington and Lee -- would agree wholeheartedly that Professor Kiracofe is not unmindful of the future . After all, Professor Kiracofe obviously has put it all on the line and he writes under his own name.

And, yes, I voted for Obama but when it comes to his AfPak policy, at least to date, I can’t help but wish he had a commemorative plaque on his desk that read “Non Incautus Futuri” A transforming and transcending mantra, perhaps.



is also worth noting.

Many in the English language media within the country as well as in the foreign media maintain that the fight against the Taliban in Pakistan is somehow a fight between the forces of liberalism and democracy against the forces of religious extremism and a theocratic impulse. This is entirely wrong.

The forces of liberalism, democracy and secularism lost the fight sixty years ago when the Objectives Resolution was passed by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Since then, at best these forces have a fought a losing battle against the Islamisation of Pakistan. Today, Pakistan is firmly and without argument an Islamic state with a constitution that clearly and unambiguously states that no laws can be repugnant to Islam.

What Pakistan has seen since the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1948 is essentially a fight between competing visions of piety. For the first twenty years of its existence, Pakistan was under the sway of a ‘kinder and gentler’ version of Islamic practice as envisioned by the Sufi influenced Hanafi-Barelvi majority of the country.

Once General Zia-ul Haq took over and the Afghan war started, the religious centre of the country rapidly shifted under official patronage towards the more austere and extreme Wahhabi-Deobandi interpretation of Islam. The Taliban are a product of that interpretation and find support within the country from those that adhere to that vision of Islam even outside the border areas.
Once the non-Taliban types are fully mobilised, what we will see is not necessarily a victory of secular democratic forces but rather of the Islamic ideation of a different mindset; but still very much Islamic and perhaps even equally extreme in its own way. I do not believe that Pakistan is headed towards an Iranian-style theocracy but we might not end up too far from it either.


Hindus have the story of the demon Raktabija, each drop of blood of his that hit the ground would sprout into a thousand demons. Clearly unusual military tactics were needed to beat him.

It seems to me that the indiscriminate way in which the Pakistani Army is bombarding Swat and creating refugees poses us with a Raktabija-type situation: this will aid in Taliban recruitment.

Of course, we cannot leave Pakistan alone even if nukes weren't in play, because there are American soldiers in Afghanistan that are at risk of attack from Taliban bases on the Pakistani side of the border.

But every action we take seems to create more enemies than it eliminates.

I think we must seriously examine whether it is possible to meet America's security interests while not having any troops in Afghanistan at all - precisely because of this Raktabija problem.

Clifford Kiracofe

1. "Operationally speaking, as the army battles to cleanse Swat and adjoining areas of the Taliban, the adversary is likely to use a two-pronged strategy: one, it would like to involve the army in a war of attrition. The groups in Swat are well-disposed to do so given that they are battle-hardened and can get a supply of fighters from other areas.

Before launching the operation in Swat, the army began clearing up Lower Dir, which offers the fighters in Swat their crucial line of communication through Bajaur. The degree of difficulty or, conversely, ease of replenishing men and material, would depend on how effective or otherwise the army has been in Lower Dir and to what extent it can monitor any movement from Lower Dir into Swat.

It must be accepted, however, that even if the army has done a good job in Lower Dir, it is next to impossible to hermetically seal Swat from Lower Dir. Lower Dir itself is abutted west by Bajaur Agency where the army has been quite successful. Yet, Taliban groups do operate sporadically in that area, as also in Mohmand, which is south of Bajaur.

Further, the Swat Taliban are also likely to get fresh fighters from parts of Punjab and it is safe to assume that that replenishment activity has already begun. Even if the army manages to block parts of the Swat Taliban’s communication lines, they could still keep the army engaged and, with some flexibility, inflict attrition on the troops.

Two, given the organised networks, it is beyond any doubt that the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine has chalked out a comprehensive plan to use terrorist tactics across Pakistan against high-value and soft targets. One of the basic tenets of military strategy is to relieve pressure at point A by opening other fronts for the enemy.
The Punjab government has already called in the Rangers in Mianwali and Bhakkar which seems to suggest that it is trying to pre-empt that possibility as well as monitor the possible movement of terrorist cadres from Punjab moving north to join the fight in Swat. Yet, let no one remain in any doubt that the initiative and the element of surprise remains with the terrorists."


2. "PESHAWAR: Taliban on Friday blew up the shrine of Sheikh Umar Baba at Regi area of the city, locals told Daily Times. According to the police, the explosives had been planted near the pillars of the centuries-old shrine, APP reported. Locals said a blast around 3am destroyed the shrine situated on Palosi Road. A local resident said the villagers were now worried about other shrines in the area. Meanwhile, the Taliban also blew up two plazas and killed a local activist in Adezai area in the Mattani Police Station jurisdiction. Adezai Union Council Nazim Abdul Malik told reporters that Taliban had planted bombs in two plazas that went off around 2am on Friday. He said at least 16 shops and houses were destroyed in the blast. Taliban also killed a local activist, Shamim, in the Adezai village around 8am on Friday."

Babak Makkinejad


I agree with your posting regarding the competing visions of Islam in Pakistan.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the structural, intellectual, and cultural foundations of a restricted but stable form of representative government - like the Islamic Republic of Iran - do not exist.

In regards to India - what keeps them together except Hiduism?


Secretary of Defense Gates has asked for the resignation of Gen. David McKiernan and plans to appoint Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal to the post.

From WaPo:

Gates refused to detail why he asked for McKiernan's resignation. Instead he said that the Afghanistan mission "requires new thinking and new approaches from our military leaders. Today we have a new policy set by our new president. We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed."




During British times, Sind, NWFP, Punjab had restricted representative government; in Punjab it was a Muslim-Hindu-Sikh coalition - the Unionists - which collapsed when the British announced a definite date of leaving. The rest of India had no larger experience with democracy than these provinces. (There are claims like this by Prof. Muhlberger for ancient India, but they would apply to what is now Pakistan also, and how are they relevant for today?)

As to what keeps India together except Hinduism? Really, you are able to construct "Hinduism" from something that is doctrinally more diverse than the combination (Christianity + Islam + Judaism) because there is a common, longstanding agreement not to fight over these differences. By fight, I mean "take up arms". There is a long tradition of debate and dispute in India. Indeed, one of my father's friends has the surname "Prativaadhi-Bhayankara" or "Awesome Debater" because of an ancestor who lived probably ten centuries ago.

That I'm not making up this accomodation of different beliefs is proven by the few historical occasions when there actually has been an armed conflict in pre-modern times.

What keeps fundamentalist Christianity and Islam from fitting in this matrix is the claim of exclusivity that these religions make. The Great Mughal Akbar was able to build a lasting empire (and the eternal wrath of various mullahs) by accomodating Hindus. Even as late as the 19th century, we have British exclamations about the Hindu indifference to proselytizers intruding on Hindu holy places. Belief was simply not something to fight over.

To return to what holds India together - the various peoples with their varied languages, traditions and beliefs who comprised India - including many Muslims - saw the advantages of the form brought by the British - parliamentary democracy - and embraced it. It allows a unity that was not possible under monarchs, despite a shared civilizational consciousness. Also the railroad and telecommunications made it practically feasible to belong to one country - let us not discount that.

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