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Why is America Failing in Afghanistan?

- DR. Abdul-Qayum Mohmand

Analysis of “CIA World Factbook” (1981-2012): Dimensions of anti-Pashtun Conspirac

Afghan Fury at Planned Pakistan Pact
What Happens When the U.S. Leaves Afghanistan?
Trying to leave Afghanistan proves to be as troublesome as being there: A Closer Look
Afghanistan: “It’s Just Damage Limitation Now”
Zero Dark Thirty Review-Analysis; Eleven Instances of Disinformation
Why is America Failing in Afghanistan?
 
 
 
US forces in Afghanistan nearly destroyed vital airfield
We Are Those Two Afghan Children, Killed by NATO While Tending Their Cattle
Former Islamist Warlord Vies for Afghan Presidency
Pakistan releases top Afghan Taliban prisoner in effort to boost peace process
Losing the War in Afghanistan
Obama’s troop increase for Afghan war was misdirected
Afghan security vacuum feared along "gateway to Kabul"
Objections to U.S. Troops Intensify in Afghanistan
The Great Afghan corruption scam
War zone killing: Vets feel 'alone' in their guilt
Was Osama for Real? And Was He Killed in 2001?
Afghanistan withdrawal: The risks of retreat
The Real Reason the US Invaded Afghanistan
The Definition of a Quagmire
Huge Uncertainty' in Afghanistan
Controversial ID Cards Expose Ethnic Divisions In Afghanistan
Afghanistan: The Final Curtain Call for NATO?
Afghanistan After 9/11: A Mission Unaccomplished
Why Should Taliban and Other Insurgents Refrain from Negotiation With the US & NATO? By: Dr Mohammed Daud Miraki, MA, MA, Ph

Exclusive: Karzai family looks to extend boss rule in Afghanistan.

Intrigue in Karzai Family as an Afghan Era Closes
For Afghans, Two Outrages, Two Different Reactions
Double blow to west’s Afghan strategy
Does the Taliban need a diplomatic voice?
Afghanistan: Lessons in War and Peace-building for US
Afghan women opposed by former allies
Q+A - Haqqani: From White House guest to staunch U.S. enemy
Haqqanis: Growth of a militant network -BBC
Afghanistan shelves plans for ambassador accused of fraud
Afghan nominated as ambassador to Britain was accused in US of fraud
U.S. deal with Taliban breaks down
The Loneliness of the Afghan President: Karzai on His Own

NATO's Third Alternative in Afghanistan

On the Road: Interview with Commander Abdul Haq:- The Tragedy of Abdul Haq
When the Lion Roared: How Abdul Haq Almost Saved Afghanistan
AFGHAN WARRIOR: THE LIFE & DEATH OF ABDUL HAQ
Pakistan’s ISI: Undermining Afghan self-determination since 1948
Mineral Wealth of Afghanistan, Military Occupation, Corruption and the Rights of the Afghan People
M. Siddieq Noorzoy
Why Isn’t the UN Investigating and Prosecuting the U.S. and NATO for War Crimes Committed in Afghanistan?
Corruption and Warlordism:
Abdul Basir Stanikzai
In Afghanistan, U.S. contracts aren’t crystal balls, but they come close
The great Afghan carve-up
Anatomy of an Afghan war tragedy
Terry Jones Actually Burns a Qur’an and No One Notices
Q+A-Are Afghan forces ready to take over security?
Guantánamo Bay files rewrite the story of Osama bin Laden's Tora Bora escape
Winning Afghan hearts, minds with explosives
Afghanistan’s Mercenaries
KABUL’S HORIZONS
Who is winning Afghanistan war? U.S. officials increasingly disagree
Afghanistan: The Trouble With The Transition
From the Archives: In Quest of a ‘Greater Tajikistan’
The 1980s mujahideen, the Taliban and the shifting idea of jihad
Afghanistan's Karzai complains about interference
Karzai, US ambassador at odds over private security

Karzai Tells Washington Post U.S. Should Reduce Afghan Operation Intensity

Excerpts from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's interview with The Washington Post
What the Afghans Want
New US approach to Afghanistan insurgency: Vindication for Pakistan?
Putting Some Fight Into Our Friends
Afghans 'abused at secret prison
Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq
Indo-Pakistan proxy war heats up in Afghanistan
Canada’s elite commandos and the invasion of Afghanistan
U.S. retreat from Afghan valley marks recognition of blunder
Five myths about the war in Afghanistan
Marine who resigned over ‘conscience’ speaks at MU
The Afghan media may have grown since Taliban rule ended, but not so press freedoms
Mystery holes and angry ants: another Afghan day
Kabul Bank's Sherkhan Farnood feeds crony capitalism in Afghanistan
Marjah War
Operation Moshtarak: Which way the war in Afghanistan?
Q&A: Why Marjah, why now?
In Jalalabad, hope is fading
Seeking reconciliation, US units meet remote Afghanistan tribes
Once Again, Get the Hell Out! "Ending the War in Afghanistan"
Blackwater Kept a Prostitute on the Payroll in Afghanistan; Fraudulently Billed American Tax Payers
Wild West Motif Lightens US Mood at Afghan Bas
In southern Afghanistan, even the small gains get noticed
 Afghanistan war: US tries to undercut Taliban at tribal level
 Soviet lessons from Afghanistan
Are actions of 'super-tribe' an Afghan tipping point
Taliban: Terrorist or not? Not always easy to say
Q&A: Who else could help in Afghanistan?
Vietnam Replay on Afghan 'Defectors'
Washington's Refusal to Talk about Drone Strikes in Pakistan Meets Growing Opposition
Afghanistan summit: Why is the US backing talks with the Taliban?
Taliban's leadership council runs Afghan war from Pakistan
Why buy the Taliban?
2 Afghanistan conferences: No solutions
An Alternative to Endless War - Negotiating an Afghan Agreement?
Do the Taliban represent the Pashtuns?
Afghanistan asks ex-presidential contender to tackle corruption

Tehran Sets Conditions For Attending London Conference On Afghanista

Pakistan says reaches out to Afghan Taliban
Taking It to the Taliban
The Afghan Taliban's top leaders
How significant is Mullah Baradar's arrest?
Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander
What's the Quetta Shura Taliban and why does it matter?
What's behind latest Taliban attack on Kabul? See Images of the Attack By WSJ

Pakistan Version of Islam and Taliban ?????
Lahore fashion week takes on Talibanization in Pakistan

Loyalties of Those Killed in Afghan Raid Remain Unclear

After Attack, Afghans Question Motives or See Conspiracies
Gates: Taliban part of Afghan ‘political fabric’

IG: Afghan power-plant project ill-conceived, mismanaged

Taliban intensifies Afghan PR campaign

Taliban Overhaul Their Image in Bid to Win Allies
Karzai plans to woo Taliban with 'land, work and pensions'
Peace scheme mooted for Taliban
Bombs and baksheesh
But By All Means, Continue the Happy Talk on the Afghanistan War
Karzai Closing in on Taliban Reconciliation Plan
Last Exit Kabul
How To Get Out Without Forsaking Afghanistan's Stability
Afghan Recovery Report: Taleban Buying Guns From Former Warlords

'Jesus Guns': Two More Countries Rethink Using Weapons with Secret Bible References

Gun bible quotes 'inappropriate'
Text of Joint declaration of Afghanistan-Iran-Pakistan trilateral meeting
Garmsir Protest Shows Taleban Reach
Rugged North Waziristan harbors US enemies
The Arrogance of Empire, Detailed ( The Untold Story of Afghanistan )
Appointment of Afghan counter narcotics chief dismays British officials
In Afghanistan attack, CIA fell victim to series of miscalculations about informant
Rebuilding Afghanistan: Will government take hold in this post-Taliban town?
Rare bird discovered in Afghan mountains
Blackwater, now called Xe, in running for work in Afghanistan despite legal woes
How Soviet troops stormed Kabul palace
Afghan children 'die in fighting'
Afghanistan war: Russian vets look back on their experience
U.N. Officials Say American Offered Plan to Replace Karzai 
Learning From the Soviets
U.S. faults Afghan corruption body's independence
Intensify fight against corruption, says Afghan meeting
Afghan ministers cleared of charges
Drone aircraft in a stepped-up war in Afghanistan and Pakistan
U.S. Air Force Confirms 'Beast of Kandahar' Secret Stealth Drone Plane
Kissinger's fantasy is Obama's realit
Taliban shadow officials offer concrete alternative
Talking with the Taliban
20. Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart
'Yes, there was torture and people were certainly beaten': Afghan warden
Why we should leave Afghanistan
US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan
Pakistan to US: Don't surge in Afghanistan, talk to Taliban
A Plan C for Afghanistan
Finding decent cabinet is Karzai's big challenge
A way to get around Karzai in Afghanistan
Corruption fight boosted by 'Afghan FBI'
US demands Afghan 'bribery court'
Afghanistan plans court for corrupt ministers
The man leading Afghanistan's anti-corruption fight
Win hearts and minds in Afghanistan to win the war
Gates blocks abuse photos release
New U.S. Afghan prison unveiled, rights groups wary
War in Afghanistan: Not in our name
How the US Funds the Taliban
Afghan gov't says UN representative out of line
Cabinet of Warlords
Afghanistan and the lessons of history
Clinton says Karzai ‘must do better’
Recognizing the Limits of American Power in Afghanistan
After Afghanistan election, governors seek distance from 'illegal' Karzai
Karzai was hellbent on victory. Afghans will pay the price
Matthew Hoh: Please refute what I'm saying, we are stuck in the Afghan civil war
As US looks for exit in Afghanistan, China digs in
America's Top Diplomat Tells 'Nightline': 'Not Every Taliban Is al Qaeda'
Obama Can’t Make Russian Mistake in Afghanistan
10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan
Will Obama change Afghan strategy?
Does the U.S. still have a vital interest in Afghanistan?
Pashtuns and Pakistani
The Afghan '80s are back
Pashtun peace prophet goes global
Afghan Road Builder's Dream Thwarted by Violence
A white elephant in Kabul
The Afghan Runoff: Will It Be a No-Show Election?

Ashraf Ghani- Afghanistan's Disputed Election Complicates U.S. Strategy

On Assignment: Into the Maw at Marja

Patrick Witty & Tyler Hicks
The New York Times


Afghanistan Cross Road CNN


The last frontier


Bruce Richardson
 

Articles

CIA: Buying peace in Afghanistan?

With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan
CIA Ghost Money: Karzai Confirms U.S. Gives Funds To Afghan National Security Team
What the CIA’s cash has bought for Afghanistan

Khalilzad: A Satan Whispering in the Hearts of Men
The Afghan trust deficitt
Will We Learn Anything from Afghanistan? Part 1
Getting Out of Afghanistan: Part 2
William R. Polk
General’s Defense on Afghan Scandal Ducks Key Evidence
Afghans want Taliban peace talks
Bombing Weddings in Afghanistan: It Couldn't Happen Here, It Does Happen There
Hekmatyar's never-ending Afghan war
Covert American Aid to the Afghan Resistance; A Top-Secret U.S. Foreign Policy Plot to Induce and Effect Soviet Military Intervention
Afghan brain drain fears as Karzai urges education reforms

US considers launching joint US-Afghan raids in Pakistan to hunt down militant groups

Real security in Afghanistan depends on people's basic needs being met
Intractable Afghan Graft Hampering U.S. Strategy
Former Taliban Officials Say U.S. Talks Started
Taliban ready for talks with US, not Karzai government
Emboldened Taliban Try to Sell Softer Image
Leaked NATO Report Shows Pakistan Support For Taliban
Insight: Few options for Afghan, U.S. leaders after Kandahar massacre
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Daoud Sultanzoy, Tolo Television
NATO’s measured exit plan in Afghanistan faces new obstacles
BFP Exclusive: Karzai Clan Attorney Threatens US Journalist, Uses Intimidation Tactics
Afghanistan Chronicles
Arduous path to Afghan 'end-game'
Fear in the classrooms: is the Taliban poisoning Afghanistan's schoolgirls?
A comment on the recent events of student poisoning in Afghanistan
Rape Case, in Public, Cites Abuse by Armed Groups in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s Peace Talks Hit Brick Wall
THE ANATOMY OF US’S DEFEAT IN AFGHANISTAN
VOICES OF EMPIRE: FROM CIA’s CULTURAL GREAT GAME TO GLOBAL GREAT GAME TODAY
WHITE PAPER FOR THE PERMANENT PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN
King Karzai
A Federal System of Government is Not Suitable for Afghanistan
CHINA AMO DARYA OIL DEAL
Analysis: Where Afghan humanitarianism ends and development begins
U.S. Envoy: Kabulbank Was 'Vast Looting Scheme'
Speaking with the enemy: how US commanders fight the Taliban during the day and dine with them at night
Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Musery
How to Win Peace in Afghanistan
For Karzai, Stumbles On Road To Election
Cruel human toll of fight to win Afghan peace
Criticism of Afghan War Is on the Rise in Britain
Troops 'fighting for UK's future'
Operation in Taliban hotbed a test for revamped U.S. strategy
Covering Crucial Afghanistan Operation
Afghans still skeptical about Obama
US Defence Department struggling with public release of report on bombing in Afghanistan
Afghanistan on the Edge
Q+A: Who are the Pakistani Taliban insurgents?
Afghanistan Past & Present
Bombs for Pashtoons and Dollars for Punjab
Help! I'm being outgunned on K Street!
ANGELS CHASING DEMONS: “Jesus Killed Mohammad”!
U.S. tested 2 Afghan scenarios in war game
America's Top Diplomat Tells 'Nightline': 'Not Every Taliban Is al Qaeda'
Obama hearing range of views on Afghanistan
What Do Afghans Want? Withdrawal - But Not Too Fast - and A Negotiated Peace
Will Obama change Afghan strategy?
What Do Afghans Want? Withdrawal - But Not Too Fast - and A Negotiated Peace
Afghans tricked into U.S. trip, detained
In the Afghan War, Aim for the Middle
Obama pulled two ways in Afghanistan
Obama Can’t Make Russian Mistake in Afghanistan
10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan
Gates: Mistake to set time line for Afghan withdrawal
Afghans question what democracy has done for them
High stakes in Afghan vote recount
Two Perspectives On Resolving The Afghan Postelection Crisis
Does the U.S. still have a vital interest in Afghanistan?
Pashtuns and Pakistanis
The Afghan '80s are back
How to Lose in Afghanistan
US in Afghanistan proposes revamped strategy
US 'needs fresh Afghan strategy'
US looks to Vietnam for Afghan tips
Lessons from Vietnam on Afghanistan
Afghan Pres. Skips Country's 1st TV Debate
A proud moment for Afghanistan
Rival to Karzai Gains Strength in Afghan Presidential Election
Afghan presidential candidate withdraws in Karzai's favor
America and international law
Hamid Karzai pulls out of historic TV debate just hours before broadcast
Karzai says no to first Afghanpresidential debate
Afghan election: Can Karzai's rivals close the gap?
Karzai opponents hope to beat him in second round
Afghanistan's Election Challenges
For Karzai, Stumbles On Road To Election
Pentagon Seeks to Overhaul Prisons in Afghanistan
Cruel human toll of fight to win Afghan peace
Karzai’s gimmick
Well-known traffickers set free ahead of election
US president sets Afghan target
U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.’s Died
Why the Pentagon Axed Its Afghanistan Warlord
Earn our trust or go, Afghans tell GIs
The Irresistible Illusion
Running Out Of Options, Afghans Pay For an Exit
We've lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan
$2,000 for a dead Afghan Child, $100,000 for Any American Who Died Killing it
The strategy is sound – but success is not assured
Operation in Taliban hotbed a test for revamped U.S. strategy
Covering Crucial Afghanistan Operation
Pentagon Seeks to Overhaul Prisons in Afghanistan
Echoes of Vietnam
A Response To General Dostum
Obama orders probe of killings in Afghanistan
Obama admin: No grounds to probe Afghan war crimes
US president sets Afghan target
U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.’s Died
Afghanistan's Election Challenges
The Irresistible Illusion
Earn our trust or go, Afghans tell GIs
Running Out Of Options, Afghans Pay For an Exit

We've lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan

The strategy is sound – but success is not assured
Stakes High in Afghanistan Ahead of August Elections
$2,000 for a dead Afghan Child, $100,000 for Any American Who Died Killing it
Ex-detainees allege Bagram abuse
Petraeus Is a Failure -- Why Do We Pretend He's Been a Success?
Fierce Battles and High Casualties on the Frontlines of Afghanistan
End the Illegal, Immoral and Wasted War in Afghanistan, says BNP Defence Spokesman
Outside View: Four revolutions
Pakistan's Plans for New Fight Stir Concern
France: liberty, equality, and fraternity – but no burqas
 

 

 

 

 

Echoes of Vietnam

Even the Coalition commanders in Afghanistan wonder if they can win the war
Will history repeat itself in Afghanistan?

British military intervention in Afghanistan has a chequered history, making it easy to conclude that British forces will fail again


 


The last frontier  
Source: The Economist By:    

PESHAWAR AND WANA: Waziristan, headquarters of Islamist terror, has repelled outsiders for centuries. Now the Pakistani government is making a determined effort to control the place

“YOU should enjoy this,” said a Pushtun from Waziristan, the most remote and radicalised of the tribal areas in North-West Pakistan that border Afghanistan, as he proffered a bottle of Scottish whisky. It was an excellent Sutherland single-malt; but the man was referring to the bottle’s more recent provenance, not its pedigree.

He had been given it by a fellow Waziristani working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. This spy had received the illegal grog from an American CIA officer. Your correspondent’s friend returned homewards, Scotch in hand, driven by another Waziristani, who is also employed as a fixer by al-Qaeda.

Waziristan, home to 800,000 tribal Pushtuns, is a complicated place. It is the hinge that joins Pakistan and Afghanistan, geographically and strategically. Split into two administrative units, North and South Waziristan, it is largely run by the Taliban, with foreign jihadists among them. If Islamist terror has a headquarters, it is probably Waziristan.

For terrorists, its attraction is its fierce independence. Waziristanis (who come mostly from the Wazir and Mehsud tribes) have repelled outsiders for centuries. Marauding down onto the plains of northern Punjab—now North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)—their long-haired warriors would rape, pillage and raise a finger to the regional imperialist, Mughal or British, of the day. No government, imperialist or Pakistani, has had much control over them. “Not until the military steamroller has passed over [Waziristan] from end to end will there be peace,” wrote Lord Curzon, a British viceroy of India at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

With 50,000 Pakistani troops now battling the Taliban in Waziristan, even that may be optimistic. One of the current drivers of the steamroller is Major-General Tariq Khan, head of the army’s 60,000-strong Frontier Corps (FC), whose forebears, rulers of neighbouring Tank, were often robbed by the hill-men. For him, Waziristan is “the last tribal area”.

Despite their remoteness, these tribesmen have often had a hand in the fates of governments in Kabul, Delhi and elsewhere. In 1929 a British-backed Afghan, Nadir Shah, used an army of Wazirs to seize the Afghan throne. A force of Wazirs and Mehsuds was dispatched in 1947 to seize Kashmir for the newly formed Islamic republic, sparking the first Indo-Pakistan war. In the 1980s Pakistan, America and Saudi Arabia armed them to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. In 2001 thousands of Afghan Taliban and their al-Qaeda guests fled to Waziristan. They have resumed their jihad from across the border, this time against NATO troops—aided, Afghans say, by the ISI.

Fighting and spying on the frontier is often described as a Great Game, after the 19th-century Russo-British sparring for which the phrase was coined. And on a five-day visit to South Waziristan in December as a guest of the FC—a rare privilege for a foreigner—and in interviews with Wazirs and Mehsuds in Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore, your correspondent was struck by how many used this phrase, speaking of the crises that periodically buffet the frontier as a “game”, and themselves, through their alliances with one power or another, as “players”. “It is all a great game,” said Rehmat Mehsud, a Waziristani journalist. “The army, the Taliban, the ISI, they are all involved, and we don’t know who is doing what.”

Tribal kin may find themselves playing on different teams. For example, a Mehsud army officer, a member of the most radical Pushtun tribe, whose militant chiefs head a frontier-wide conglomeration of tribally based Islamists known as the Pakistani Taliban, admits that several of his cousins are high-ups in the Taliban. Yet he bears them no ill-will. “We are all Mehsud,” he says, over a beer or two. “So long as one family earns, the rest can eat,” said another South Waziristani, explaining the advantages of thus spreading political bets.

Making for the hills

The journey to Waziristan began on December 7th in Peshawar, NWFP’s capital, with a thunderous roar, as just across the street a man blew himself up. Black smoke spewed from the blast-site, a police checkpoint, now obliterated, at the entrance to the province’s high court. Eleven were killed. Bloodied policemen and lawyers staggered from the wreckage.

As a military convoy carrying your correspondent tried forcing its way through this throng from the adjacent Bala Hisar fort, the FC’s citadel, there was chaos. Horns blared and men and boys shrieked and yelled. Cars attempted impossible U-turns. A police wagon loaded with dead or injured rattled along the pavement, blood-stained limbs flapping from its open back. The FC men, representing a medley of frontier tribes, Afridis, Mohmandis, Yusufzai, bullied their way through. At speed, the convoy headed south out of Peshawar for Waziristan.

Since mid-October, when over 30,000 Pakistani troops launched an attack on Mehsud territory, a retaliatory terrorism spree has ripped through every large Pakistani city, including Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan. Over 500 have been killed and thousands injured, mostly by suicide-blasts executed by indoctrinated young Mehsuds. Senior army officers, who have lofty status in a country ruled by them for half its history, have been among the dead. Among 40 killed in a commando-style attack on a crowded mosque in Rawalpindi last month was the only son of Lieutenant-General Masood Aslam, commander of Pakistan’s north-western campaign.

Bowling along the frontier, over castellated ridges, boulder-strewn plains and rounded limestone hills, there was much evidence of recent explosions. A jagged crater, in the Indus highway that spans Pakistan north-south, showed where a police check-point had been almost erased. Two recently mined road-bridges were under repair.

Nearing the arms-making town of Darra Adam Khel, which is inhabited by Afridis, whom the British considered almost as fierce as the Waziristanis, the convoy accelerated again. A one-street mud-built huddle, dedicated to making counterfeit modern weapons, Darra was once a favourite of western backpackers; for a few dollars, they got to fire an anti-aircraft gun or lob a grenade. It is now Taliban-infested.

Nearing Tank, a town swollen with Mehsud refugees, the hills unfold into a large dusty plain. This is the last “settled area”, as parts of NWFP that touch the tribal areas are known: a civilised status emphasised by a sign on its main drag, advertising the “Oxford high school”. Looking up to the north-west, the mountains of South Waziristan, faintly outlined behind a wintry mist, rise steeply to jagged peaks. That is Mehsud country, only a night’s journey away for tribal raiders.

The Mehsud have attacked and looted Tank for centuries. “They’re the biggest thieves, crooks, liars, everything bad, they’ll kill you for what’s in your pocket,” says Nawab Zadar Saadat Khan, the septuagenarian chief of Tank’s historic ruling family. The Taliban are, in his view, just as bad: “Taliban! These are people who used to stand outside our door begging for food!” he says inside the crumbling mud walls of his ancestral fort, where Sir Henry Durand, a British lord of the frontier whose son drew the line that remains the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, met his fate in 1871. He was a victim not of treacherous tribesmen but of an elephant he was riding, which reared and brained him on a stone archway he was passing through. But the British had a similar view of the Mehsud to Mr Khan. According to an 1881 report, no tribe had “been more daring or more persistent in disturbing the peace of British territory…not a month passed without some serious crime, cattle-lifting, robbery accompanied by murder being committed by armed bands of marauders from the Mehsud hills.”

Leaving Tank, the convoy climbed through brittle yellow hills into South Waziristan, aboard Toyota pickups, not elephants. But the view was much the same as in 1859, when British troops first marched into Waziristan. Stony ridges rise up from ravines, dry riverbeds and hardly vegetated plains, and curl around each other. Houses are thinly sprinkled alongside South Waziristan’s one good road, which runs 80km (50 miles) from Tank to its main town of Wana. Every one has 20-feet-high walls, built of sun-baked mud studded with pebbles to withstand machinegun bursts. On the grander dwellings a multi-storey tower, with lavish brickwork decoration and firing-slits, rises up to improve the household’s field-of-fire.

But outside the ramparts are scenes of everyday peasant life. Women in bright headscarves stump along under bundles of firewood. (In Waziristan, as in Afghanistan, most tribal women wear burkas only to town.) Swarms of children, also brightly coloured against the ubiquitous yellow backdrop of mud and rock, run shrieking from the convoy. Bearded men, squatting together in the pale afternoon sun, stare impassively as the FC goes by.

With the annexation of Punjab in 1849, British India reached the frontier. The British had no immediate interest in these barren tribal territories, which were mostly claimed by Afghanistan. But to keep the tribes at bay, they were forced to launch a big military operation on the frontier almost every year for the next half-century. This was tiresome and expensive, so around the time the frontier was demarcated in 1893, the strategy changed, and the British began a concerted effort to buy off tribal elders, or maliks. In egalitarian Pushtun society, where prestige is won in battle, these grey-beards initially had limited authority. But through British patronage it grew, creating for the colonialists a pliable tribal elite. With this toehold established, the British then took a firmer grip on the area, developing a system of indirect rule that has hardly changed since.

In Wana, a two-road town 40km from the Afghan border, surrounded by orchards and a vast FC camp, Syed Shahab Ali Shah explains the system that he runs. He is South Waziristan’s political agent (PA), the government’s chief representative in the area and the man whose job it is to keep the tribes in check. He imposes fines and taxes—on transport, trade, and whatever else he chooses—and returns this money to the maliks, in the form of allowances or other sweeteners. Representatives of a network of tribal police, known as khassadars, also get a share. In return, these local leaders are charged with ensuring the security of government property, including roads, and personnel. When they fail, the maliks must produce the culprit, his guilt attested by a tribal jirga, or council, for punishment by the PA (until recently up to 14 years in prison with no appeal). If they fail to do that, the PA can call up the FC to weigh collective punishments against the offending tribe, for example by taking prisoners or bulldozing houses.

On occasion the PA may take notice of extraneous crimes, including the blood-feuds that are a fact of Pushtun life—“We would never allow two tribes to fight each other indefinitely,” says Mr Shah. But the tribes are mostly free to decide such matters among themselves, which they do, remarkably harmoniously, through jirgas and riwaj—tribal customary law. In Waziristan, as in most of the tribal areas, there is no written land register. Nor, until 2001, was there much crime. “The tribal areas was lawless only in the sense that there are no laws. But they have a certain way of going about things there,” says Major Geoffrey Langlands, 92, a British colonial officer who stayed on, serving as headmaster of North Waziristan’s only secondary school for a decade. His tenure ended, in 1988, after he was kidnapped by an aggrieved Wazir. He considered his detention, in a frozen mountain hut, to be “quite tolerable, on the whole”. Major Langlands is now headmaster of a school in Chitral; his former school in North Waziristan was closed in July after the Taliban kidnapped 80 of its pupils and ten teachers.

The British frontier effort was cemented by a tough and accomplished breed of Pushtu-speaking British PAs, several of whom were murdered in Waziristan. The enmity between the two big tribes, which they encouraged by giving the Mehsuds a disproportionately high share of loot, helped keep them in check. Mehsuds, now as then, consider Wazirs slow-witted, mercantile and untrustworthy—“If your right hand is a Wazir, cut it off,” advises a Mehsud. Wazirs mainly consider Mehsuds as vagabonds and cattle-rustlers, often quoting as evidence for this a prayer that Mehsud women are said to chant to their infants: “Be a thief and may God go with you!” Mehsuds also quote this, to illustrate their people’s cunning and derring-do.

The maliki system, reinforced by the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation, still the only law in the tribal areas, worked remarkably well. Nonetheless, every decade or two, the British faced a major tribal revolt, typically led by a charismatic mullah. A frontier trait, this was nowhere more pronounced than among Waziristanis. Their warrior mullahs included Mullah Powindah, an Afghan-backed Mehsud, who in 1894 led an attack on the British team demarcating the frontier. Taking the title, Badshah-e-Taliban, King of the Taliban, he was a two-decade-long headache for the British, who decried him as an irredeemable fanatic, but were not above trying to buy him. Curzon wrote that Powindah was “a first-class scoundrel that we are taking under our wings”.

A Wazir of North Waziristan, Mirza Ali Khan, known as the Faqir of Ipi, was a harder case. From 1936 to 1947 he led a freedom struggle that at one point sucked in 40,000 British Indian troops, and was quelled only by brutal aerial bombing. Khan was also backed by the Afghans, and was allegedly in contact with Nazi Germany. But when he died, in 1960, the London Times mourned him as a “doughty and honourable opponent”.

From the officers’ mess of the South Waziristan Scouts, the FC’s Wana-based contingent, formed in 1899, it is tempting to think Waziristan has hardly changed since those colonial days. The heavy silver beer tankards of its former British inhabitants stand, dutifully polished, ready for use. The incumbents, Punjabi army officers on secondment to the FC, in fact drink Sprite with their curried dinner—yet their conversation is in a time-worn tradition. Mostly, they discuss their belief that India is behind the current troubles on the frontier. Lieutenant-Colonel Tabraiz Abbas, just in from fighting the Mehsud militants, describes finding Indian-made arms on the battlefield. Substitute “Russian” for “Indian” and you have the standard British Great-Game gripe. As late as 1930, a senior British official, in dispatches stored in India’s national archives, reported that a clutch of Russian guns had been found in Waziristan: “Of these 36 are stamped with the ‘Hammer and Sickle’ emblem of the Soviet government, while one is an English rifle bearing the Czarist crest.”

Don’t mess with the Waziristanis

Yet Waziristan is greatly changed. Its administrative system, overrun by militancy, now functions only weakly in Wazir areas. There, the PA has a shaky peace agreement, brokered by maliks, with the Taliban who are to be seen lounging in Wana bazaar. But the government has been entirely absent from Mehsud areas for three years. Mr Shah, the PA, sees the origin of this collapse in the anti-Soviet war, which glamorised Islamic militancy and flooded the tribal areas with sophisticated weapons. Wana was an important mujahideen headquarters during that war, with many willing recruits among some 80,000 Afghan refugees encamped near the town. At a gathering of a dozen lavishly turbaned Wazir maliks in Wana, your correspondent asked if anyone had fought the Soviets. Everyone raised a hand—and one man a leg, to reveal an ugly scar left by a Soviet bullet.

When the Taliban and many foreign jihadists were forced to flee Afghanistan in 2001, Wana made an obvious retreat. Several hundred Uzbeks—members of the exiled Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—and a smaller number of Arabs and Turkmen came, guided by a local ne’er-do-well, Nek Muhammad, who had won fame fighting with the Afghan Taliban. And the Wazirs opened their doors to these fugitives. “It is our custom to give sanctuary to whoever requests it,” said Mir Khajang, a malik with a black beard and golden turban. “The Uzbeks said they had been forced to leave Afghanistan and were good Muslims. So we took them in.” Indeed the Pushtun tribal code imposes a duty of hospitality. Yet the Wazirs are also said to have charged the foreigner jihadists hefty rents.

Under pressure from America, the army moved into the tribal areas to mop up the al-Qaeda fugitives. It at first offered amnesty to other foreign fighters, provided they registered and behaved themselves. But in March 2004 it encountered fierce resistance near Wana, mostly from the Uzbeks. The fighting left over 50 soldiers dead, and ended in a peace settlement in April, signed with Nek Muhammad—who was killed in an airstrike shortly afterwards. The Uzbeks and their local allies then set out to control the area. Their first step was to kill its maliks. Seven of Mr Khajang’s close relatives were accordingly hanged by the Uzbeks.

The army often stood by, unsure whether to fight the militants or negotiate with them. Meanwhile a tide of militancy spread from Wana across the frontier. Its rallying-cry was the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency began gathering pace in mid-2003. But the upheaval was also a response to the weakness of an outworn administrative system—which the presence of the army, a powerful alternative command structure, further undermined.

The Mehsud militants, for example, have been led by veterans of Afghanistan’s wars, such as Baitullah Mehsud, supreme leader of the Pakistani Taliban until he was killed by an American drone in August. Yet certainly compared to the Wazirs, the tribe has little interest in Afghanistan. Among them, the uprising is an obvious power grab by a jihad-pumped underclass. The tribe’s maliks, widely reviled as “corrupt puppets of the British Raj”, according to a high-up Mehsud, were again the first victims. Across South Waziristan over 600 have been murdered. In addition, an assistant PA was kidnapped in North Waziristan and several lower-level civil servants killed. All were blamed for a chronic lack of development. According to a decade-old census, the literacy rate across the tribal areas is 17%—and just 3% for women—compared to 44% across Pakistan. The tribal areas have only one doctor for every 8,000 people—and no decent hospital for over half a million Mehsuds.

With the army still grappling for a strategy, two events in 2007 demonstrated that the insurgency’s centre had shifted to the Mehsud. First, egged on by the ISI, the Wazir tribes were incited to rise up and drive the Uzbeks from Wana, whence most went to Mehsud areas. Then, in July 2007, the army’s stormed an Islamabad mosque, the Lal Masjid, that had been taken over by well-armed jihadists, killing over 100. This sparked an ongoing Pakistan-wide terrorism campaign, including around 300 suicide blasts to date, for which the Mehsud have been largely blamed. Benazir Bhutto, a two-time former prime minister, assassinated in a suicide and gunfire attack in late 2007, was allegedly among their victims.

For the next 18 months or so, the news from the frontier was grim. Flush with foreign cash and through their own extortion rackets, the Mehsud militants and their allies seized a broad swathe of territory, from Waziristan through Orakzai and Khyber to Bajaur, and including much of NWFP’s Malakand region. Across the settled areas, the slogan “Meezh dre Maseet”—“I belong to the Mehsud”—struck terror. Wealthy Peshawaris fled the city, fearing bearded kidnappers. Last April the Taliban seized Malakand’s Buner district, just 100km (62 miles) from Islamabad.

This said little for Pakistan’s army. It had long been accused of tolerating, even harbouring, the Afghan Taliban. Now it seemed neglectful of its country’s very security, as blasts ripped through Pakistan’s cities. And there was something to both charges. Many senior army officers considered that the Afghan militants were no concern of Pakistan’s, and reckoned it was better to come to terms with the Pakistani Taliban rather than fight them. This was to some degree understandable: the frontier campaign was unpopular in Pakistan, the army was coming off badly against the irregulars, and making deals with rebels was, after all, how the frontier had been contained for 150 years. Unfortunately, however, that method was no longer working.

A soldier’s lot is not a happy one

So this year the strategy was changed, with considerable success. In May the army swept the Taliban from Malakand, to national acclaim. And in October and November, after a three-month blockade of the Mehsud fief, displacing over 200,000 people, it routed the militants there. On the road from Tank to Wana, perfect round shell-holes, punched through the mud-walls of now-empty houses, show where the army advanced. In Sarwakai, a former Taliban logistics hub, army bulldozers were levelling a bazaar as open-backed trucks loaded with prisoners, blindfolded and bare-headed, drove by. Most of their comrades, including the Pakistani Taliban’s current leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, escaped—some to Orakzai, where they are again under attack. Several thousand more are believed to be in Miran Shah and Mir Ali, in North Waziristan, and the army is currently deciding whether to pursue them there.

Pakistan will struggle to pacify Waziristan so long as Afghanistan is ablaze. Yet it is at last giving itself a fair chance, on the heels of its advancing troops, by launching a serious-looking bid to rebuild its shattered administration. South Waziristan’s development budget has been increased 15-fold and, with improved security, the PA should actually be able to spend it. To sideline the weakened maliks, he will be given command of a new, 4,000-strong, tribal police force. The agency may also be divided, to ensure greater attention is given to the marginalised and seething Mehsuds. And political reform is coming, too, with a law passed last August granting political parties access to the tribal areas. For more meaningful democracy, some far-sighted officials advocate setting up agency-level councils, with powers over development projects.

This would be overdue. Many young Waziristanis are hungry for the political freedoms enjoyed, alas fitfully, by the rest of the country—as their enthusiasm for an abortive effort to introduce local government in 2005 showed. Even the Wazir maliks assembled in Wana, prime beneficiaries of the old order, admitted this. “Our youngsters want reform, adult franchise, no collective punishments,” admitted one of the old men, Bizmillah Khan. “But they also want our culture, our traditions and our freedom to remain intact.”

They will be disappointed. When Waziristan is merged with Pakistan proper, as eventually it must be, good things will be lost. The jirga system, so much more efficient than Pakistani courts, will be weakened or erased. Corruption, rife in Pakistan, will become endemic. And the furious spirit of independence that has impelled Wazirs and Mehsuds to resist outsiders for centuries will recede. For the most part, that would be a blessing. Yet in that calmer future, when Pakistan’s current agonies are largely forgotten, many may hark back fondly to a world enlivened by such remarkable people.

 

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