The tribal areas of Pakistan, the heart of the jihadist insurgency


January 1, 2018 – Fort Russ News – Paul Antonopoulos – Translated from Descrifrando la Guerra.

- Advertisement -

MADRID, Spain – The triumph of extremism in Iraq and Syria has left in the background a region that since the 70s has been the soul, inspiration and shelter of extremist groups around the world. In this article we will try to make a brief presentation of the historical and social context of the area and an analysis of the current situation.

The mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, inhabited by Pashtun tribes and artificially separated by the British Durand Line, have been, since time immemorial, an ungovernable place that has resisted state centralization by rejecting Mongol, Afghan, Sikh, British and Soviet invaders. . To this long list, from which the Pashtuns breastfeed whenever possible, aspire to join the Americans and the Pakistani state, since 2001, trying to control the region with greater or lesser fortune.

This tenacious resistance to the invader is sustained by a complicated geography, extreme poverty, even for Pakistan, and an extremely conservative and very warlike tribal society. As no administration has ever been able to subdue it, they continue to be governed by an oral tribal law based on several points: to always provide hospitality and protection to the guest (the Taliban relied on it in order not to surrender Bin Laden in 2001); the forgiveness forced upon an honorable surrender; Compulsory revenge, whether individual or collective, which makes it a society always in conflict; defend the honor at all levels; the tribal assembly (jirga) as an element to settle the key issues; and, above all, defend the Pashtun land and customs against any innovation or foreign invasion. This insurmountable wall has caused successive empires to crash and / or renounce to administer the territory, implementing a policy of tribal self-management that survives with nuances to this day.

In 1979 the situation of relative calm changed with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the American and Pakistani will turn into another “Vietnam”. The Pashtun tribal areas, which share ethnicity with the majority of Afghans, embraced the mission with ardor, becoming a great arsenal, paradise for tens of thousands of mujahideen and where millions of Afghan refugees came. The situation did not decline with the fall of the Soviets, as the Afghan war continued among the Mujahideen, continuing to support Pakistan and the tribes to various factions (Haqqani, Hizb-e-Islami and the Taliban movement). All this changed the territory forever, turning it into a war zone effectively controlled by local factions inspired by the Taliban, in addition to going to foreign groups with different agendas (Afghanistan, sectarianism, Kashmir, global jihad). The religious influence grew greatly, increased the influence and power of the mullahs, while the radical madrassas (deobandies and wahabitas) monopolized the scarce education (illiteracy above 70%). The holy war is like a glove with the traditional, anti-state and conservative tribalism that scared off the modern state, while presenting itself as an enemy of the “anti-Islamic” excesses of the corrupt local masters. The economy was also transformed, focusing on smuggling, weapons (the only industry in the region) and drugs.

The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was a new twist to the mountainous region, as thousands of Afghan Taliban and members of other groups fled NATO pressure, seeking a base from which to counterattack. In turn, General Musharraf’s military dictatorship understood that being an ally in the “war on terror” was his golden opportunity to lift Pakistan out of its status as a pariah state and obtain large sums of money in aid. Thus, the government offered the country a supply route for NATO and, in the face of international pressure and the sumptuous aid it was receiving, it intervened very narrowly in the tribal areas and against certain extremist groups. This change of policy provoked a deep purge in the intelligence services, the ISI, totally linked since the 80s to the fundamentalist groups. All this caused a very powerful social outbreak in a part of the deeply anti-American society that saw the Taliban as liberators, especially in the local areas that occupy us, whose ties with the Taliban were so profound.

Even so, Pakistan continues to act ambiguously, manipulating when it interests jihadist groups to intervene indirectly in both Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Pakistani state considers only the groups that attack it to be enemies, while it courts in the shadows with an infinity of radical elements such as, for example, the Afghan Taliban. In the area that interests us, this is evident with the so-called Haqqani Clan, a guerrilla and family network established in the tribal area of ​​North Waziristan since the 70s. From that sanctuary, this faction, integrated into the Afghan Taliban, attacks the eastern provinces of Afghanistan and the capital itself. His intimate relationship with Al Qaeda 2 and other foreign movements is no secret or impediment to his friendship with Pakistan, and this general strong tensions with Afghanistan and the US, which faced with the passivity or inefficiency of the Pakistani government, does not hesitate to use its drones.

Another very different issue is the Pakistani Taliban, concentrated in the very conservative area of ​​Waziristan (North Waziristan and South Waziristan) and which center our article. They are local groups inspired by the Afghan Taliban or with the intention of helping them, however, this initial objective has been mutating towards obtaining a local Islamic emirate and growing opposition to the Pakistani state. The first outbreak took place in South Waziristan, when in 2004 the Pakistani army was rejected when it tried to conduct a raid in the area under pressure from Afghanistan. USA. The army signed a peace agreement with tribal leader Nek Mohammad, who was consolidated as a local hero, but he refused to hand over any foreign jihadist to the authorities. The hostilities resumed and Mohammad was killed by the attack of an American drone, returning to sign an ephemeral peace in February 2005.

A similar situation took place in North Waziristan, where in 2006 the Army decided to intervene and was similarly repelled, having to sign a quite similar agreement: peace in exchange for expelling foreigners and numerous compensations for the damages.

Throughout 2005 and 2006 the clashes were increasing and the tribal-Taliban leadership was reorganizing, with the emergence of new groups and leaders, such as the Baitullah brothers and Hakimullah Mehsud (both killed in drone attacks in 2009 and 2013 respectively) in Wazirsitán del Sur . The tension and differences with tribal base were wide, especially for the opinion regarding groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Al Qaeda, some wanted to expel them according to the agreement with the government and, others, to accept them. The Taliban of Wana, led by Mullah Nazir and supported by the army, expelled the Uzbeks from their lands, taking refuge in those of Baitullah Mehsud. But enmity and alliances are, as they have always been, very changeable among these tribes.

In August 2007 Mehsud’s group took a big blow by taking a military convoy and 150 soldiers, who exchanged for their prisoners. This consolidated his leader and allowed him to found the bloodthirsty coalition Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), uniting the vast majority of Pakistani Taliban. They are united by fanaticism, although they are separated by traditional tribal differences, and there are countless local agendas that prevent them from coordinating. As we have seen, there is a faction hostile to the Pakistani state led by the Mehsud and another that advocates focusing on Afghanistan and NATO. These groups have been provoking the authorities, who are forced to respond to each of their major blows, from assaulting military convoys to the taking of valleys, through terrible attacks in the rest of Pakistan.

The union in the TTP was possible thanks to the wave of anger against the state that unleashed among the extremists the assault of the army to the Red Mosque of Islamabad and, of course, to the great military power that agglutinated the insurgents in the area. This meant an exponential increase in attacks of all kinds against the Pakistani state and the extension of the Taliban movement (and other extremist groups) to neighboring regions, in addition to carrying out attacks in almost the entire country. Violence against security forces, minorities, cultural and secular symbols … had its peak in 2009, when the death of leader Baitullah Mehsud fragmented the movement even more and the massive operations of the Pakistani army were snatching the jihadist sanctuaries one by one, with the support of aviation and selective killing by American drones (396 attacks since 2004). However, the insurgency is mobile, and the military operation always returns or moves to other areas. In the end the only constant force is the tribal militias (lashkar), whether Taliban, pro-government or independent.

As we have mentioned, violence has been decreasing since 2009, although it survives, it no longer poses the threat to the state that it was years ago. The reason is probably not just a military victory, but also a logical transfer to Afghanistan, on the other side of the mountains, where the situation is increasingly favorable. It could be said that the jihadist insurgency moves like a fish in the water on the Durand Line, going from one place to another depending on the pressure or conditions in Pakistan or Afghanistan. There are also no safe sanctuaries on the Pakistani side, as part of the semi-autonomy continues to be maintained and, in many regions, the army only controls its barracks and surroundings. In addition to these two options, the jihadists have a third: evaporate in the vastness of Pakistan and its cities.

Nor should we ignore the growing presence of different groups that have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, their presence for now is quite diffuse, but certainly strong, especially among the Uzbeks. This is proved by spectacular operations, such as the recent takeover of the symbolic complex of Tora Bora, and the control of various districts in the eastern and northern parts of Afghanistan.

The Taliban presence during these years has seriously transformed the tribal society, since its numerous executions, of course collaborationism or “anti-Islamic” activities, and the exiles have disrupted the local elite. And here the great challenge for the future is presented, since this system of local elites is the one that for centuries has allowed lasting peace agreements, something that nowadays seems distant despite the palpable decrease in violence. Despite this, the tribal structure remains the great obstacle of jihadism to centralize. 3 Indicative data for two reasons: it is an area where the information is not true and many incidents end unknown; Many data are from the government, which in its operations increases the number of dead insurgents and reduces the number of civilians. For all this we can bring up three main conclusions:

1. Despite all these years of authentic civil war, Pakistan continues to see India as its only great adversary, considering the jihadist groups a minor nuisance in its poor periphery or even an effective ally with which to project its agenda geopolitics.

2. The insurgency in the tribal areas should not be framed solely by religious extremism, but is linked to a local tradition of uprisings and resistance to successive states and empires that goes back more than five centuries, all amplified by the unstable situation of the last 40 years in neighboring Afghanistan and the new religious extremism that brought this.

3. After the rise in violence between 2007 and 2009, there has been a gradual decline, fruit of both the increasing pressure from the security forces and the extremist success across the border in Afghanistan.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.