Caption: a pakistani soldier standing post above the Khyber Pass

Download 112.5 Kb.
Size112.5 Kb.

Display: Getty Images # 1164455

Caption: A Pakistani soldier standing post above the Khyber Pass

Title: AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN/MIL – The Battlespace of the Border
With tensions on the rise along the Afghan-Pakistani border, Stratfor examines a crucial battlespace in the Afghan campaign.
With tensions on the rise along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and increasingly overt and unilateral U.S. military action across the border in Pakistan, Stratfor examines this crucial battlespace in the Afghan campaign. U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and the next President in Washington will be formulating a new strategy for that campaign, and one way or another, this strategy will be forced to confront the mounting Taliban and foreign fighter insurgency on both sides of the border.
U.S. cross-border operations into Pakistan have become increasingly overt and unilateral since the spring. But more than a tactical shift, these operations are emblematic of the operational and strategic problem of Pakistan's lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where Taliban fighters from Afghanistan not only rest, recuperate and resupply, but are mounting their own domestic Islamist insurgency orchestrated by other Taliban groups. The next U.S. President will be working closely with the new head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. David Petraeus on a new strategy for Afghanistan – and one way or another it will have to address the situation in Pakistan because difficulties in Afghanistan cannot be solved without dealing with the complexity of Pakistan's Taliban paradox. Stratfor examines the crucial battlespace of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Starting in the north and including the long, narrow spit of Afghan territory that runs all the way to the Chinese border, the Hindu Kush are at their height. They rise above the disputed territory of Kashmir and feed into the Himalaya themselves – the world's tallest mountains. Sparsely populated and harsh, rugged terrain, this stretch of territory is, for all intensive purposes, all but impassible and useless for logistical purposes.

Yet the border quickly begins to follow a ridgeline south out of the Hindu Kush and drops precipitously, if briefly, down to the Khyber Pass -- perhaps the single most important infrastructural link to the outside world. Completely unconnected to the rail networks of its neighbors, the road from Peshwar over Khyber and on to Jalalabad (and from there to Kabul), is a crucial lifeline for Afghanistan.
The border rises up another ridge out of Khyber, following another mountain range known as the Safed Koh. This range runs North/South, a direction the border more or less follows for several hundred miles. Though still mountainous, this area is rife with passes and trails used for infiltration in both directions – but particularly of supplies and fighters west into Afghanistan.

Below the southernmost district of the FATA, South Waziristan, the border cuts more westerly, over the Toba Kakar range towards the second vital road link across the border that runs from Quetta to Kandahar. Known as Baluchistan province’s Pashtun corridor, this sector of the border encompasses an area Stratfor believes <>

The border then follows the open desolation of Kandahar province, where the terrain is less difficult, but also offers far less concealment from the prying eyes of unmanned aerial vehicles overhead. It is also extremely sparsely populated with little in the way of infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods and supplies.
This geography is a fixed reality for border operations. There are passes that are fit for transit by pack animal or even motorbikes and 4x4s and there are passes that are not. It is not that insurgents create a new infiltration point when one is shut down by NATO or U.S. security operations along the border, but rather that there are so many potential infiltration points in key sectors that smugglers, drug traffickers and fighters alike can vary their usage and have a good chance of success. Western troops, especially, are too limited in number to cover them all, especially with a plethora of security missions inside Afghanistan proper. The main variable on these routes is climatic.
Combat operations in the area along the Afghan/Pakistan border take on a regular cycle due to the combination of the terrain and the weather. Winter comes early in the extremely high altitudes of the Hindu Kush and Safed Koh. When the snows come they close many of the high mountain passes for the winter months, severely restricting travel and causing a noticeable decline in combat activities. When the spring thaw comes, the melting of the heavy snows in the mountains often results in flooding, mudslides, washed out roads and paths, and heavy mud which can also impede transportation.
Meanwhile, at that altitude, helicopters are more difficult to operate, and their maximum payload is constrained. Yet the distribution of forces makes them a heavily coveted asset in theater for U.S. and NATO forces. The terrain itself is high and rugged, making even basic military maneuvers taxing – and locals acclimatized to the altitude and intimately familiar with the territory have an advantage.
To the east of the most heavily traveled border region are Pakistan's FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan. Covering nearly 40,000 square miles, the FATA and NWFP alone are even larger than the small grouping of U.S. states known as New England (except without the state of Maine in this calculation). Yet with nearly 20 million people, the area is more populous than all of New England including Maine, and has a much higher population density. The NWFP is very nearly three times as densely populated as New England.

The Cultural Landscape
Given the population, the cultural landscape is also a crucial consideration. Back in the days of the British Empire, London never controlled these areas and deliberately left what is now known as the FATA autonomous because they were considered by the British hostile and ungovernable, given not only the very rugged terrain detailed above but also an intense tribal loyalty and hostility to outsiders. The occasional Imperial intervention never ended well. The region retained that autonomy when Pakistan became first the Dominion of Pakistan in 1947 and then the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956 – a distinction it retains to this day.
For most of its modern existence, Islamabad has maintained a semblance of control through the use of political agents working with tribal leaders. Security was enforced through the use of local paramilitary organizations, as the people are generally as hostile to outsiders as the terrain – an even harsher reality for foreigners.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late December 1979 and the subsequent occupation brought an influx of foreign fighters to the FATA and NWFP. For many, their support of the mujahideen did not end in 1989 when the Soviets withdrew. They stayed on to fight the communist regime until it was brought down in 1992. Factional infighting ensued. The Taliban emerged in 1994 and took control of Kabul in 1996. Until the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, foreign fighters flocked to Afghanistan – often through northwestern Pakistan. When the Taliban regime withdrew in the face of the U.S. onslaught – not being defeated – FATA was the easy and obvious fall-back position. Though the Pakistani army attempted to address this in 2004, it did so principally through political arrangements with tribal leaders – arrangements that are now coming apart under the weight of the now maturing Pakistani Taliban insurgency.
The civilian casualties of U.S. airstrikes and raids in Pakistan fan the flames. Meanwhile, foreign jihadist and Taliban fighters have begun to marry into the tribal structure, making reliance on the traditional structure problematic for both Washington and Islamabad. Outside Pakistani army units began to operate in FATA and NWFP in 2004 as Islamabad attempted to clamp down, but still encounter many frictions rooted in the long reliance on the tribal structure that has now been corrupted.
But this is only the beginning. The complexity and tensions of ethnic, tribal, ideological, religious and nationalistic loyalties in this region cannot be overstated. The seven agencies of FATA are Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram and North and South Waziristan.
Bajaur is the northernmost agency of FATA. To the north and east, Bajaur borders the NWFP districts of Dir, Malakand -- two areas where Stratfor believes the apex leadership of al Qaeda prime is likely hiding. There are three main tribes in Bajaur: Utman Khel, Tarkalanri, and Mamund. The largest of these is Utman Khel in terms of both population and territory. The Utman Khel are at the southeast of Bajaur, while Mamund are at the southwest, and the Tarkani are at the north of Bajaur. The Pakistani army is currently engaged in a major operation against Taliban elements here. Bajaur has also experienced a number of airstrikes by U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles, at least one of which was reportedly targeting al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The key tribes in Mohmand agency are the Mohmands, the Musa Khel, Daud Khel, Mero Khel, Tarak Zai, Safi, Utman Khel, and Halim Zais. Al-Zawahiri is married to a native of this agency and has reportedly frequented it. The agency made the headlines June 11 when a U.S. airstrike struck a Frontier Corps outpost, killed eleven Pakistani servicemen, including a mid-level officer.
Khyber Agency contains the crucial Khyber Pass – one of the most important roads across the Afghan-Pakistani border. It is the main artery connecting Peshawar to Kabul and passes through the border town of Torkham. As a consequence of this artery, it is the most developed agency in the tribal belt. Khyber Agency is inhabited by four tribes viz Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori and Shimani. Until fairly recently Khyber did not have major issues with the Taliban, but there are now at least three Taliban factions challenging the writ of the government.
Orakzai is the only agency that does not border Afghanistan. Sandwiched between FATA's Khyber and Kurram agencies, its capital of Darra Adma Khel is a well known illegal arms bazaar. The Orakzai tribes consist of two major groups. There are the original Orakzai tribes (Ismailzai, Daulatzai, Alizai, Muhammad Khel and Sultanzai) and historical 'Hamsaya' tribes (Ali Khel, MalIa Khel, Mishti and Sheikhan). The security situation is not as bad as other parts of FATA but there are still issues with the Taliban and some sectarian strife has spilled over from neighboring Kurram agency.
Kurram is the second largest tribal region in FATA. The agency has a significant Shia population and has been the scene of fierce sectarian clashes. The agency also has a significant jihadist presence. It is home to a number of tribes: Turi, Bangash, Parachamkani, Massozai, Alisherzai, Zaimusht, Mangal, Kharotai, Ghalgi, and Hazara.
North Waziristan is inhabited by the Utmanzai Wazirs, Daurs, and other small tribes like the Gurbaz, Kharsins, Saidgis and Malakshi Mehsuds. Tribesmen during the days of the British rallied round one Mirzali Khan, Tori Khel Wazir, who was later given the title of the Faqir of Ipi. Under him, Jihad was declared against the British his huge Lashkar (or 'force') remained at war with the British until Pakistan gained independence in 1947. In late 2005, elements of the Pakistani Taliban declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate in North Waziristan. North Waziristan is the headquarters of pro-Islamabad Afghan Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani whose house was targeted by missiles fired from U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles Sept. 9 in which a large number of Haqqanis' relatives were killed.
The southernmost agency of the tribal belt, South Waziristan abuts Baluchistan province’s district of Zhob. Mahsuds and Wazirs are the two main tribes but there are also some smaller tribes such as Dotaris, Powindah, Bhittanis. South Waziristan was the first part of FATA to be the target of Pakistan's military operations conducted under pressure from the United States in March 2004. The Pakistanis have tried to undermine the power of the most prominent Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and his Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan movement through a rival Taliban warlord Maulvi Nazir. The are also known to have a large number of foreign fighters especially Uzbeks. Islamabad attempted to restore order through a number of deals with militants in this agency -- all of which have now fallen apart. Its security forces have faced stiff resistance from militants.
Against this backdrop of internal strife flow supplies, weapons and ammunition for both NATO and the U.S. as well as the Taliban and foreign jihadists.
Depending on the type of shipment, between 80 and 90 percent of NATO and U.S. supplies – including fuel – arrive in Afghanistan in massive convoys that travel across the border on two roads from Pakistan – one east of Kabul, the other east of Kandahar. These trucks, especially on the northern route, transit the very heart of the FATA and NWFP – making attacks aimed at both simply banditry and the more pointed disruption of supplies by Taliban and jihadist fighters alike fairly frequent. The bazaars of border cities like Quetta and Peshwar are consequently awash in cheap, plundered U.S. and NATO military goods.
The connection to the ocean through the port of Karachi is extremely important to NATO and U.S. logistics, as are the continued flow of fuel from Pakistani refineries. While some alternative routes are used for the fraction of remaining supplies, <> influence is heavier to the north (though not decisive). But the infrastructure connecting Karachi to Kandahar, Kabul and the ring road are hands down the most efficient, established and most heavily used be NATO and the U.S. The collapse of these routes would create an enormous logistical problem not easily shifted and all but impossible to sustain from the air for any length of time.
To the south of the Khyber Pass lies a hundreds of infiltration routes used by the Taliban and foreign fighters. Not only moving supplies into Afghanistan from Pakistan, they also find sanctuary in uneven terrain and population of the FATA and NWFP – enough terrain and population density for someone like <> or Mullah Omar to remain undiscovered despite the best efforts of Washington.
But in addition to crossing the border to recuperate and orchestrate future operations, the Taliban's ideology slips across, too. And with increasing local dissatisfaction with the U.S. especially, Islamist seeds often find fertile ground.
The Challenges for Pakistani Security
The paramilitary Frontier Corps and Pakistani Rangers – both run by the Interior Ministry – together account for roughly 100,000 armed men primarily tasked with the security of these ungoverned territories. In addition to split and complex tribal loyalties, the old political loyalties with the army and the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, also pull in different directions.

But additionally, these forces occupy scattered and isolated small outposts attempting to cover hundreds of miles of border in rough terrain. They can have little expectation of reinforcement and their own supply lines are either directly controlled by Taliban loyalists and foreign jihadists or are contingent of the good will of the tribal leaders in the territory they pass through – tribes that are struggling to balance the demands of Islamabad and the Taliban.

Though the army has deployed its own units to the region, it has little more in the way of reinforcements, as it already feels stretched thin in the East where it sits opposite qualitatively and quantitatively superior Indian forces.
Thus, the reality for Pakistan seems to be that while it can field a larger presence in numerical terms and establish a broader presence with more, smaller outposts along the border, their foothold is weak, tenuous and uncertain. Their outposts are both small and lightly manned, making a proper defense against a large force difficult. The known lack of any sort of timely reinforcement and their vulnerable supply lines only compound this weakness.

While the limited reinforcement of the region by the army can help in concentrated areas for a limited time, it does not yet appear to be enough to meaningfully alter the local dynamics that underly the growing domestic insurgency, much less attempt to combat the support for Taliban and foreign jihadist fighters across the border in Afghanistan. In short, Islamabad rather likes having influence in Afghanistan through Taliban elements fighting there – what for Pakistan is the 'good' Taliban. But on the other hand, that support is spilling over into Pakistani territory – the domestic 'bad' Taliban that is, while distinct, also inextricably linked to the 'good' Taliban fighting across the border. This inherently contradictory situation is finally becoming untenable for Islamabad.

The Challenges for NATO and the U.S.
As for NATO and U.S. efforts to stem the tide of fighters and supplies across the border from Khyber Pass to Baluchistan, interdiction is little better. Western requirements for a military outpost are much higher in terms of defensibility, manning and access to supplies and timely reinforcement by quick reaction forces. Thus, all things being equal, NATO and the U.S. are more stretched in terms of a persistent presence along the border and interdiction efforts there than the Pakistanis. But things are not equal. NATO and the U.S. have an extremely limited number of troops – combined about the size of Pakistan's Frontier Corps – to secure all of Afghanistan, engage in heavy combat operations to the south, train the Afghan army and also attempt to stem the tide across the border.
While persistent unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) orbits give a far better situational awareness in some respects, the terrain remains rugged and the difficulty of distinguishing guerrillas and vehicles carrying goods for the Taliban from civilians and civilian vehicles has left enough innocent people dead to undermine western legitimacy in the eyes of many locals on both sides of the border. This confusion has also been seized upon heavily by al Qaeda and the Taliban in their propaganda, which consistently highlights or even exaggerates civilian death tolls from such strikes.
Meanwhile, the west is hardly making any friends as the U.S. -- for the moment, at least – continues to conduct overt, unilateral cross-border actions (again, with collateral damage). While arguably militarily necessary, the border issue constrains the U.S. and NATO more than the Taliban and foreign jihadists – a fact they use to their advantage.
In short, the ethnic and tribal complexities of the Afghan-Pakistani border and the deep roots of radical Islam, the Taliban and insurgency make the sectarian strife in Iraq look rather uncomplicated by comparison. The logistical challenges of asserting military force and establishing sustainable security there are compounded by Islamabad's laundry list of untenable positions. It has attempted to balance influence within the Afghan sects of the Taliban through support while combating the mounting Taliban insurgency on its own territory. The territory is effectively controlled by tribal leaders with conflicting, if not incompatible loyalties – loyalties not only outside the Pakistani government, but with organs like the ISI with which Islamabad struggles to assert its control. The government vocally opposes U.S. violations of its territory and sovereignty and struggles to demonstrate to its people domestically that it has their interests at heart, even though it must retain that relationship for military aid and support.
In sum, these issues prevent profound challenges for both Washington and Islamabad. Yet the U.S. must find a way to address cross-border issues if it hopes to turn the tables in Afghanistan. Pakistan is losing ground to the Taliban on its own territory and it is very much in doubt whether it has the capability necessary to address the problem.

Download 112.5 Kb.

Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright © 2023
send message

    Main page