March 4, 2008


Two countries on edge (Arnaud de Borchgrave, March 4, 2008 , Washington Times)

[H]ome base for al Qaeda and Taliban remains the weird-sounding acronym for Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — some seven fiercely independent tribal "agencies" under nominal Pakistani sovereignty that form, with Baluchistan (one of Pakistan's four provinces), the 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan.

Inhabited by fiercely independent Pashtun tribes whose women are so backward only 2 percent can read and write and their men only marginally better at 20 percent, the landscape is among the world's most inhospitable. Mountains that soar to 15,000 feet interspersed by deep gorges and ravines and deserts provide safe havens for al Qaeda and Taliban's training camps as well the world's most wanted terrorists. For Pashtun tribesmen, hospitality is sacrosanct. Rewards for information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants have soared from $20 million to $50 million — but no one talks.

Under President-Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the U.S. military was told to butt out of FATA. Bombing of FATA targets by the United States or raids by Special Forces would have led to bloody clashes countrywide. Bin Laden is certainly more popular than President Bush with millions of Pakistanis. Instead, the United States made its $1 billion-a-year military aid to Pakistan contingent on Mr. Musharraf ordering his army to chase Taliban and al Qaeda up and down FATA's snow-covered peaks.

The Pakistani army began entering FATA in mid-December 2001 for the first time since independence with 37,000 troops. Assigned to blocking positions while U.S. bombers dropped 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutters" on the Tora Bora mountain range, they deployed too late to intercept the terrorist chieftains. Since then, Mr. Musharraf has increased the military assigned to FATA to 110,000 troops. Most of them hate the assignment with a mix revulsion against killing fellow Pakistanis, unease over the hostility of the local population, and the conviction they are acting under U.S. orders transmitted by Mr. Musharraf.

Beginning last summer, the Pakistani Army in FATA, mostly Punjabis, in effect stood down. Heavy casualties and sympathy for Taliban fighters led to ambushes and surrenders without a fight. This makes the Afghan war unwinnable, unless the United States can strike a new deal with new Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani now that Mr. Musharraf is a much weakened civilian president subject to impeachment by political parties victorious in the Feb. 18 elections.

...should they refuse to it creates a free-fire zone that even Senator Obama has threatened to attack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 4, 2008 8:17 AM
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