June 10, 2008


Pakistan’s Phantom Border: Pakistan is often called the most dangerous country on earth. Increasingly, its people would agree. Despite nearly $6 billion in U.S. military aid for the border region since 9/11, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and homegrown terrorist groups have eroded the border with Afghanistan, inflicting a steady toll of suicide bombings. Going where few Westerners dare—from Taliban strongholds to undercover-police headquarters—the author sees what’s tearing the country apart. (Janine di Giovanni, June 10, 2008, Vanity Fair)

Pakistan’s border trouble is concentrated in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a mountainous, semi-autonomous no-man’s-land that abuts Afghanistan, is home to three million people, and is off limits to foreigners and to most Pakistanis. (This is the rugged area where many believe Osama bin Laden is hiding.) Since 9/11, America has pumped in nearly $6 billion to aid the country’s military in catching terrorists who operate out of the Tribal Areas and other border regions, but so far, at least from Washington’s vantage point, there hasn’t been much return on the investment. A scathing report by the Government Accountability Office, released in April, noted that there is still “no comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national-security goals” in the Tribal Areas.

On the ground in Pakistan’s border regions—where the recently elected Pakistani government has further angered the U.S. by negotiating truces with militants—things look far worse. [...]

In a grimy office on a backstreet in Peshawar, I meet a Pakistani reporter from the Tribal Areas who has strong links with the Taliban (and doesn’t want me to use his name). He offers tea and asks if I want to watch a video of a Pakistani informer getting beheaded. (No thanks.) He is facilitating a meeting for me with a Taliban commander and gets on his two cell phones trying to reach the man who, it turns out, is having “security” problems in coming to meet us. He is stuck in traffic on the way to Kohat, a garrison town in the N.W.F.P., because the Pakistani Army is conducting a raid.

The journalist, like many people inside and outside Pakistan, sees the roots of the conflict in the Cold War, when the U.S. aided the Afghan mujahideen in fighting the Soviets. “People blame America for bringing their war to our land,” he says vehemently. “Tribal people had no idea about jihad before that.”

The people he is referring to are primarily Pashtun tribesmen. The Tribal Areas, originally delineated by the British as a buffer between the Raj and the Russian Empire, operate today under an ancient set of laws known as Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of honor. The Pashtuns, who also make up a significant portion of Afghanistan’s population, have always been bound on either side of the border by fierce cultural, emotional, and social ties. As one Pashtun saying goes: “Me against my brother, my brother and me against our cousins, and we and our cousins against the enemy.” (The same expression is also used by Palestinians.)

Here, people protect their own. For the most part, honor prohibits one Pashtun from fighting or killing another. Further complicating the war against the extremists is the fact that soldiers of the Frontier Corps, the federal paramilitary force that has taken the brunt of the fight against the Taliban, are usually from the same Pashtun tribe as the men they are trying to catch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2008 6:17 AM

So what is your conclusion?

Bush is a clueless doofus who has wasted 7 years and billions of dollars in Afghanistan/Pakistan, because he's distracted by a failed attempt to create a democracy in Iraq, is one possible answer.

Posted by: h-man at June 10, 2008 11:45 AM

We've created at least two viable democracies in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and the entire terror problem is contained in one eternally worthless region of the world where no one cares about collateral damage. All at the cost of about one Civil War battle.

Once we regime change Syria it will be the most successful war we've fought.

Posted by: oj at June 10, 2008 1:47 PM

Oj: That's it.

It has all been a geopolitical brilliancy, made all the more brilliant by its indirection.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 11, 2008 12:20 AM