President Musharraf has invaded Waziristan. Musharraf has to make a show of force after Zawahiri and the Taliban attempted to start a civil war to overthrow the Pakistani government.

The Taliban has created a state within a state. The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan poses a threat to the Pakistani state. The Pakistanis tried a ceasefire agreement and moved to contain the Taliban to this region. The Taliban leapfrogged over military containment and sponsored religious radicalism throughout many Pakistani madrassahs. The battle at the Red Mosque in Islamabad

IN North Waziristan, the wild border land that America hopes will be Osama Bin Laden’s graveyard, the normally busy roads are almost deserted and the fear is pervasive. Army helicopters sweep the valleys at night hunting for Al-Qaeda militants as troops and gunmen exchange artillery and rocket fire.

America and Britain regard this usually autonomous tribal area – where Bin Laden is long believed to have been hiding – as the logistics centre of Islamic terrorist attacks around the world.

President Pervez Musharraf sees it as the centre of a campaign to “Talibanise” Pakistan. Spurred on by Washington, he has abandoned a truce with Waziristan’s Islamist guerrillas and ordered his army to root them out.

There are believed to be about 8,000 gunmen – a mix of foreign Al-Qaeda volunteers, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Islamists and local Waziris whose families have for centuries fought off any attempt to impose outside rule on this area.

Pakistan is moving roughly 80,000 soldiers to the region.

Waziristan is not a good operational environment. I suspect the Pakistanis will run into the same problems they encountered between 2004-2006. The terrain limits movement, the population is isolationist and hostile to outsiders, the weather limits campaigning season to the summer, the insurgents have many hiding places and the Pakistani military has little experience with counterinsurgency operations.

Let’s review:
Waziristan consists of two provinces (Tochi and Wana – or North and South Waziristan) and they are part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These are autonomous zones that raise their own police force and local militias.

North Waziristan has a population of 361,246. South Waziristan has 429,841 (according to Wiki). Most of the population live in the valleys in small agricultural communities and towns with mud compounds for the extended family. Most live alongside the few rivers that wind through the valleys. There is the Tochi River in the North, and the Gomal and Tank Zam Rivers in the South. There are few large towns, namely Razmak in the North and Wana in the South.

The arid mountainous terrain is very poor for military operations. There are a number of sharp cliffs, ravines, and rugged ground. The Razmak Plateau is about 10,000 feet above sea level. There are few roads. The rivers are too small for useful transportation. Any movement passes through natural “chokepoints” where are perfect places for ambushes and IEDs.

All a military can do is capture and hold the riverside communities in the valleys. The insurgents will withdraw to the highlands and reside in caves. Both sides will periodically raid each other’s supply lines and try to starve out the other as winter approaches. Casualties will be low on both sides (1-2000) as neither side can make kenetic contact with the other.

This is a Google Earth of most of Waziristan. Near the center, by the whiter photo, is the town of Tauda China. Just north of that in the green valley is the town of Razmark in North Waziristan. To the Southwest is Wana. “Rugged” is an understatement.

The Wazir tribes are ethnic Pashtuns, so they have allies outside of Waziristan. A number of Pakistani soldiers are Pashtuns who hesitate to wage war against the tribes. There are also many radical Islamists sympathetic to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pakistani Intelligence Service (The ISI). The Intelligence tip off the Taliban about Pakistani troop movements or possible strikes.

The Taliban created the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. This is the de-facto government of the two provinces. The Taliban has steadily killed over 200 local leaders, and bribed off or intimidated others leaders and the police into submission. The Taliban installed its own separate courts and governing council and has invited its allies, like al-Qaeda, the IMU, and other groups into the region.

The Waziris are very conservative Muslims and very independent. Pakistan never actually ruled them in the first place. Fortunately, this works both ways. The Taliban and foreign Islamists tend to wear out their welcome. There were some inter-group conflicts this past winter as Wazir Tribesmen attacked and killed over two hundred Uzbek members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks offended the locals through some crimes, so they were harshly punished. The Pashtuns are also suspicious of the Arabs. The Arabs at least have money to bribe off opponents.

Other Pashtun tribes rejected the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite their deep conservatism, the Pashtuns are not radical Islamists and are not a politically revolutionary or expansionist people. The Taliban can still find recruits in the local madrassahs, but the politics of the region are more nebulous than commonly supposed. The Wazir tribes are not enthusiastic about the Taliban rule or disruptive warfare with Pakistan. This can be used to Pakistan’s advantage.

The US Strategy
so far has been to collect intelligence on local politics.

The U.S. has a long list of Pakistani Taliban that they want to see arrested, or killed. The Americans know why some of these guys are, or were, untouchable. CIA and U.S. Army Special Forces have spent the last six years compiling lots of information on Pushtun politics, on both sides of the border. They also know that Pakistan would rather not take on their Pushtun tribes. Pakistan already has a rebellion going on in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan), and doesn’t want to have a war with the more numerous Pushtuns, to the north, at the same time. But the more radical Taliban are all for dragging the Pushtun tribes into a war with Pakistan. The trouble with that scenario is that many of the tribes do not like the Taliban or al Qaeda. A tribal war would be messy, and could drag on for years. It looks like the Taliban radicals are going to have their way, destroying themselves, and much else in the tribal territories, along the way.

American intel has put together something like a Who’s Who Database on the Wazir Tribes. They learn who are the leaders, what their responsibilities and capabilities are, and how the connect to other leaders. The US collects signal and imagery intelligence from the region.

American intel will be needed because the Pakistani ISI is unreliable.

The Pakistanis are cautious. Here’s what they may be do:
This is a mixed containment and counterinsurgency strategy. The Pakistanis realize they cannot occupy and rule this region, so they need the cooperation of the tribes.

  • First, they will negotiate with the tribal leaders and exploit divisions between them and the Taliban.
  • Second, they will strengthen law and order in the region by recruiting and training additional policemen.
  • Third, the Pakistan military will occupy major roads and towns in the region to deny Taliban access to the population and the rest of Pakistan.
  • Fourth, Pakistan will use UAVs to provide needed surveillance of roads, towns and the lower parts of the mountains.
  • Fifth, there will be a limited campaign to kill Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership. This will not destroy these organizations, but will hopefully alter the balance of power in favor of anti-Taliban tribes.
  • Sixth, the Pakistanis will address extremism in madrassahs to prevent future Red Mosque-style battles and cut off the Taliban’s source of suicide bombers.

The US will continue to serve as the Anvil to prevent a Taliban retreat to Afghanistan. We also know there is a power-struggle within al-Qaeda and the Taliban as some believe that Zawahiri is too aggressive and has jeopardized the Taliban’s safe haven.

Will this work? It will reasonably contain the Taliban to this region. Pakistan is more worried that the war will spark a general Pashtun uprising. Luckily, almost no one else wants a war except the Taliban. This may give Pakistan a window of opportunity to isolate the radicals.