First, look into a mirror and say three times, "I will not interpret events in Afghanistan and Pakistan through strained analogy to Iraq, because doing so is sure to misinterpret organic and specific developments and the circumstances that gave rise to them." Then note that Pashtun tribesmen near the Swat Valley are organizing a tribal militia to fight the Taliban. The final straw in popular acquiescence to the Taliban appears to be the extremists’ murder of 40 people at a mosque during Friday prayers. How do religious extremists not see that it’s really, really stupid — stupid here meaning counterproductive — to murder people in a mosque? (Or a church, for that matter.) Apparently 11 Taliban soldiers are dead thanks to the Upper Dir Lashkar’s counterattack.
The tribal militia, known as a Lashkar, is outside the tribal areas where the Pakistani Army is expected to next strike the Taliban. It would be much easier, for obvious reasons, if the Army had local Lashkar auxiliaries in such places, since then the Army will be able to cite a measure of popular support for the offensive, and will have a counterresponse to al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s inevitable charge that it’s acting as an American proxy. McClatchy collects this explanatory quote:
"The most important thing is to mobilize the people of the area (the north west), restore their trust," said Najmuddin Khan, a government minister from Dir. "Then, there would be no need to use the army. We’d take care of the problem ourselves."
There appear not to be similar indicators of Lashkars forming in places like Waziristan, where al-Qaeda’s support is presumably more entrenched. But the Wall Street Journal finds mounting anger with the Taliban and its terrorist allies from refugees from the tribal areas, which may presage the formation of such Lashkars or may not. According to the Journal, one inhibiting factor would be, unsurprisingly, U.S.-caused civilian casualties:
"Each time there is badly aimed artillery firing or the Americans fire missiles, if one person is killed, all his brothers and sons and cousins join the Taliban," said Hazrat Muhammad, 36, who last year fled fighting in the Mohmand tribal area near South Waziristan.
Even among those, such as Mr. Muhammad, who say they now oppose the Taliban, there’s deep distrust of the government, which has done little for the tribal areas since Pakistan was created six decades ago.
It should be clear that the combatants who kill fewer civilians and demonstrate greater concern for the needs of the population will be the ones who gain active and passive support for attacking their enemies. It’s not about winning "hearts and minds" — a misleading and problematic framework for counterinsurgency, since this isn’t about ideological bandwagoning — it’s winning heartbeats and stomachs. (Admittedly this phrase needs precision.) And that’s one lesson that really does transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani Army’s offensive in Waziristan is bound to be arduous, and will occur in an area believed to be where al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is operating. We can’t do the job for the Pakistanis. But we can make their task less difficult by heeding the Center for a New American Security’s call to "strictly curtail" U.S. drone strikes in the area.
Additionally, Josh Foust explained a few weeks ago why supporting tribal militias in Pakistan isn’t nearly as problematic as supporting them in Afghanistan and why the Lashkars will need the support of the Pakistani government to succeed.
Crossposted to The Streak.