The British colonial experience in Waziristan and its applicability to current operations(Chapter 5)CHAPTER 5 Analysis, Lessons Learned, and Recommendations
Waziristan is one of the most enigmatic areas of the world. It is located in desolate, broken terrain and is inhabited by fiercely independent tribes governed by a martial ethos. The U.S. showed little interest in Waziristan until Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements fleeing Afghanistan found refuge in this tribal area in late 2001. Of particular interest to the U.S., Osama bin Ladin and his key lieutenants are rumored to have sought sanctuary there as well. Due to the threat that Islamic extremists pose to U.S. national security and coalition efforts in Afghanistan, the U.S. has dedicated military and interagency resources against these extremist elements in Waziristan.
Due to the fact that Waziristan is part of a sovereign country which has forbidden the permanent presence of U.S. troops, the U.S. cannot directly influence this area with overt, uniformed military forces. Recognizing this challenge, the U.S can look to the British colonial experience to help guide its strategy when developing the best course of action to accomplish its goals in Waziristan. The British dealt extensively with Waziristan from 1849-1947. Despite the passage of time, the most important factors (i.e., political, military, geographical, and ethnographical, etc.) that influenced the British colonial experience have not changed significantly and are still relevant today.
With this background in mind, it is possible to examine the British experience and determine what lessons, if any, the U.S. can apply to its current operations in Waziristan. The British, for instance, utilized positive and negative incentives to influence tribal behavior. The British, additionally, used positive inducements by removing trade barriers to the tribes, resettling
tribesmen in British controlled territory, and inducting tribesmen into paid militias. Yet, if positive influences did not achieve their intended results, the British levied fines; took hostages; seized men, property, and animals; instituted reverse blockades; and launched punitive expeditions.
The British, moreover, also used multiple basing strategies to best deal with the tribes. Due to resource limitations and political constraints, the British carried out a “Close Border” policy from 1849-95. British Army in India cantonments were located outside the tribal areas and the British dealt with the tribes through intermediaries. After the establishment of a formal border between Afghanistan and India, on the other hand, the British briefly executed a “Forward” policy from 1895-1901, where the British Army in India permanently based troops inside tribal territory. The British then transitioned to a “Modified Forward” policy from 1901-23 where British-officered tribal militias maintained security without the permanent presence of British Army in India troops. After the Third Anglo-Afghan War, the British reverted to the “Forward” policy where the British Army in India again maintained permanent garrisons (supported by air power) in tribal territory until 1947.
Still, when non-lethal incentives did not alter tribal behavior, the British resorted to punitive expeditions. These armed incursions in tribal territory, however, netted mixed results overall. Although most punitive expeditions wreaked great material destruction, they usually did not force the tribes to submit. To illustrate, the British launched a brief punitive expedition in 1852 to retaliate against the Wazirs for raiding into British controlled territory. The punitive expedition, unaccompanied by any other incentive, did not force the Wazirs to submit. The British subsequently carried out punitive expeditions against the Mahsuds in 1860, 1881, 1895, and 1901-2. These did not subdue the tribe, but also required the British to levy additional fines, seize hostages, and/or the implement reverse blockades. Two religious firebrands, the Mullah Powindah (1898-1913) and the Faqir of Ipi (1936-47), furthermore, menaced the British for
decades without ever getting captured or killed despite multiple British punitive expeditions and a long-term presence of British troops in the tribal areas. Overall, British punitive expeditions in Waziristan did not influence tribal behavior without the combination of other incentives and did not result in the capture or elimination of highly sought after fugitives.
Ultimately, the British experience offers the following lessons:
(1) Politics govern tribal behavior in Waziristan. Due to the complexity and evolving nature of tribal politics in Waziristan, the British could not use canned solutions to solve each conflict it faced. The British had to constantly negotiate and use varying combinations of positive and negative incentives to accomplish its goals. No course of action they successfully used in the past necessarily solved future problems.
(2) The tribesmen in Waziristan are capable fighters and difficult to defeat on their own territory. The complex terrain coupled with the martial ethos of the Pashtun tribes make the tribesmen in Waziristan formidable foes. The tribes generally did not stand and fight British columns directly. Instead, the tribes fought the British on their own terms by focusing on isolated or lost columns, attacking at night, and/or ambushing convoys.
(3) Although generally sympathetic to Islamic extremists, tribesmen are more influenced by Pasthunwali than religious fervor. Even the Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi opposed the British more for political reasons than religious ones. The Mahsuds (the most troublesome tribe on the Frontier), for example, did not respond to the frontier-wide call to jihad in 1897.
(4) Male tribesmen are highly sensitive to the presence of foreign troops on their territory. They believe it is a personal affront to their autonomy. Tribesmen will oppose the deployment of foreign troops on their soil regardless of its legitimacy. The tribesmen even consider the Pakistani Army a foreign entity. The only exception to this policy is a jihad, when the tribesmen
tolerated the presence of Pakistani government and other foreign personnel during the struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
(5) The tribesmen’s sympathy toward foreign Islamic militants, some of whom have permanently settled and intermarried among the tribes, will impede intelligence collection efforts and assist militant evasion of U.S. and Pakistani operations.
(6) If someone wants to avoid capture, the complex terrain and the Pashtunwali code of conduct followed by the tribes make Waziristan an ideal place to hide. The Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi demonstrated that fugitives will find long-term sanctuary in Waziristan regardless of how capable, numerous, and aggressive their pursuers.
(7) When force was required, the British had to resort to a draconian level of violence, long-term reverse blockades, and hostage taking to force the tribes’ submission. Limited or short-term incentives did not achieve their intended results.
(8) The broken terrain and the dispersion of the population mitigated the firepower and technological advantages of the British.
(9) The British found it difficult to secure agreements with the Mahsud tribe due to the ambiguous authority of its chiefs and maliks.
To put these lessons in their proper context, it is important to review the contemporary Pakistani experience as well. The Pakistani government inherited responsibility for the tribal areas in 1947 and adopted a “Modified Forward” policy. Yet, after September 11, 2001, the Pakistani Army moved into Waziristan in late 2001 to deny sanctuary to Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements fleeing Afghanistan. When Pakistani forces entered the tribal areas, they used many of the same strategies and incentives the British used during the colonial period.
Due to the internal political realities in Pakistan and the influence of the U.S., however, there are important differences between the post-9/11 Pakistani military operations and the British
colonial experience. On the other hand, there are many similarities between contemporary Pakistani Army operations and the British experience during the colonial era. Prior to entering Waziristan, the Pakistani Army negotiated with tribal leaders to secure their cooperation. In addition, the Pakistanis used positive and negative incentives to influence tribal behavior. To gain the cooperation of the tribes, the Pakistanis carried out infrastructure development projects. To influence tribal behavior, the Pakistanis similarly used negative incentives. The Pakistanis fined, detained, dismissed from government jobs, closed businesses, and destroyed the homes of individual tribesmen who sheltered militants. The Pakistanis imposed collective punishment on uncooperative tribes or their sub-groups or sections by implementing reverse blockades or levying fines as well. Plus, the Pakistani Army used a forward presence, multiple expeditions, and combined arms operations supported by aircraft in the tribal areas.
Despite the many parallels between the Pakistani and British experiences in Waziristan, there are significant differences. First of all, since Waziristan has always been part of Pakistan, the Pakistani government directly negotiated with the tribes. With the exception of low-level maliks, the Pakistani government negotiated with the tribes either through political agents or senior military officers. The Pakistanis did not use high-level intermediaries like the British during the colonial era (i.e., Nawab of Tank, Nabi, Azem, etc.). Second, in contrast to the British, the Pakistani government primarily conducted operations in the tribal areas at the behest of a foreign power (i.e., the U.S.). Third, the Pakistanis conducted a long-term punitive expedition along the border with Afghanistan, especially in the Angoor Adda area. Even during the period of the “Forward” policy, the British rarely operated out of their cantonments for an extended period of time. In Operations Kaloosha II, the Pakistani Army operated along the border from mid-March to early December 2004. The most important difference from the British colonial period is that the Pakistani Army has operated with foreign forces in the tribal areas and has also accepted foreign material assistance to support their operations. Specifically, U.S. Special Forces
accompanied Pakistani forces during their raid in Miranshah in May 2002 and U.S. government civilian agencies, moreover, assisted Pakistani counter-terrorism operations in Waziristan with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, and law enforcement support.
Considering the many similarities and differences between the British colonial period and the Pakistani government after September 2001, both governments have a mixed record of success in Waziristan. Although both governments achieved tactical successes, neither government completely subdued the tribes. Consequently, although the Mahsuds and Wazirs made short-term submissions, both tribes have successfully avoided long-term foreign domination. This mixed record of success by colonial Britain and contemporary Pakistan suggests even the most well equipped and modern armies will unlikely secure long-term submission of the tribes regardless of whatever short-term tactical successes they may achieve.
Considering the lessons from the British colonial experience and the contemporary Pakistani experience, the following recommendations can be applied to current U.S. operations in Waziristan:
(1) The presence of foreign Islamic extremists in Waziristan is a complex problem and must not be addressed in isolation but as a part of Pakistan as a whole. Any overt, unilateral actions by the U.S. in Waziristan will have potentially devastating short and long-term consequences for the U.S. in Pakistan and South Asia.
(2) The tribes in Waziristan have a martial ethos and are fiercely independent. Any outside military presence in Waziristan will incite the tribes. U.S. and Pakistani counter-terrorism efforts in Waziristan must be limited and precise.
(3) The U.S. and Pakistani cannot employ a cookie cutter solution to the current situation in Waziristan. Due to the complex and evolving nature of tribal politics, no single course of action will work every time or even more than once. The U.S. and Pakistani government must carefully
analyze the current situation in Waziristan and apply multiple courses of action in some type of combination (i.e., negotiation and force; force, fines, and reverse blockades, etc.) to achieve their goals.
(4) Pakistan has the manpower, area familiarization, military skills, and the benefit of the British colonial experience to handle most threats in Waziristan. Pakistan only lacks technical assets and international law enforcement expertise to help deny sanctuary to Al-Qaeda and former Taliban members in Waziristan. The U.S. should provide the Pakistani government all the assistance its technology, military, and civilian government agencies can provide (i.e., intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, and law enforcement expertise, etc.) to help Pakistan accomplish its goals in Waziristan.
(5) The overt return of U.S. troops to Waziristan should not be a course of action. The Mullah Powindah and the Faqir of Ipi demonstrated that a forward presence and thousands of troops cannot guarantee the capture or elimination of fugitives. It is highly unlikely that even the modern, comparatively plentiful resources of the U.S. will achieve a different result.
(6) Overall, the U.S. must accomplish its goals in Waziristan through interagency operations. The U.S. should shape the environment (set the conditions for the success of the Pakistani government) as discreetly as possible and let the Pakistani government deny and disrupt Al-Qaeda and Taliban activities in Waziristan. The British colonial experience demonstrates overt military operations do not guarantee any success in Waziristan and will likely increase the chance of unleashing events that could remove Musharraf and possibly place nuclear weapons into the hands of Islamic extremists or military hardliners. Musharraf is not a model democratic leader, but he is better than the alternatives in Pakistan and the U.S. should not do anything to imperil his hold on power. The possible consequences of his removal outweigh any benefit unilateral or overt military operations might achieve, perhaps even the capture or killing of Osama bin Ladin.
These recommendations validate current U.S. policy in Waziristan. Although some pundits or other critics believe Musharraf is not doing enough in the tribal areas, it is difficult to determine what more he could do considering the numerous challenges he faces in the other parts of his country. General Anthony C. Zinni, retired commander of the U.S. Central Command in June 2002, best summed up Musharraf’s position in Pakistan: “’He’s now engaged in an immensely delicate balancing act. He’s trying to clean up the government; he’s trying not to antagonize the extremists; and the economic problems he faces continue to be huge. He really wants to cooperate with United States in the war against terror, but he’s worried about his western front with Afghanistan; he’s worried about India; he’s worried about Central Asia.’”68 Before passing judgment on Musharraf, these are important facts to consider.
Mr. Matthew W. Williams,