November 17, 2009

Counterinsurgency - Lessons from Pakistan

There's little news coming out from independent sources about the Pakistani army's campaign in Waziristan. The suspicion amongst the international journalists and analysts is that the Pakistani army doesn't have the capacity to take out militants without causing serious collateral damage to civilians, and so the result of the present action will be further militancy in the future.

However, some journalists who have seen the government's efforts during the Waziristan campaign and before that in Swat have come away with a sense that the government has realised that succeeding against militancy is about resettlement and reconstruction as much as it is about blowing stuff up.

David Rose of The Mail, a British daily, spent a good long time in Peshawar, Swat and Dera Ismail Khan. Amid calls from U.S. and British officials for Pakistan to do more, David says that what Pakistan is doing, it is doing well, and ISAF forces on the other side of the Durand Line could learn a thing or two from the Pakistani approach.

David illustrates what the Pakistani state successes by pointing out how it dealt with refugees from the Swat campaign.

"When I last visited Pakistan in June, at the height of the Swat campaign, there were more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) living on the scorching plains in camps and relatives’ spare rooms.

But a remarkably efficient army-led transport and reconstruction effort has meant more than 95 per cent of them have been back home for weeks."

David's reporting suggests that the Taliban's ability to alienate practically everyone once in power is proving an asset to the Pakistani state.

"‘The people supported the Taliban because they felt the state was not giving them justice. But now they are finished," says one man from Mingora.

Extrapolating, Londonstani wonders if what David saw in Mingora is applicable to Pakistan as a whole? If we look past all the "slave of the West" talk, does the Taliban gain support when the state seems to have failed to provide the basics? And if the Taliban does manage to rule an area, does the state have a window of opportunity to prove to the population that they are better off without Taliban rule? But, doesn't that mean we could avoid all of this if the government could do a good job actually doing its job (like, you know, governing) in the first place.

Doesn't that make the solution seem tantalisingly close at hand? Help Pakistan govern properly.

Unfortunately, this is harder than it seems. In fact, it's so hard the government seems to be concentrating on letting people down gently instead of building up their hopes. A popular political banner at the moment proclaims, "The worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship." Londonstani is not so sure everyone agrees.