January 31, 2008

Operating in Pakistan's Tribal Regions

The American cultural legacy fosters a rational interpretation of the world. U.S. strategic design processes are therefore rational and mechanistic. Tribal society, on the other hand, perceives the world from within the confines of its immediate and extended kinship group and territory where competition i.e. winning and losing is literally a matter of life and death. This outlook on life greatly influences behavior. As a result, tribal strategic design processes are more dynamic; flexible, competitive and adaptive in nature.

[via Small Wars Journal] William McCallister, who knows quite a bit about tribal politics thanks to his time operating in al-Anbar, outlines some design considerations for any potential U.S. operation in Pakistan's tribal regions.

Military operations along the North-West Frontier are far more intellectual than a bayonet charge. The sociopolitical environment in tribal areas differs greatly from our experience. Legitimacy is based on the social contract with fighting as a form of negotiation. The social code is the basis for negotiating the social contract and hence “legitimacy” upon which the existing political formula is based.

Perspectives as to implementation of strategy differ. Western designs are rational and mechanistic. Tribal designs are dynamic, intuitive, flexible, competitive and adaptive in nature. Although easy to draw analogies between our own revolutionary warfare and counterinsurgency experiences words, phrases and analogies mean different things to different people and cultures.

The social code of “Pakthunwali” governs individual and group behavior in the tribal areas. The cultural operating codes that provide the framework for causal processes are shame and honor, segmentation principle, patronage and territory.

Military campaigns in tribal areas differ from our own doctrinal insurgency and counterinsurgency templates. Political and military planners must therefore take into account that the overall tribal sociopolitical blueprint and those in use by present day jihadist operating in the tribal areas are based on much older concepts of community and traditional codes of behavior.