Got Another One (in Pakistan)

Richard Fernandez (aka Belmont Club) has a great, link-filled post on the most recent airstrike within Pakistan -

…yet another missile struck al-Qaeda in the Pakistani border area. “One of al Qaeda’s top chemical and biological weapons experts was killed in an air strike by a CIA pilotless drone,” according to CBS News. Abu Khabab Al-Masri is dead, according to al-Qaeda website. Several other men were killed in the strike.

Al-Masri’s central roles in both Al Qaeda and the lives of any frequent flier are pretty impressive –

…The LA Times says al-Masri was behind the failed post-September 11 plot to blow up airplanes en route from Britain to the United States, an event now memoralized in the restrictions on passenger-embarked bottles of fluids.

The innovative techniques required special instruction. Masri envisioned his operatives injecting the liquid explosives, a highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide mix, with a syringe into the false bottoms of innocuous containers such as sports drinks, sneaking the components aboard and assembling bombs after takeoff.

…The Associated Press also credits al-Masri with training the suicide bombers who attacked the USS Cole.

This strike is only the most recent in 5-6 other high profile hits in the past few months. Tellingly, the daily, operational grinding that is being inflicted on Al Qaeda in Pakistan is also evident and likely played a crucial role in finding al-Masri –

…With the decimation of his henchmen, the master bomber was forced to venture out himself and train volunteers who were often of indifferent quality.

Masri assumed more control. … Last spring, he taught bomb-making in compounds in North Waziristan to aspiring suicide attackers, including a 21-year-old Pakistani living in Denmark and a 45-year-old Pakistani-German, according to U.S. and European officials. U.S. anti-terrorism source sees Masri’s role as a symptom of decline. “The fact he trained them himself shows you some of the limitations of the network,” the source said.

<

p>A recurring topic for me on SM is how so many of our notions of civilized state behavior get chucked out the window when dealing with technologically- / globalization-charged 21st century terror orgs.

<

p>In the nice, predictable Westphalian world, terrorism was a police operation and American cops / FBI (or, more directly Afghan cops) would make a quick call to their neighboring jurisdiction and expect ‘em to dispatch resources to nab the perps. Rogue states and the like certainly existed but tech & travel made it difficult for them to seriously reach out and touch comfy, cozy Westerners.

In Pakistan we see all those assumptions about diplomacy, soft power, sovereign respect, and high minded rhetoric tested in ways that leave many uncomfortable. Once armed with solid intel on al Masri’s whereabouts, should the US have respected international law and simply passed the data on to Pakistani authorities? What if there wasn’t enough time to act? Or what if the “authorities” had only minimal control of the territory in question? Or even worse, what if the authorities themselves were part of the problem?

In a world fed up with American bullying, unilateralism, and “act first, get permission later” behavior, it sadly appears that there would have been no other option for nailing al-Masri. Regardless of the path by which we got to this state of affairs (and many argue that it’s the more “natural” one relative to our “historical slumber” in the world of diplomats & cops), the issue is still what to do when the next al-Masri moment presents itself. And aside from some international law theorists, I venture that in this case, we are all better off for the path chosen.

44 thoughts on “Got Another One (in Pakistan)

  1. I certainly agree here – there have been various situations in the last century that have tested the notion of Westphalian Sovereignty, good examples being the genocides in Turkey, Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Serbia – all cases in which most reasonable observers would agree that sovereignty could or should have been “violated” because of a more important cause, saving a people from clear and mass destruction. (A good reference is Samantha Power’s “America and the Age of Genocide.”) Unfortunately, only in one case did intervention actually happen, in the case of Serbia. While genocide is certainly not occurring in Pakistan, its massively disorganized current state suggests that external action indeed might need to be taken to root out looming and present dangers to international society. George Bush unfortunately set a lousy precedent for international, occasionally unilateral, intervention with his action in Iraq, but a better precedent would be the NATO action in Serbia in ’98. A good examination of the ethical dilemmas behind such situations can be found in Peter Singer’s examination of the ethics of a globalized world, titled One World.

  2. What about this guy? or this one? By your reasoning, both India and Cuba have every right to launch a missile to strike the targets in mainland US. Don’t they? or the rules don’t apply to the “Greatest Country on the Planet”??

    Just checking.

  3. Pakistan has some Al-Qaeda?? What a surprise.

    India has been crying out loud to the world not just the US that there is ‘cross border terrorism’ but no.. it took something that happened 7 years ago for the land of the free to think about it.

    (Of course not every person in Pakistan is A.Q. member, not every American not give a damn about outside world and not every desi is an overtly proud nationalist)

  4. In a world fed up with American bullying, unilateralism, and “act first, get permission later” behiavor, it sadly appears that there would have been no other option for nailing al-Masri. Regardless of the path by which we got to this state of affairs (and many argue that it’s the more “natural” one relative to our “historical slumber” in the world of diplomats & cops), the issue is still what to do when the next al-Masri moment presents itself. And aside from some international law theorists, I venture that in this case, we are all better off for the path chosen.

    Well I guess the answer here is to set up a parallel system of law in the military and go kidnapping/summarily executing suspects all over the wold. For since this baroque arrangement has apparently played itself out, should we not resign ourselves to a succession of terror suspects detained/summarily executed by our armed forces wherever they may please? It’s not like any other outdated force like reactionary populist-nationalist political parties could seize the moment and cast themselves as the chief adversary of US-appeasing turncoats?

  5. Rogue states and the like certainly existed but tech & travel made it difficult for them to seriously reach out and touch comfy, cozy Westerners….Regardless of the path by which we got to this state of affairs (and many argue that it’s the more “natural” one relative to our “historical slumber” in the world of diplomats & cops), the issue is still what to do when the next al-Masri moment presents itself. And aside from some international law theorists, I venture that in this case, we are all better off for the path chosen.

    To address your comment in more seriousness, it seems that you have taken the two options presented to us by Bush et al and Bin Laden et al and still decide that it’s a worthwhile choice to have to make. There are many holes in this argument:

    1) Why do you trust this information about what happened given what we have seen about how information is disseminated in the United States about counterterrorism operations in particular. 2) When you use the word “we”, who are you referring to? The rich? The people from wealthy countries? Middle class citizens? Undocumented immigrants? People whose weddings are bombed? People whose chemical factories are bombed? This is the stuff which makes many people, myself included, angry – that the government of the U.S. and other countries that dominate the world in part or in whole have the right to secure a narrow self-interest rather than dealing with the costs of the system that they have played the largest role in creating.

  6. Anil @ comment 2: America bombed Pakistan because it could. Whether it should have is irrelevant, and is a matter for mental gymnastics.

  7. Anil / Nayagan / Dr AmNonymous -

    You all make excellent points for why a non-Westphalian world is BAD. For ex., it can be unstable (does it mean that “India and Cuba have every right to launch a missile”?) and duplicitous (“set up a parallel system of law”)?

    The problem however is that many of life’s choices aren’t between GOOD and BAD but rather between BAD and WORSE. And here, the choice would have been:

    a) [preserving the Westphalian order] + [al-Masri lives another day] b) [stomping on sovereignty] + [nailing al-Masri]

    which option is BAD and which one is WORSE?

    GOOD clearly would have been [preserve order] + [Pakistan reliably gets the next al-Masri] but I assume we all agree that the option wasn’t really on the table, right?

  8. Vinod,

    The only reason you think this kind of behavior is ok, is beacause the state actor here is a world superpower, whom no other country can touch. In a world, where there are no superpowers, but just relatively equal state actors, this kind of thinking will lead to utter chaos. That is precisely why international law is a necessity in the long term.

  9. Vinod,

    From a purely Pentagon perspective the options that you put on the table and the choice seems right but from a State dept. and foreign diplomacy/ future international governance perspective unilaterla international intervention by a single country sets a very dangerous precedent. Think of a world where China follows Xinjiang rebels into Central asian countries, Russia pursuing Chechenya, Israel following Hamas and Palestinian rebels into Arab countries, Sri Lanka following LTTE into India, India following Kashmir separatist into Pakistan. We are back to an international system akin to pre WW2. If only the US intervention had been backed by UN Security council and NATO/UN was the lead player then there would have been less criticism. The paradox here is Afghan intervention is more or less backed by UN and majority of the world. But does that give US a free hand to go into other harbouring and complicit countries whom you don’t trust ?

  10. 6 · robo said

    Anil @ comment 2:America bombed Pakistan because it could. Whether it should have is irrelevant, and is a matter for mental gymnastics.

    True, To add to it unilateral intervention and bullying rests on perception of exceptionalism. Power feeds onto it and power is not power if you can’t create rules and also break the very same rules.

  11. 3 · Amsterdamguy said

    India has been crying out loud to the world not just the US that there is ‘cross border terrorism’ but no.. it took something that happened 7 years ago for the land of the free to think about it

    From a purely Indian perspective what is happening is very good because America is taking care some of its problems. Headache for India will arise when America leaves the region without rebuilding it economically (not just F-16s) like it did before after driving out Soviets.

  12. [Hamid]The only reason you think this kind of behavior is ok, is beacause the state actor here is a world superpower,

    err… I suppose you can say whatever you want about my intentions… As I said in the post, I think this behavior is BAD but that the alternative is WORSE. So, I still support the decision because I think nailing al-Masri is a good thing for the world (and perhaps cuz I’m a frequent flier ;-) .

    [Bridget Jones]From a purely Pentagon perspective the options that you put on the table and the choice seems right but from a State dept. and foreign diplomacy/ future international governance perspective unilaterla international intervention by a single country sets a very dangerous precedent.

    Even when there are 2 agencies, the ultimate final question is still the same – to do or not to do. The Pentagon pretty readily recognizes that bombing Pakistan is “a slippery slope” and thus also recognizes that it’s BAD. The problem is whether the State Dept & its love affair with the Westphalian world would have prevented nailing al-Masri.

    [Ravi]Unfortunately, only in one case did intervention actually happen, in the case of Serbia. While genocide is certainly not occurring in Pakistan, its massively disorganized current state suggests that external action indeed might need to be taken

    Interestingly, Serbian intervention was done by NATO w/ the US basically providing all the real horsepower. And Clinton was criticized then and now for being so unilateral in deploying the force without UN authorization…. The UN (some would argue in a politicized move) also ultimately refused to declare what had happened in Serbia a true “genocide”

  13. The problem is whether the State Dept & its love affair with the Westphalian world would have prevented nailing al-Masri

    Well if the evidence was so strong then one could have secretly approached the Pak govt. to capture him and hand him over. The paradox here is that State dept. could hardly acheive this for A.Q. Khan whereas the Pentagon can bomb a lawless region to kill a thug. I would go for the latter when I am sure that the former wouldn’t work.

  14. And aside from some international law theorists, I venture that in this case, we are all better off for the path chosen.

    Lets not be so hard on international law theorists :)

    I am a part of the tribe of International Law theorists, but under International Law you do have the right to cross the border in a proportionate, surgical attack if the sovereign on the other side is unwilling/unable to stop the attacks from within its border.

  15. I meant to say ‘ I am NOT a part of the trible International Law Theorists’.

  16. vinod said

    Anil / Nayagan / Dr AmNonymous – You all make excellent points for why a non-Westphalian world is BAD. For ex., it can be unstable (does it mean that “India and Cuba have every right to launch a missile”?) and duplicitous (“set up a parallel system of law”)? The problem however is that many of life’s choices aren’t between GOOD and BAD but rather between BAD and WORSE. And here, the choice would have been: a) [preserving the Westphalian order] + [al-Masri lives another day] b) [stomping on sovereignty] + [nailing al-Masri] which option is BAD and which one is WORSE? GOOD clearly would have been [preserve order] + [Pakistan reliably gets the next al-Masri] but I assume we all agree that the option wasn’t really on the table, right?

    Good, bad and worse are all relative terms, aren’t they? For argument sake, let’s say the choice was:

    a) The US killed al-Masri but in doing so they killed 50 Pakistani civilians and violated all international conventions governing national sovereignty. b) The US did not carry out a strike on Al-Masri, instead they asked the Pakistanis to arrest him. Let us say the percentage probability of the guy being arrested was 50%. Let us say that this resulted in the death of 50 American citizens who were killed by Al-Masri and the people he trained.

    Which option is BAD and which one is WORSE?

    P.S: I am not including the scenario where US struck the wrong target killing innocent civilians. Obviously the US doesn’t make such mistakes.

  17. Tsk tsk tsk @ same old I-am-cool-cuz-I-can-see-America’s-faults bs. Can we see the faults of other countries? Or that doesn’t count because the other countries are not as powerful and therefore don’t have the duty to act responsibly? I can’t believe there is even a debate about launching missiles into Al-Qaeeda infested areas in Pakistan. Especially when the Japan bombings, Israeli occupation, China and Pakistan wars both of which cost India a total of 1/3rd of its J&K state, the Gulf war, are all so well accepted. Come on, we don’t hear people speak out against Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses of what’s going on in Darfur. If we want to talk about American aggression, please, let’s talk about it for every country other than Pakistan!

  18. The problem is that Pakistan doesn’t want to take responsibility for the NWFP while still claiming it as part of their soveriegn land. The fact is that Pakistan has had plenty of time to take care of the situation themselves and have not. Any action in the tribal territories is just an extension of the Afghan war.

  19. As I said in the post, I think this behavior is BAD but that the alternative is WORSE

    Firstly the alternative option/scenario that you say is purely speculative considering that we are in the midst of terror fight. I think I would certify that the behaviour it BAD only after there is evidence that some serious efforts were made through normal diplomatic or law-enforcement channels (even if done secretly) to ask Pak to capture him and hand him over to US. If done before this then the behaviour undertaken is muddlesome albeit effective. And considering the probably that Pak has no real control in that region ; sometimes stick is better than diplomacy.

  20. Without getting too much into the specific details of this case, it is possible to make the following observations, from an international law perspective.

    Even in the long Westphalian afternoon, it was well known that the North-west Frontier Province (NWFP), and more specifically, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan were ‘federal’ in name only. They were ‘tribally administered’, not federally administered, and they largely ignored the ‘writ’ of the Pakistani state. It was always a case of ‘we’ll let you say we’re in Pakistan as long as you don’t actually start acting as if we were’.

    But this has been the situation for as long as anyone can remember. The peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. I’ve just been reading about Mughal attempts to hold Kandahar. Although Babar and Akbar are said to have held most of present-day Afghanistan – first from Kabul and then from Delhi (though mainly from Kabul) – with Jehangir and Shahjehan, it was a much more iffy thing. Kandahar was lost in 1622, won back in 1638, and then finally lost in 1649 (the very first year of the Westphalian peace!)

    The tribal areas were also never part of the colonial British Indian state system – from the 18th Century right up to the 2nd World War, the British were fighting them -using everything, even airplanes against them. They remained an unsolved problem right up to 1947, and in fact, that was one of the reasons Pakistan was created as it was. More yet, the ISI was also created by a British Major General in 1948 mainly to deal with the tribals. So two states were created in part to handle these tribals, who themselves refused to be part of anything we would call a state. And while a state and a Government did in fact exist out of Kabul, not one of those Governments, of any hue – the King, the liberal democrats, the Communists, or even the Taliban – ever recognized the Durand line. And so the tribal badlands of the Afghan-Pakistan frontier have forever been a thing unto themselves. Not quite in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan either, the tribes ultimately owing allegiance only to themselves.

    And while it was always a little silly to take the Westphalian concept too literally anywhere – with the tribals, it was a case of an exception within an exception within an exception – so it does not really apply. Out there it’s like the Wild West – you either appoint the baddest bad guy the Sherrif, and hope he delivers – or if he doesn’t, you go after him, and the bad guys he’s joined, with whatever (and everything) you’ve got.

  21. 17 · mynamescapesme said

    If we want to talk about American aggression, please, let’s talk about it for every country other than Pakistan!

    Aye aye sir!

    Damn Tajikistan, it has warred Canada, Fiji, Portugal and the Vatican.

  22. The problem however is that many of life’s choices aren’t between GOOD and BAD but rather between BAD and WORSE. And here, the choice would have been: a) [preserving the Westphalian order] + [al-Masri lives another day] b) [stomping on sovereignty] + [nailing al-Masri] which option is BAD and which one is WORSE? GOOD clearly would have been [preserve order] + [Pakistan reliably gets the next al-Masri] but I assume we all agree that the option wasn’t really on the table, right?

    well i would phrase this differently, given that we’re talking about a global hegemon and its self assertation of supremacy, but I would choose a. It doesn’t seem to me to be in the interests of ordinary people (globally) to support (neo)imperialism at the cost of the right of the United States government to designate particular people that it chooses to kill, regardless of other civilians getting killed. Seems like a no-brainer to me, unless someone can mount a clear, compelling, rational case that takes into account nationality, class, etc., and provides for an even dispersal of costs, which no one has for me yet, nor do I believe anyone will anytime soon.

  23. But this has been the situation for as long as anyone can remember. The peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. I’ve just been reading about Mughal attempts to hold Kandahar. Although Babar and Akbar are said to have held most of present-day Afghanistan – first from Kabul and then from Delhi (though mainly from Kabul) – with Jehangir and Shahjehan, it was a much more iffy thing. Kandahar was lost in 1622, won back in 1638, and then finally lost in 1649 (the very first year of the Westphalian peace!)

    Chachaji, thanks for the substantive comment :) On a tangent (i.e. not directly related to your argument about NWFP), I just want to contest the comparison of the Mughal state to present-day nation-states in this analogy. From what I understand from Irfan Habib, et al, the way the “state” was structured in the Mughal era involved constant warfare to retain the very different kind of sovereignty of the Mughals as various middle and high level officials tried to break away and then were forced back in, revenue payments were refused (all the way down to the village peasant level, god bless them), etc. So how unique was the situation you’re describing to what became NWFP and how much is it simply the nature of political economy in northern South Asia under the Mughals?

  24. 24 · Dr AmNonymous said

    On a tangent (i.e. not directly related to your argument about NWFP), I just want to contest the comparison of the Mughal state to present-day nation-states in this analogy

    Thank you for the thank you! My reference to the situation during the Mughals was merely in passing, because I had in fact been reading about this just a little bit earlier. It was not intended to set up a defensible analogy with present-day conceptions of sovereignty etc. The rest of the comment stands on its own without the reference to the Mughals.

    Thanks for the Irfan Habib insight, I will keep it in mind as I read more on the subject.

    I think the difference in authority structures between the rest of South Asia and the NWFP tribes came partly from the terrain. Traditional proto-state structures never got established – the kinship group was all there was. Given the nature of the terrain also, large land-holdings do not exist, or make sense, so that feudalism as we know it elsewhere in India and Pakistan, and which is the dominant form in the Indus Valley in Pakistan – never arose there.

    But the multi-level jirga system, that arose to regulate relationships between the tribes, approximates the Athenian conception of democracy quite well – participation and representation at the individual level, with the least amount of upward delegation. The much romanticized (individual and) tribal ‘honor’ codes also arose precisely because over-arching state structures don’t exist. Like in the Wild West, it simply doesn’t make sense not to be armed, or to appear to have even the slightest tolerance for the smallest slight, leave alone for the kowtowing, bullying or domination that is involved when dealing with a state, or a state functionary.

  25. the truth of the matter is that Masri has already been replaced. US attacks like these are only spun by AQ and other terrorist organizations to recruit more young men and women to their organization under the justification of “jihad”. Pakistan has a new govt so give them the information to capture Masri. if they fail to do so, cut off their foreign aid. in fact, cut off their foreign aid anyway. if the US had better trade relations with Pakistan instead of military ones it would be better for both sides. addressing poverty and unemployment in Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries will go much further in addressing terrorism rather than bombing a few dispensable martyrs.

  26. Things seem to have changed from the early days of the Afghan missions. Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker that a Pentagon culture of “political correctness” for the failure to assassinate Mullah Muhammad Omar. According to Hersh, military personnel could have taken the Taliban leader out with a Hellfire missile strike once a Predator drone got him in its sights. But they were blocked by overscrupulous higher-ups who “want you to kill the guy, but not the guy next to him,” as one of his sources in the military put it.

  27. if the US had better trade relations with Pakistan instead of military ones it would be better for both sides. addressing poverty and unemployment in Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries will go much further in addressing terrorism rather than bombing a few dispensable martyrs.

    These aren’t mutually exclusive activities…

    Both can be done and in any good counter insurgency strategy, a political solution is sought via a combination of activities that includes military, economic, and social tools. Above all, the demographics from which the recent crop of the key terrorists came from isn’t poor and unemployed. Marc Sageman’s Understanding Terrorist Networks goes into it empirically (as much open source information as possible).

  28. sure you can pursue economic gains and military means to combat terrorism at the same time. my feeling is that unless there is an eminent threat to the US, we should not be firing missiles into other countries and causing more blowback. if we do kill strategic targets we should do it quietly and not advertise it. I would prefer to work with the host govt (even if they are incompetent) or disengage from the country if we cannot maintain a working relationship.

  29. Two reasons I don’t see these attacks as a huge paradigm shift (mercy on my soul for using that phrase): 1)

    In the nice, predictable Westphalian world, terrorism was a police operation and American cops / FBI (or, more directly Afghan cops) would make a quick call to their neighboring jurisdiction and expect ‘em to dispatch resources to nab the perps.

    I am not an expert in international law either, but really, has it ever been as simple as that? Isn’t extradition always vulnerable to politics? eg, when Austria requested Carlos the Jackal’s extradition, Algeria refused. France was also politely told that a request would be pointless. Also, its been a long time since I read all this, but wasn’t it an open secret for a long time that Carlos was the guest of various eastern bloc countries, but no one requested his extradition cos of plausible deniability of these countries. Also some countries (eg, France,Japan) have laws where they never extradite citizens. Wasn’t there a huge controversy where a psychopath killed a girl in France and escaped to Japan. Japan refused to extradite as he was a citizen. India has been asking Pakistan to extradite Dawood Ibrahim for ages: not much luck with that either. Also why did Isreal kidnap Eichmann if an extradition request would have sufficed?

    2) There’s a v good chance that Pakistan has been told that this would happen from time to time, and has been offered something in return. Otherwise it would be really easy for Pakistan to sabotage US’s efforts in Afghanistan, without the US ever finding out. The US is also clearly limited in who it can take out/get out of Pakistan, eg, it clearly has no chance of extraditing AQ Khan, though his shenanigans in nuclear arms trafficking are well-known.

    Finally, Iron man style take-em-outs are wicked cool, but I doubt they make a huge difference. As chachaji pointed out, no one has been able to hold the area. Also, as long as there are funds available, there will be recruits. What I don’t understand is, how do money/weapons get into the NWFP and to the Taliban? The US can’t control what happening in there, but the money must be getting into Pakistan somehow and from there to these guys. Can’t they trace this trail and shut it off?

  30. if the US had better trade relations with Pakistan instead of military ones it would be better for both sides. addressing poverty and unemployment in Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries will go much further in addressing terrorism rather than bombing a few dispensable martyrs.

    Please see Ayesha Jalal’s work on exactly how Pakistan came to be dominated by the military and the bureaucracy from its very beginning. Imperial rivarly (first U.S./UK and then U.S./Soviet Union), defense considerations, etc., have ALWAYS been tied to Pakistan’s political economy. What would be a better first step than more aid from a bad-faith player (i.e. the US) is simply giving Pakistan the space to do what it needs to – i.e. policy autonomy. Which Pakistan would have to fight for–as all other countries in the global South have to, including China and India–but in Pakistan’s case might require a different geopolitics in the world (i.e. the ability to pit a China or some other power off the U.S.). And even that is far from ideal, but at least it lets the Pakistani upper classes make their own mistakes instead of being dependent on imposed policies from the U.S. (sort of like how Brazil refused to stop making generic AIDS medication).

    I think the difference in authority structures between the rest of South Asia and the NWFP tribes came partly from the terrain. Traditional proto-state structures never got established – the kinship group was all there was. Given the nature of the terrain also, large land-holdings do not exist, or make sense, so that feudalism as we know it elsewhere in India and Pakistan, and which is the dominant form in the Indus Valley in Pakistan – never arose there.

    Chachaji, I don’t know enough about the NWFP, as I stated above, so your insights are really valuable – especially the focus on geography. So thank you again :)

    Just to push a bit further: protostate, feudal…this is a very loaded discourse, though I think I understand what you mean here and can make sense of it on my own terms…But on the discourse, Sudpita Kaviraj is another writer you might want to take a look at for his description of how state/society work in South Asia, though more theory than empirical work. He’s drawn a distinction between states and societies as understood in the contemporary sense (impersonal blah blah blah and geselleschaft i think he says) and states and societies as any political and social arrangement – which is i think where studies of south asian history, politics, ethnicity, etc. need to start with, to understand that the terms and categories are derived from a specific European history and then rebuild terms and categories that are applicable to South Asia (or at least Mughal-era South Asia). So he has a conception of “fuzzy self-regulating communities” that form a circle of cirlces, and a removed and impersonal state (in the general sense) that sits in the middle…and only occasionally intervenes – which is obviously very different from our contemporary notions of state and society.

    The reason I mention all this is that it’s really important to keep the language clear in order that the ideas don’t get obscured and lead to a series of misunderstandings, potential misapplications of the wrong history, and the “dialogue of the deaf” that comes from people with different paradigms talking (TJ Byres :)

    Anyway, I just woke up, so I imagine that’s all very confusing, but I can’t really do any better in my haze and my masters-thesis-needing-to-write-and-find-a-job state :)

  31. What I don’t understand is, how do money/weapons get into the NWFP and to the Taliban? The US can’t control what happening in there, but the money must be getting into Pakistan somehow and from there to these guys. Can’t they trace this trail and shut it off?

    In Afghanistan, I thought it was primarily the opium trade (real ethicists, the Taliban ;) . I don’t know if NWFP has the same economy. And I’d guess there’s elicit activities like arms trade, political buyoffs (I’m sure they’re getting some money or other assistance from somewhere else, whether private or public, and maybe elsewhere, including the U.S.).

    The trouble with tracing trails and shutting them off is that you have to know where they are, you have to have the capacity to do it, and you have to be able to do it within political limits without causing much larger consequences. Given the, um, lack of success of the “war on drugs” and basically every other attempt to criminalize largescale sections of the economy as well as the inability of basically every attempt ever by a foreign power to secure Afghanistan and NWFP physically, it seems doubtful that the U.S. government would be able to do so or at minimum that it’s in their political interests to do so – hence the pressure on Pakistan. Especially on things like the elicit arms trade that it benefits from, or has participated in the past and probably does in the present – even if this particular case has come to bite back. It’s like invading Russian in the winter – just always a bad idea.

    But that aside, the cracks-in-the-armament is the story right? Al Qaeda and Timothy McVeigh didn’t play a huge role in creating contemporary geopolitics and global economics…they just took advantage of the gaps that were there. And all of a sudden the U.S. public is awakened to the reality that there were gaps in the system, and they freak out and support or condone all kinds of lunacy out of fear.

    I highly recommend V for Vendetta :)

  32. Apparently this is not the first time this Al-Masri character has been ‘netted’, at least according to the conspiracy theorists. There is good reason to suspect terrorists are being produced at convenient times for the US as well as Pak administrations. One wonders what the war is really all about, because as I see it the American and Pakistani governments are working together. Debating international law seems pointless when the information we are fed is quite suspect.

  33. I happen to believe that the U.S. pretty much bought permission to fire into the tribal areas by agreeing to upgrade Pakistan’s F-16. You cannot state that explicitly, but is the timing purely coincidental?

  34. I have read this explanations of the NWFP and FATA, as the region that the Pakistan government does not have any power in. I feel that this is a convinient excuse. If the Pakistan Government does not have sovereignity over that area then why call it part of Pakistan?? Why not move to make them independant in a gradual process so that they can be dealth with as a nation??

    The real reason I believe is that majority opinion in Pakistan might be same as the opinions of the people of FATA (except the Karachi elites living in the “defence colony”). As a result the central Pakistan government, be it military govt or civilian, always hides behind this argument that we cant do anything, because they are “un-governable”.

  35. There’s a v good chance that Pakistan has been told that this would happen from time to time, and has been offered something in return. Otherwise it would be really easy for Pakistan to sabotage US’s efforts in Afghanistan, without the US ever finding out

    In fact even the exasperation expressed by US publicly is a show to the American public to get more money because Bin Laden is not the only priority in that region but also the ability to exert military influence in the strait of Hormutz ,Iran and Israel. Everything has to mesh in grand strategy even amongst individual acts of violation of international law. Pakistan is just a pawn in the game and both US and Pak’s military/ISI are feeding each other under the table. The problem will the mess created and who will pay to clean up in the long term. Note as Gates has rightly said -

    Secretary Gates, who has called for greater emphasis on diplomatic and economic tools to further American interests, warned in a speech this month about the “militarization” of American foreign policy and repeated his calls for building new civilian capacity for strengthening fragile states

    And more of such brazen acts (though successful this time) can cause more problems in the long term especially if they leads to collateral damage.

  36. 36 · RC said

    I have read this explanations of the NWFP and FATA, as the region that the Pakistan government does not have any power in. I feel that this is a convinient excuse. If the Pakistan Government does not have sovereignity over that area then why call it part of Pakistan?? Why not move to make them independant in a gradual process so that they can be dealth with as a nation??

    RC, this may in fact happen. The ‘independent nation’ of Pakhtoonistan was in fact mooted in the late 1940s and 1950s, in part because Pakhtoons didn’t exactly like reporting to the Pakistan Government (then based in Karachi). They also probably wouldn’t have liked reporting to the Indian government in Delhi. The demand for Pakhtoonistan was articulated in some form by the ‘Frontier Gandhi’, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who didn’t exactly get on with the Muslim League. At any rate the demand was suppressed by Pakistan, and the ISI was put into action to ‘manage’ the ‘separatist sentiment’ and the tribes. Much repression followed.

    Six decades later, Khan Sahib’s grandson Asfandyar Wali Khan is the leader of the Awami National Party, which rules in NWFP. He may have finally convinced the Pakistan Government to rename the NWFP (known as ‘suba-e-sarhad’ or ‘frontier province’ in Urdu) as ‘Pakhtoonkhwaa’ earlier this year – in part to give vent to (and co-opt within Pakistan) any feeling of ‘distinctness’ Pakhtoons might feel.

    But I don’t think that’s the end of the story. The idea in some form may yet come back, some time in the future. Such a Pakhtoonkhwaa could be distinct from (but federated with) both a (slightly truncated) Pakistan and Afghanistan, as part of a larger South Asian Union. Maybe.

    To the larger point – the writ of the Pakistan Government is in fact weaker in the NWFP, and more especially FATA. And when convenient, they will use that as an excuse. They will make it look like they have even less control than they do. But there should be nothing new in that, for seasoned observers like yourself!

  37. 35 · KXB said

    I happen to believe that the U.S. pretty much bought permission to fire into the tribal areas by agreeing to upgrade Pakistan’s F-16. You cannot state that explicitly, but is the timing purely coincidental?

    KXB, I think the F-16 deal (4 delivered to Pakistan) was a ‘consolation prize’ in view of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Pakistan wants one of its own, or at least, it wants to have India’s IAEA and NSG agreements loaded with severe conditions. It’s going to be a while before they get theirs. But they were persuaded to withdraw their motion in Vienna. The F-16 played a role. That’s the only timing that makes sense to me.

    The ‘firing’ into the tribal areas has been going on for quite a while, almost since 2001. ‘Permission’ for that was ‘bought’ with the overall aid package from the US to Pakistan.

  38. The trouble with tracing trails and shutting them off is that you have to know where they are, you have to have the capacity to do it, and you have to be able to do it within political limits without causing much larger consequences. Given the, um, lack of success of the “war on drugs” and basically every other attempt to criminalize largescale sections of the economy as well as the inability of basically every attempt ever by a foreign power to secure Afghanistan and NWFP physically, it seems doubtful that the U.S. government would be able to do so or at minimum that it’s in their political interests to do so – hence the pressure on Pakistan.

    I meant the money and arms trail inside Pakistan. eg, Peshawar in NWFP and nearby Darra have open arms markets. The tribal areas might be outside the Pak army’s reach, but surely it can re-establish order here. If you cut off arms supply to Afghanistan, that is a huge victory, and not that out of reach. The Pak military did control these areas not so long ago, and still does to some extent.

  39. 25 · chachaji said

    24 · Dr AmNonymous said
    On a tangent (i.e. not directly related to your argument about NWFP), I just want to contest the comparison of the Mughal state to present-day nation-states in this analogy
    Thank you for the thank you! My reference to the situation during the Mughals was merely in passing, because I had in fact been reading about this just a little bit earlier. It was not intended to set up a defensible analogy with present-day conceptions of sovereignty etc. The rest of the comment stands on its own without the reference to the Mughals. Thanks for the Irfan Habib insight, I will keep it in mind as I read more on the subject. I think the difference in authority structures between the rest of South Asia and the NWFP tribes came partly from the terrain. Traditional proto-state structures never got established – the kinship group was all there was. Given the nature of the terrain also, large land-holdings do not exist, or make sense, so that feudalism as we know it elsewhere in India and Pakistan, and which is the dominant form in the Indus Valley in Pakistan – never arose there. But the multi-level jirga system, that arose to regulate relationships between the tribes, approximates the Athenian conception of democracy quite well – participation and representation at the individual level, with the least amount of upward delegation. The much romanticized (individual and) tribal ‘honor’ codes also arose precisely because over-arching state structures don’t exist. Like in the Wild West, it simply doesn’t make sense not to be armed, or to appear to have even the slightest tolerance for the smallest slight, leave alone for the kowtowing, bullying or domination that is involved when dealing with a state, or a state functionary.

    Also, the Loya Jirga judiciary system was introduced by the Mongolians. It resembles the Greek system, because you want it to. However, you could have also said that it resembles the Fulani’s code of tribal justice since all elements of society act as judges.

  40. I meant the money and arms trail inside Pakistan. eg, Peshawar in NWFP and nearby Darra have open arms markets. The tribal areas might be outside the Pak army’s reach, but surely it can re-establish order here. If you cut off arms supply to Afghanistan, that is a huge victory, and not that out of reach. The Pak military did control these areas not so long ago, and still does to some extent.

    I honestly don’t know, but I would guess that it would be political suicide for a regime still trying to find its feet (they’re trying to impeach Musharraf…I doubt they want to order the army ANYWHERE right now), that the conception of “order” here might need to be modified to more closely resemble whatever the status quo is in NWFP :) , and that it might have severe implications on the ability of Pakistan to hold together. Simply put, it usually doesn’t work if you try to impose state control through force when you don’t have the money and national ideology to maintain it. And this is assuming a unified state organization – which Pakistan clearly doesn’t have, whatever the different agendas might be of the different political parties, parts of the military, ISI, the local leaders there, not to mention the groups in Afghanistan. What’s victory for some parties might be defeat for others.

    Simply put, why would Pakistan’s civilian government put its neck out as you’re suggesting unless it is forced to? And if it is reluctant (with good reason) and forced to through threat of force or loss of aid, what will happen to Pakistan? But again, this is pure speculation and conjecture – I’m sure someone else could provide more insightful analysis of it that’s based on stuff besides the random thoughts in one’s head :)

  41. the Loya Jirga judiciary system was introduced by the Mongolians. It resembles the Greek system, because you *want* it to.

    Good point. Macaulay’s colonial educational strategy for spawning euro-centric desi house slaves shamefully continues to work even after decades of “independence”.

  42. Valmiki – knock it off with the “house slaves” crap. Lest ye get banned. We’ve enjoyed your comments to date so this is a simple warning for now.