Let’s Not Apply Anbar Model in Pakistan

Last year American adventures abroad became British. What I mean is that as the British once learned how to play various Muslim (as well as Hindu and African) groups against one another in order to achieve their stated objectives across … Read More

By / November 20, 2007

Last year American adventures abroad became British. What I mean is that as the British once learned how to play various Muslim (as well as Hindu and African) groups against one another in order to achieve their stated objectives across the world, so did the US. This occurred, primarily, in the context of the counter-insurgency in Iraq, where the US started to fund tribal Sunnis (that had previously been resisting the Americans) in an effort to turn them against the foreign fighters from al-Qaeda. That strategy, now called the Anbar Model is the most popular form of counter-terrorism we now have.

It should be recognized that in Iraq, this proxy-fighting was first initiated by the Saudis who, in order to off-set the Iranian influence upon al-Sadr, had started backing Sunni insurgents. I think seeing various Muslim groups playing other groups against one another, probably gave us the moral liberty to engage in the strategy.

Now, news comes that we are going to be developing a similar strategy for Pakistan in helping it deal with its extremists in the tribal and northern areas.

If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States now has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach.

The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships, to be forged in this case by Pakistani troops backed by the United States, can be made without a significant American military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes, some of which are working with Pakistan's intelligence agency.

My sense is that we should look at this strategy very carefully.

The increase in American military in Pakistan is going to be set off a proverbial shit-storm, unleashing a torrent of violence that will take quite a bit of time to die down, especially if it hits the suburbs of Karachi and Lahore. Once it does die down, then the Anbar model will — in all likelihood — succeed and we can say that we eliminated terrorism in the frontier regions. But if that torrent of violence lasted three years in Iraq, it can only last longer in Pakistan, and in all likelihood be even more frightening. Is that a price we are willing to pay? Is it it one that we should subject the Pakistani people to? As it stands today, Pakistan is far more laced with extremist ideology than Iraq ever was. Saddam had done a demonically good job of rooting out the jihadists. Musharraf, not so much. Not to mention that Pakistan has an institutional madrassa structure that feeds extremism in a way that simply was not present in Iraq. Pakistan is not Iraq, I repeat. When it comes to extremists, it is worse, because the extremists have managed to stitch themselves into the heart of Pakistan's underground economies, its racketeering, its smugglers, its drug traders, its politicians, and yes, even its military.

I would — temporarily putting aside the very important (and not to be overlooked) question of Pakistani sovereignty — therefore, caution very strongly, if not outright oppose any American presence in Pakistan, lest I am accused of being partisan on this, I opposed it even when Obama suggested it. It will make things worse before it makes things better at a social, political, and human cost that I do not think either our public or the Pakistani public has the will to bear.

On paper, yes, Anbar model is a great idea. But it is called Anbar model for a reason.

When it comes to Pakistan, we are not ready to really use the Anbar model. After all, in Iraq, our counter-insurgency tactics are tied, root and branch, to democracy promotion. In Pakistan, on the other hand, we have shown only marginal interest in democracy, prefer the military dictator there, nor have any actual say in the democratic make-up of the country. How exactly the Anbar model can work in Pakistan without a functioning democracy is beyond me. Why it works in Iraq is simple: we tell the tribes that if they win, they get their country where they get to represent themselves. What are we going to tell the Pakistanis? "Hey, die for us, oh and good luck with your Military Overlord. Voting? Oh, that's over-rated!"

I do have a suggestion for an effective counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan — one that is a modified version of the Anbar model, but comes without the crucible that is American troop presence. It involves a) democracy promotion in Pakistan, b) a loya jirga led by an Islamist broker from the mainstream religious parties serving as mediator between the Pakistani government and the northern warlords, c) continued military assistance to the Pakistani military, especially its secular faction d) a rapproachment between the Pakistani government and the separatist Baloch and Pashtun insurgencies which are now many decades old and after initially being opposed to the Taliban are now turning a blind eye against them, and e) madrassa reform (which is just not going at the rate it needs to be).

If a loya jirga was good enough to establish the Afghan constitution after thirty years of invasion and civil war, it is good enough to create remedial measures between the government of Pakistan and the extremists. One of the central, if not the critical, component of this loya jirga would have to be the demand by Pakistan for the expulsion of all foreign militants (in return, perhaps, for amnesty for the local militants). The other element of the loya jirga has to be the firm stance — coming from the Pakistani military — that all appeasement is over. The loya jirga cannot work if behind the scenes the Pakistani military, which has previously used the militants as its civilian doppleganger, is not ready to let go of its ties to the militants. So, if there is anything the US military needs to be doing, it is to help create a screening process that Pakistani generals can install to cull their own traitors. This may actually mean that Musharraf has to cull himself.

As it stands today, Musharraf has taken an "attack when America is looking, and appease when it isn't" approach. Now we are going in and saying "we're going to oversee everything all the time and here are a bunch of GI's to further inflame the situation." I think both of those approaches are flawed, not to mention short-sighted, anti-democratic, and impractical.

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