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U.S.-NATO: Facing the Reality of Risk in Pakistan [复制链接]


Pakistan is the primary channel through which U.S. and NATO supplies travel to support the war effort in Afghanistan. The reason for this is quite simple: Pakistan offers the shortest and most logistically viable overland supply routes for Western forces operating in landlocked Afghanistan. Once Pakistan found itself in the throes of an intensifying insurgency mid-2007, however, U.S. military strategists had to seriously consider whether the United States would be able to rely on Pakistan to keep these supply lines open, especially when military plans called for increasing the number of troops in theater.

In late 2008, as Pakistan continued its downward spiral, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. David Petraeus began touring Central Asian capitals in an attempt to stitch together supplemental supply lines into northern Afghanistan. Soon enough, Washington learned that it was fighting an uphill battle in trying to negotiate in Russian-dominated Central Asia without first reaching a broader understanding with Moscow. With U.S.-Russian negotiations now in flux and the so-called “northern distribution network” frozen, the United States has little choice but to face the reality in Pakistan.

This reality is rooted in the Pakistani Taliban’s desire to spread south beyond the Pashtun-dominated northwest tribal badlands (where attacks against the U.S.-NATO supply lines are already intensifying) into the Pakistani core in Punjab province. Punjab is Pakistan’s industrial heartland and home to more than half of the entire Pakistani population. If the Taliban manage to establish a foothold in Punjab, then the idea of a collapsing Pakistani state would actually become a realistic scenario. The key to preventing such a scenario is keeping the Pakistani military, the country’s most powerful institution, intact. However, splits within the military over how to handle the insurgency while preserving ties with militant proxies are threatening the military’s cohesion. Moreover, the threats to the supply lines go even further south than Punjab. The port of Karachi in Sindh province, where U.S.-NATO supplies are offloaded from ships, could be destabilized if the Taliban provoke local political forces.

In league with their jihadist brethren across the border in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban and their local affiliates are just as busy planning their next steps in the insurgency as the United States is in planning its counterinsurgency strategy. Afghanistan is a country that is not kind to outsiders, and the overwhelming opinion of the jihadist forces battling Western, Pakistani and Afghan troops in the region is that this is a war that can be won through the power of exhaustion. Key to this strategy will be an attempt to make the position of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan untenable by increasing risk to their supply lines in Pakistan.

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A Dearth of Security Options

As the pre-eminent global maritime power, the United States is able to sustain military operations far beyond its coastlines. Afghanistan, however, is a landlocked country whose inaccessibility prevents the U.S. military from utilizing its naval prowess. Instead, the United States and NATO must bring in troops, munitions and militarily sensitive materiel directly by air and rely on long, overland supply routes through Pakistan for non-lethal supplies such as food, building materials and fuel (most of which is refined in Pakistan). This logistical challenge is compounded by the fact that the overland supply routes run through a country that is trying to battle its own jihadist insurgency.

The deteriorating security situation in Pakistan now requires an effective force to protect the supply convoys. Though sending a couple of U.S.-NATO brigades into Pakistan would provide first-rate security for these convoys, such an option would be political dynamite in U.S.-Pakistani relations. Pakistan already has an extremely low tolerance for CIA activity and U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle attacks on its soil. The sight of Western forces operating openly in the country would be a red line that Islamabad simply could not cross. Even if this were an option, U.S.-NATO forces are already stretched to the limit in Afghanistan and there are no troops to spare to send into Pakistan — nor is there the desire on the part of the United States or NATO to insert their troops into such a dicey security situation.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus

Enlisting the Pakistani military would be another option, but the Pentagon has thus far resisted allowing the Pakistani military to take direct charge of protecting and transporting U.S.-NATO supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan. The reasons for this are unclear, but they likely can be attributed (at least in part) to U.S. distrust for the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus, which is heavily infiltrated by Islamist sympathizers who retain links to their militant Islamist proxies.

Instead, CENTCOM’s logistics team has given the security responsibility to private Pakistani security contractors. This is not unusual in recent U.S. military campaigns, which have come to rely on private contractors for many logistical and security functions, including local firms in countries linked to the military supply chain. In Pakistan, such contractors provide security escorts to Pakistani truck drivers who transport supplies from the port of Karachi through Pakistan via a northern route and a southern route into Afghanistan, where the supplies are then delivered to key logistical hubs. While this approach provided sufficient security in the early years of the Afghan campaign, it has recently become an issue because of increasingly aggressive attacks by Taliban and other militants in Pakistan.

STRATFOR is told that many within the Pakistani military have long resented the fact that Washington has not entrusted them with the responsibility to secure the routes. The reasons behind the Pakistani military’s complaints are twofold. First, the military feels that its authority is being undermined by the dealings between the U.S. military and local contractors. Even beyond these deals, the Pakistani military consistently expresses its frustration when it is not the chief interlocutor with the United States in Pakistan, and has done so as much when U.S. officials have met with local leaders in the country and with the civilian government in Islamabad.

Second, there is a deep financial interest on the part of the military, which does not want to miss out on the large profits reaped by private security contractors in protecting the supply routes. As a result, Pakistani security forces are believed to turn a blind eye and occasionally even facilitate attacks on U.S. and NATO convoys in Pakistan in order to pressure Washington into giving the contracts to the better-equipped Pakistani military. That said, it is unclear whether the Pakistani military could fulfill such a commitment since the military itself is already stretched thin between its operations along the Afghan-Pakistani border and its massive military focus on the eastern border with India.

Many of the private Pakistani security companies guarding the routes are owned by wealthy Pakistani civilians who have strong links to government and to retired military officials. The private Pakistani security firms currently guarding the routes include Ghazi Security, Ready Guard, Phoenix Security Agency and SE Security Agency. Most of the main offices of these companies are located in Islamabad, but these contractors have also hired smaller security agencies in Peshawar. The private companies that own terminals used for the northern and southern supply routes include al Faisal Terminal (whose owner has been kidnapped by militants and whose whereabouts are unknown), Bilal Terminal (owned by Shahid Ansari from Punjab), World Port Logistics (owned by Major Fakhar, a nephew of former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf), Raziq International, Peace Line, Pak-Afghan and Waqar Terminal.

While the owners of these security firms make a handsome profit from the U.S.-NATO military contracts, the guards who actually drive and protect the trucks ferrying supplies make a meager salary, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 rupees (under $65) per month. Not surprisingly, the security is shoddy, with three to five poorly trained and equipped guards usually spread throughout a convoy who are easily overrun by Taliban forces that frequently attack the convoys in hordes. Given their poor compensation, these security guards feel little compulsion to hold their positions and resist concerted assaults.

A Pakistani soldier stands guards on top of an armored personnel carrier on a street in Quetta on April 12

The motivations for attacks against the supply infrastructure can vary. The Taliban and their jihadist affiliates are ideologically driven to target Western forces and increase the cost for them to remain in the region. There are also a number of criminally motivated fighters who adopt the Taliban label as a convenient cover but who are far more interested in making a profit. Both groups can benefit from racketeering enterprises that allow them to extort hefty protection fees from private security firms in return for the contractors’ physical safety.

One Pakistani truck driver relayed a story in which he was told by a suspected Taliban operative to leave his truck and come back in the morning to drive to Afghanistan. When the driver returned he found the truck on fire. Inadequate security allows for easy infiltration and manipulation by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which is already heavily penetrated by Islamist sympathizers. Drivers will often strike a deal with the militants allowing raids on the convoys in return for a cut of the proceeds once the goods are sold on the black market. One indication of just how porous U.S.-NATO security arrangements are in Pakistan is that the commander of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), is allegedly a former transporter himself now using jihad as a cover for his criminal activities.

STRATFOR is not aware of any plans by the Pentagon to turn these security contracts over to the Pakistani military. It is even more unclear whether doing so would do much to improve the situation. If the U.S. military continues to rely on these contractors to guard the supply routes in the face of a growing Taliban threat, certain changes could be made to enhance the contractors’ capabilities. Already, U.S. logistics teams are revising the northern route by moving some of the supply depots farther south in Punjab where the security threat is lower (though the Taliban are attempting to expand their presence there). More funding could also be directed toward these security contractors to ensure that the guards protecting the convoys are properly trained and paid sufficiently to give them more of an incentive to resist Taliban attacks. Nonetheless, the current outsourcing to private Pakistani security firms is evidently fraught with complications that are unlikely to be resolved in the near term.

Karachi: The Starting Point

Both supply routes originate in Pakistan’s largest city and primary seaport, Karachi. The city is Pakistan’s financial hub and provides critical ocean access for U.S.-NATO logistics support in Afghanistan. If Karachi — a city already known to have a high incidence of violence — were to destabilize, the Western military supply chain could be threatened even before supplies embarked on the lengthy and volatile journey through the rest of Pakistan.

There are two inter-linking security risks in Karachi: the local ruling party — the Mutahiddah Qaumi Movement (MQM) — and the Islamist militancy. The MQM is a political movement representing the Muhajir ethnic community of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India. Since its rise in the 1980s, the party has demonstrated a proclivity for ethnic-driven violence through its armed cadres. While the MQM does not have a formal militia and is part of the Sindh provincial legislature as well as the national parliament, the party is very sensitive about any challenges to its power base in the metropolitan Karachi area and controls powerful organized crime groups in the city. On many occasions, clashes between MQM and other rival political forces have paralyzed the city.

Armed Pakistani militants

Ideologically speaking, the MQM is secular and has been firmly opposed to Islamist groups since its inception. The party has been watching nervously as the Taliban have crept southward from their stronghold in the country’s northwest. In recent weeks, the MQM also has been the loudest political voice in the country sounding the alarm against the growing jihadist threat. The party is well aware that any jihadist strategy that aims to strike at Pakistan’s economic nerve center and the most critical node of the U.S.-NATO supply lines makes Karachi a prime target.

The MQM is particularly concerned that Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will try to encroach on its turf in Karachi. While the Waziristan-based TTP itself has very little presence in Karachi, it does have a jihadist network in the city that could be utilized. Many Taliban members come from Pashtun tribes and derive much of their political support from Pashtun populations. Karachi has a Pashtun population of 3.5 million, making up some 30 percent of the city’s population. Moreover, Karachi police have reported that Taliban members are among the “several hundred thousand” tribesmen fleeing violence in the frontier regions who have settled on the outskirts of Karachi.

Jihadists have thus far demonstrated a limited ability to operate in the city. In 2002, jihadists kidnapped and killed U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and attacked the U.S. Consulate. In a 2007 suicide attack on a vehicle belonging to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, jihadists killed a U.S. diplomat and injured 52 others on the eve of one of then-President George W. Bush’s rare trips to Pakistan. A host of Pakistani jihadist groups as well as “al Qaeda Prime” (its core leadership) have been active in the area, evidenced by the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, deputy coordinator of the 9/11 attacks, in Karachi in 2002.

Until now the MQM did not perceive the Taliban to be a direct threat to its hold over the city, but the MQM is now feeling vulnerable given the Taliban’s spread in the north. There has been a historic tension between the MQM and the significant Pashtun minority in Karachi. The MQM regards this minority with deep suspicion because it believes the Pashtuns could provide a safe haven for Pashtun jihadists seeking to extend their influence to the south.

In the wake of the “shariah for peace” agreement in the Swat district of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), tensions have risen between the MQM and the country’s largest Pashtun political group, the Awami National Party (ANP), which rules the NWFP and is the party chiefly responsible for negotiating the peace agreement with the Tehrik-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), the jihadist group in the greater Swat region. MQM’s 19 members of parliament were the only ones who did not vote in favor of the Swat peace deal, which has amplified its concerns over the threat of Talibanization in Pakistan. In response, TNSM leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad has declared parliamentarians who oppose the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation non-Muslims. The MQM is also trying to mobilize religious groups that oppose the Sunni Islamic Deobandi movement, particularly Barelvis, against the Taliban.

With rising Muhajir-Pashtun ethnic tensions, the MQM-ANP spat and the MQM’s fear of a jihadist threat to its authority, conditions in Karachi are slowly building toward a confrontation. Should jihadists demonstrate a capability to step up operations in the city, the MQM will show little to no restraint in cracking down on the city’s Pashtun minority through its armed cadres, which would lead to wider-scale clashes between the MQM and the Pashtun community. There is a precedent for urban conflict in Karachi, and it could cause authorities to impose a citywide curfew that would disrupt operations at the port and impede supplies from making their way out of the city.

The situation described above is still a worst-case scenario. Since Karachi is the financial center of the country, the MQM-controlled local government, the federal government in Islamabad and the Rawalpindi-based military establishment all share an interest in preserving stability in this key city. It will also likely take some time before Pakistani jihadists are able to project power that far south. Even a few days or weeks of turmoil in Karachi, however, will threaten the country’s economy — which is already on the verge of bankruptcy — and further undercut the weakened state’s ability to address the growing insecurity. So far, the MQM has kept its hold over Karachi, but the Taliban already have their eyes on the city, and it would not take much to provoke the MQM into a confrontation that could threaten a crucial link in the U.S.-NATO supply chain.

The Northern Route

The northern route through Pakistan, used for transporting the bulk of U.S.-NATO overland supplies to Afghanistan, travels through four provinces — Sindh, Punjab, the NWFP and the tribal badlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — before it snakes its way through the Khyber Pass to reach the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan.

Route Variations

Convoys generally travel on main north-south national highway N-5 or a combination of N-5 and N-55 from Karachi to Torkham, a distance that can range from approximately 1,325 kilometers to 1,820 kilometers. Most transporters say they prefer the combination of N-5 and N-55, which allows them to cut across Sindh by switching from N-5 to N-65 near Sukkur and then jumping onto N-55 at Shikarpur before heading into Punjab. A small percentage of trucks (some 5 percent) use a combination of national highways and what are called “motorways,” essentially expressways that allow for better security, have no traffic lights and avoid urban centers. These motorways also have fewer chokepoints and thus fewer opportunities for militant ambushes, but they also lack rest stops, which is why most convoys travel on the national highways.

Pakistani transporters tell STRATFOR that they typically decide on a day-to-day basis whether to go the longer N-5 route or the shorter N-55 route. If they feel the security situation is bad enough, they are far more likely to take the longer N-5 route to Peshawar, which reduces their risk because it goes through less volatile areas — essentially, less of the NWFP. With the Taliban rapidly taking over territory in the NWFP, trucks are likely to rely more heavily on N-5.


Once the trucks leave Karachi, the stretch of road through Sindh province is the safest along the entire northern route. Most of Sindh, especially the rural areas, form the core support base of the secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which controls both the federal and the provincial governments. Outside of Karachi, there is virtually no serious militant Islamist presence in the province. However, small pockets of jihadists do pop up from time to time. In 2004, a top Pakistani militant leader, Amjad Farooqi of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), who worked closely with al Qaeda Prime operational commander Abu Faraj al-Libi and was responsible for assassination attempts on Musharraf, was killed in a shootout with police in the town of Nawabshah in central Sindh.


Once out of Sindh and into Punjab province, the northern supply route enters the core of Pakistan, the political, industrial and agricultural heartland of the country where some 60 percent of the population is concentrated. The province is also the mainstay of the country’s powerful military establishment, with six of the army’s nine corps are headquartered in the key urban areas of Rawalpindi, Mangla, Lahore, Gujranwala, Bahawalpur and Multan.

This province has not yet witnessed jihadist attacks targeting the U.S.-NATO supply chain, but the jihadist threat in Punjab is slowly rising. Major jihadist figures have found a save haven in the province, evidenced by the fact that several top al Qaeda leaders, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were captured in various parts of Punjab, including Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Gujarat. Punjab also has witnessed a number of high-profile jihadist attacks in major cities, including suicide bombings in the capital, Islamabad, and its twin city Rawalpindi (where the military is headquartered) as well as manpower-heavy armed assaults in the provincial capital, Lahore, where teams of gunmen have assaulted both moving and stationary targets. The attacks have mostly targeted Pakistani security installations and have been conducted mainly by Pashtun jihadists in conjunction with Punjabi jihadist allies. The bulk of jihadist activity in the province takes place in the northern part of Punjab, closer to the NWFP border, where suicide bombings have been concentrated.

Pakistani soldiers guard trucks carrying NATO supplies on a street in the Khyber tribal region near the Afghan border on Jan. 1

The Punjabi jihadist phenomenon was born in the 1980s, when the military regime of Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq aggressively pursued a policy of Islamization to secure power and weaken his principal opponent, the PPP, whose government he had overthrown to come to power. It was during the Zia years that Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, was heavily involved in backing Islamist militias to fight the Marxist government and its allied Soviet troops Afghanistan, where many of the Punjab-based groups joined the Pashtun groups and had their first taste of battle. Later in the 1990s, many of these Punjabi groups, who followed an extremist Deobandi interpretation of Sunni Islam, were used by the security establishment to support the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and to aid the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir. Sectarian groups like Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) were also developed to help the regime keep the Shiite minority in Pakistan contained.

Pakistan’s Afghan and Kashmiri jihadist project suffered a major setback with the 9/11 attacks against the United States and the American response. Caught between contradictory objectives — the need to align itself with the United States and to preserve its Islamist militant assets — Pakistan eventually lost control of many of its former Islamist militant assets, who then started teaming up with al Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in the region.

Most alarming for Islamabad is the fact that these groups are now striking at the core of Pakistan in places like Lahore, where brazen assaults were launched on March 3 against a bus carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team and on March 30 against a police academy. These attacks illustrated this trend of Pakistan’s militant proxies turning against their erstwhile patron — first in the Pashtun areas and now in Punjab. The Lahore attacks also both involved multi-man assault teams, a sign that the jihadists are able to use a large number of Islamist recruits from the province itself.

Though Pakistan came under massive pressure to crack down on these groups in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have considerable influence in the Lahore region. Similarly, LeJ and JeM have growing pockets of support in various parts of Punjab, particularly in southern Seraiki-speaking districts such as Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan. One of the major causes of rising support for such jihadist groups in Punjab stems from a incident in 2007, when a clerical family hailing from the border region between Punjab and Balochistan led an uprising at Islamabad’s Red Mosque. The subsequent security operation to regain control of the mosque from the militants turned many locals against the military and into the arms of the Islamists.

While the major urban areas of Punjab have not been spared by jihadists, most jihadist activity in the province is concentrated closer to the provincial border with the NWFP. The route that travels along N-5 must pass through Wah, Kamra and Attock, the three main towns of northwestern Punjab. Each of these towns has been rocked by suicide attacks. Attock was the scene of a July 2004 assassination attempt against former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. Kamra, home of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, an aircraft servicing and manufacturing facility, was the scene of a December 2007 suicide attack targeting a school bus carrying children of air force personnel. In August 2008 in Wah, a pair of suicide bombers struck Pakistan’s main ordnance factory.

There are indications that such jihadist activity could creep further south into the heart of Punjab and potentially target the U.S.-NATO supply chain. The Taliban are growing bolder by the day now that they have made significant territorial gains in the greater Swat region in the NWFP further north. As the security situation in the NWFP and FATA deteriorates, U.S.-NATO supply depots and terminals are being moved further south to Punjab where they will be safer, or so it is thought. However, locals in the area are already protesting the relocation of these terminals because they know that they will run a greater chance of becoming Taliban targets the more closely attached they are to the U.S.-NATO supply chain. These people have good reason to be nervous. The jihadists are now openly declaring grander intentions of spreading beyond the Pashtun-dominated periphery into Punjab, Pakistan’s core. Though it would take some time to achieve this, these jihadist groups would have a strategic interest in carrying out attacks against Western supply lines in Punjab that could demonstrate the jihadist reach, aggravate already intense anti-U.S. sentiment and hamper U.S.-NATO logistics for the war in Afghanistan.


The last leg of the northern supply line runs through the NWFP and the tribal badlands of the FATA. This is by far the most dangerous portion along the route and where Taliban activity is already reaching a crescendo.

Once in the NWFP the route goes through the district of Nowshehra before it reaches the provincial capital Peshawar and begins to hug Taliban territory. A variety of Taliban groups based in the FATA, many of whom are part of the TTP umbrella organization and/or the Mujahideen Shura Council, have taken over several districts in western NWFP and are now on Peshawar’s doorstep. There have been several attacks in Peshawar and further north in Charsaddah, where former Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao twice escaped assassination at the hands of suicide bombers, and east in Nowshehra, where an army base was targeted.

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers inspect seized ammunition on Jan. 2

Though suicide attacks have occurred in these areas, the Pashtun jihadists are not in control of the territory in the NWFP that lies east of Peshawar. All attacks on the northern route have taken place to the west of Peshawar, on the stretch of N-5 between Peshawar and the Torkham border crossing, a distance of nearly 60 kilometers where jihadist activity is intensifying.

Once the transporters reach Peshawar, they hit what is called the “ring road” area, where 15 to 20 bus terminals are located for containers coming from Karachi to stop and then head toward Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. The area where the bus terminals are situated is under the jurisdiction of Peshawar district, a settled and relatively calm area. But when the trucks travel east on the Peshawar-Torkham road toward Afghanistan, they enter a critical danger zone. Some Pakistani truckers have refused to drive this stretch between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass for fear of being attacked. Militants destroyed a key bridge in February on the Peshawar-Torkham road, where there are a dozen of other bridges that can be targeted in future attacks. The most recent and daring attack on highway N-5 between Peshawar and Torkham was the March 27 suicide bombing of a mosque during Friday prayers that killed dozens of local political and security officials.

For those convoys that make it out of the Peshawar terminal-depot hub, the next major stop is the Khyber Pass leading into Khyber agency, where the route travels along N-5 through Jamrud, Landikotal and Michni Post and then reaches the border with Afghanistan. The border area between Peshawar district and Khyber agency is called the Karkhano Market, which is essentially a massive black market for stolen goods run by smugglers, drug dealers and other organized-crime elements. Here one can find high quality merchandise at cheap prices, including stolen goods that were meant for U.S. and NATO forces. STRATFOR sources claim they have seen U.S.-NATO military uniforms and laptops going for $100 in the market.

Khyber agency (the most developed agency in the tribal belt) has been the scene of high-profile abductions, destroyed bridges and attacks against local political and security officials. Considering the frequency of the attacks, it appears that the militants can strike at the supply chain with impunity, and with likely encouragement from Pakistani security forces. This area is inhabited by four tribes — the Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori and Shimani. But as is the case in other agencies of the FATA, the mullahs and militia commanders have usurped the tribal elders in Khyber agency. As many as three different Taliban groups in this area are battling Pakistani forces as well as each other.

Militiamen of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh’s LI, heavily patrol the Bara area and have blown up several shrines, abducted local Christians and fought gunbattles with police. LI is not part of Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP umbrella group but maintains significant influence among the tribal maliks. Mehsud is allied with another faction called the Hakimullah Group, which rivals a third faction called Amr bil Maarouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar (“Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”), whose leader, Haji Namdaar, was killed by Hakimullah militiamen.

Not all the Khyber agency militants are ideologically driven jihadists like Baitullah Mehsud of the TTP and Mullah Fazlullah of the TNSM. Some are organized-crime elements who lack religious training and have long been engaged in smuggling operations. When the Pakistani military entered the region to crack down on the insurgency, these criminal groups saw their illegal activities disrupted. To continue to earn a livelihood, many of these criminal elements were reborn as militants under the veil of jihad.

Khyber district

LI commander Bagh (the alleged former convoy driver) is uneducated overall, and never received any kind of formal religious education. He became the leader of LI two years ago when he succeeded Deobandi cleric Mufti Munir Shakir. Bagh stays clear of targeting Pakistani military forces and says his objective is to clean up the area’s criminal elements and, like his counterparts in other parts of the Pashtun region, impose a Talibanesque interpretation of religious law. This tendency on the part of organized-crime elements in Pakistan to jump on the jihad bandwagon actually runs the risk of weakening the insurgency. Because criminal groups are not ideologically driven, it is easier for Pakistani forces and U.S. intelligence operatives to bribe them away from the insurgency.

The Southern Route

The southern route into Afghanistan is the shorter of the two U.S.-NATO supply routes. The entire route traverses the 813-kilometer-long national highway N-25, running north from the port of Karachi through Sindh and northwest into Balochistan before crossing into southern Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing.

About 25 to 30 percent of the supplies going to U.S.-NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan travel along this route. Though most of the southern route through Pakistan is relatively secure, the security risks rise dramatically once the trucks cross into Afghanistan on highway A-75, which runs through the heart of Taliban country in Kandahar province and surrounding areas.

Once out of Karachi, the route through Sindh is secure. Problems arise once the trucks hit Balochistan province, a resource-rich region where ethnic Baloch separatists have waged an insurgency for decades against Punjabi rule. The Baloch insurgency is directed against the Pakistani state and is led by three main groups: the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the People’s Liberation Army. The BLA is the most active of the three and focuses its attacks on Pakistani police and military personnel, natural gas pipelines and civil servants. The Pakistani military deals with the Baloch rebels with an iron fist, but the Baloch insurgency has been a long and insoluble one. (Balochistan enjoyed autonomy under the British, and when Pakistan was created it forcibly took over the province; successive Pakistani regimes have mishandled the issue.)

Once inside Balochistan, the supply route runs first into the major industrial town of Hub (also known as Hub Chowki) and then into the Baloch capital of Quetta. These are areas that have witnessed a number of Baloch separatist attacks in recent years, including the December 2004 bombing of a Pakistani military truck in Quetta (claimed by the BLA), the killing of three Chinese engineers working at Gwadar Port in May of the same year and, more recently, the abduction of the head of the U.N. refugee agency (an American citizen) in February 2009 from Quetta. Although the Baloch insurgency has been relatively calm over the past year, unrest reignited in the province in early April after the bodies of three top Baloch rebel leaders were discovered in the Turbat area near the Iranian border. The Baloch separatist groups claim that the rebel leaders died at the hands of Pakistani security forces.

The Baloch rebels have no direct quarrel with the United States or NATO member states and are far more interested in attacking Pakistani targets. But they have struck foreign interests before in Balochistan to pressure Islamabad in negotiations. Baloch rebels also demonstrated the ability to strike Western targets in Karachi when they bombed a KFC fast-food restaurant in November 2005. Although the separatists have yet to show any interest in attacking U.S.-NATO convoys running through the region, future attacks cannot be ruled out.

The main threat along this route comes from Islamist militants who are active in the final 150-kilometer stretch of the road between the Quetta region and the Chaman border crossing. This section of highway N-25 runs through what is known as the Pashtun corridor in northwest Balochistan, bordering South Waziristan agency on the southern tip of the FATA.

Although the supply route traversing this region has seen very few attacks, the situation could easily change. A number of jihadists who have sought sanctuary from the firefights farther north as well as Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar and his Quetta Shura (or leadership council) are believed to be hiding in the Quetta area. The Pashtun corridor also is the stronghold of Pakistan’s largest Islamist party, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. In addition, the al Qaeda-linked anti-Shiite group LeJ has been engaged in sectarian and other attacks in the region. Northwestern Balochistan also is a key launchpad for Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan and is the natural extension of Pakistani Taliban activity in the tribal belt. Although the Baloch separatists are firmly secular in their views, they have been energized by the rise of Islamist groups fighting the same enemy: the Pakistani state.

A Worrisome Outlook

The developing U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan suffers from a number of strategic flaws. Chief among them is the fact — and there is no getting around it — that Pakistan serves as the primary supply line for both the Western forces and the jihadist forces fighting each other in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s balancing act between the United States and its former Islamist militant proxies is becoming untenable as many of those proxies turn against the Pakistani state. And as stability deteriorates in Pakistan, the less reliable the landscape is for facilitating the overland shipment of military supplies into Afghanistan. The Russians, meanwhile, are not exactly eager to make life easier for the United States in Afghanistan by cooperating in any meaningful way on alternate supply routes through Central Asia.

Jihadist forces in Pakistan’s northwest have already picked up on the idea that the long U.S.-NATO supply route through northern Pakistan makes a strategic and vulnerable target in their campaign against the West. Attacks on supply convoys have thus far been concentrated in the volatile tribal badlands along the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Taliban are growing bolder by the day and are publicly announcing their intent to spread beyond the Pashtun areas and into the Pakistani core of Punjab. The Pakistani government and military, meanwhile, are strategically stymied. They cannot follow U.S. orders and turn every Pashtun into an enemy, and they cannot afford to see their country crushed under the weight of the jihadists. As a result, the jihadists gain strength while the writ of the Pakistani state erodes.

But the jihadists are not the only ones that CENTCOM should be worrying about as it analyzes its logistical challenges in Pakistan. Islamist sympathizers in Pakistan’s security apparatus and organized crime elements can take — and have taken — advantage of the shoddy security infrastructure in place to transport U.S.-NATO supplies through the country. In addition, there are secular political forces in play — from the MQM in Karachi to the Baloch rebels in Quetta — that could tip the balance in areas now considered relatively safe for transporting supplies to Afghanistan.

The United States is becoming increasing reliant on Pakistan, just as Pakistan is becoming increasingly unreliable. There are no quick fixes to the problem, but the first step in addressing it is to understand the wide array of threats currently engulfing the Pakistani state.

Pakistan: Update on the Swat Offensive

The military operation against Taliban forces in Pakistan’s greater Swat region entered its 19th day on May 15. While military operations continue throughout Swat district as well as in the adjacent districts of Dir, Buner and Shangla, the main developments related to the counterjihadist offensive were political in nature. Pakistan’s government is cognizant that it needs to be able to ensure public support for the counterinsurgency operations — especially in the wake of the displacement of over a million people — and focus on complementing the military operations with humanitarian and political outreach.

A lack of military and economic resources, especially in the wake of the refugee crisis, is placing tremendous strain on the state. Therefore, both the outcome of the fighting and the ability of the government to hold ground gained in the fighting remain in question.

Curfew was relaxed for a few hours in key areas — especially in Mingora, the district headquarters of Swat — allowing tens of thousands of civilians, previously unable to leave the war zone, to flee the fighting. Even though the political and economic costs of displacing a large number of people is very high, the logic behind getting as many people out of the war zone is twofold. It is a potential means of limiting collateral damage while allowing the army to use massive force to degrade as much of the militants’ capability as possible. For this reason, Pakistan’s military is working to encircle the militants and trap them in a given area.

This approach is difficult to pull off, especially given the Taliban’s modus operandi is to avoid open combat in the face of overwhelming conventional force. This explains reports that Taliban fighters are shaving their beards to blend in with the civilians trying to get away from the fighting. The terrain and the availability of space also make it possible for the fighters to escape the battle zone. But if a significant number of the belligerents can be forced to fight in a given area, then conventional firepower could yield some major successes.

Beyond the battlefield, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani will present a briefing of the operation to members of Parliament, which is intended to garner broader political support for the offensive. Several senior officials (including Cabinet members and senior army commanders) issued statements that there is no time frame for the operation, which indicates the difficulties that the security forces face in their attempts to dislodge the Taliban from their strongholds in the area.

Lawmakers have called for the government to prepare for post-operation normalization efforts. This is key because, in the past, the militants were able to resume their activities after the end of security operations due to the halfheartedness of the offensive and especially because there were no moves to fill the political security vacuum once the army pulled out. With the failure of the peace agreement and the undertaking of a major offensive this time around, there is even more pressure on Islamabad to ensure it can retain areas cleared of militants.

Doubts and Concerns About Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal

Pakistani Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira on Monday denied a claim, published Sunday by The New York Times, that Pakistan was adding to its nuclear arsenal. Kaira said, “Pakistan does not need to expand its nuclear arsenal, but we want to make it clear that we will maintain a minimum nuclear deterrence that is essential for our defense and stability. We will not make any compromise.”

The Times had reported that, at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on May 14, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen had succinctly answered “yes,” without elaborating, when asked if he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

A nuclear arsenal cannot be expanded on a whim. The processes Mullen was referring to are products of years of labor to refine, modernize and expand the arsenal — work that in all likelihood has proceeded apace since before Pakistan’s 1998 tests (even if the focus after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks shifted for a time to security, safety, and command and control).

Mullen said he feels “comfortable,” based on what he knows and what the Pakistanis have told him, about the increased security measures established during the last three to four years to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

The Pakistanis are in the middle of one of their most aggressive offensives against the Taliban in and around Swat Valley, and they expect Washington to follow through with promises of $3 billion in military aid over the next five years and $7.5 billion in civilian assistance as a reward for their efforts. Since a good amount of unchecked U.S. aid to Pakistan frequently has been diverted to corporate entities for the benefit of military commanders in the past, U.S. lawmakers are naturally poking into every nook and cranny in Pakistan to see where future funds might wind up. Of course, the last thing Washington wants is for Pakistan to use U.S. money to beef up the very nuclear arsenal the United States is attempting to keep secure from jihadists.

But Pakistan has very different priorities in mind. A big part of the reason Islamabad and Washington don’t see eye-to-eye on how to manage the jihadist problem is Pakistan’s deep-seated fear of its larger and more powerful neighbor, India. While the United States is trying to keep Pakistan focused on its northwestern border with Afghanistan, where the writ of the Pakistani state is eroding at the hands of the jihadists, the Pakistani military leadership is far more concerned with keeping most troops stationed on the eastern border with India. This is a Pakistani fact of life that will not change, no matter how much the United States attempts to reassure Islamabad over India’s military intentions.

Pakistan has been playing catch-up with India since the 1947 partition. Lacking India’s geographic strategic depth, economic foundation and political cohesion, Pakistan has based its security policy on two primary pillars.

The first involves the state’s long-standing Islamization policy, which has been used as an unconventional tool to foster militants in places like Afghanistan and Kashmir, to gain allies and fend off rivals. Since Pakistan was more likely to suffer defeat in a direct military engagement with India, it increasingly relied on proxies to keep the Indians too busy putting out fires at home to seriously entertain military options against the Pakistanis.

The second pillar is rooted in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — a last-resort option designed to keep the Indians at bay should the militant proxies push New Delhi’s buttons too hard. Pakistan would be quantitatively and qualitatively beaten by the Indians in a military contest, and currently it can only dream of reaching nuclear parity with India. Still, the nuclear arsenal is Islamabad’s most valued defense against Indian aggression. In fact, just six months ago, Pakistan reminded India of the nuclear threat, seeking to make New Delhi reconsider any plans for military retaliation in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

With Taliban and scores of Kashmiri Islamist militants now turning on the Pakistani state, it has become all too clear that Islamabad’s first defense strategy — the militant proxy project — is coming undone. Once, this strategy both ensured the integrity of the state and reinforced Pakistan’s defense of its borders. Now, the same strategy is breaking it apart.

This is not to say that the military leadership is psychologically prepared to abolish the militant proxy strategy completely. But as the security and intelligence apparatus works to sort out the “good” militants from the “bad” militants that have turned against it, the Pakistani state naturally feels pressured to ramp up its second line of defense against India.

In all likelihood, Pakistan has been modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal for some time. Now that concerns are being raised over Pakistan’s nuclear plans and the potential diversion of U.S. funds, aid earmarks are coming into question — and Washington will experience even more difficulty in trying to deal with the Pakistanis and instill sufficient confidence in Islamabad to sustain the offensive against the Taliban. Furthermore, Washington is bound to run into complications with India, which will demand that the United States not stand idle while Pakistan expands its nuclear capability.

But as Mullen said himself, the Pakistanis “are very protective of their nuclear weapons,” and understandably so. These days, Pakistan’s concerns about securing its nuclear arsenal don’t apply only to the Indians and the jihadists. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said, “We want to tell the world in categoric terms that, with the blessing of God, Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe and will remain safe. No one, no matter how powerful and influential, eyeing on our national assets, will succeed.” Gilani undoubtedly was referring to fears in his country that the United States might try to eliminate Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, given sufficient cause to believe that the nuclear facilities could fall to jihadist control. As we have discussed previously, such U.S. threats were made loud and clear following the Sept. 11 attacks: Pakistan was pressured to admit U.S. Special Forces into the nuclear facilities in order to stave off a crisis with both Washington and New Delhi.

As the jihadists grow stronger, Pakistan sees another crisis approaching. It therefore will try to refine, modernize and expand its nuclear arsenal as much as it can, while it can.

The Swat Offensive Update

The Pakistani military is facing considerable challenges in its Swat offensive, raising doubts over whether the offensive can be extended to Waziristan as the Pakistani president is claiming. The negative effects of the military offensive are also reaching as far south as Karachi, where ethnic tensions are skyrocketing over an influx of Pashtun refugees.

The Pakistani military offensive, termed Rah-i-Rast (Right Path), against the Taliban in Swat and surrounding areas entered its 26th day May 22.

The military strategy has thus far focused on preventing the Taliban’s flight into hard-to-reach mountainous terrain, clearing Taliban strongholds in Swat and encircling the militants in the heart of Swat Valley in Mingora, a city that remains under Taliban control. Pakistani military forces have attempted to corner the Taliban in Swat from several directions: from the heavily forested Taliban hideout in Peochar in northwestern Swat, from Lower Dir to the west, from Malakand district to the southwest, from Buner to the southeast and from Shangla to the east. Thus far, some two million civilians have been displaced from the military operation in these areas.

The Pakistani military claims thus far that it has killed more than 1,000 Taliban militants, but sources on the ground say these estimates are likely exaggerated for political purposes. There is also friction within the military over these reports, as some commanders dispute that such casualty numbers should be used to track progress. These sources also claim that some areas that the Pakistani military claims have been cleared completely of the Taliban, such as Sultanwas in Buner district, still have a notable militant presence.

The toughest fight in this offensive will be in Mingora City, where sources report some 200,000 civilians remain. Taliban militants likely numbering in the low hundreds have been reportedly digging themselves in within Mingora, taking positions on rooftops, digging trenches, planting mines and explosives and building up arsenals in preparation for an urban battle with the Pakistani military.

A large number of Taliban militants, however, appear to be on the retreat. Some have mixed in with the refugee crowd and others have retreated to the mountains in northern Swat, such as the Kalam area where Taliban militants are being confronted by local villagers. Sources in the area report that some local police have been caught aiding the Taliban’s retreat. The interior ministry has reportedly placed former Malakand Commissioner Syed Javaid Shah and former Malakand Deputy Inspector General Police Shaukat Hayat on the Exit Control List (ECL) — a government list designed to keep troublemakers in the country — for having collaborated with the Swat Taliban. Such police collaboration with the Taliban is understandable: when the Taliban move into a certain area, the police are the first targets to get hit. This was made evident even in recent weeks as several bodies of policemen have been recovered by Pakistani troops. Given their vulnerability to the Taliban and their doubts over how long the military will be able to sustain the offensive and prevent the Taliban from returning to the area, some local police can be expected to try and collaborate with both the military and the Taliban to increase their odds of surviving.

The Taliban escape route also appears to involve deal making with local tribal maliks. Taliban insurgents in Dir reportedly agreed to leave their strongholds in Asbanr and Gulabad areas that they captured in early April. The agreement was made during a tribal council late May 19 and the Taliban agreed to leave within two days. Further west in Gulnai area of Mohmand Agency bordering the Afghan border, Taliban commander Yawar Syed and several of his associates laid down their arms May 22 in a well-publicized tribal jirga deal. Such transient peace deals are what enabled the Taliban to expand their writ in the Pakistani northwest in the first place. These temporary amnesties allow the Taliban time to regroup and are subsequently broken when the conditions are ripe for a comeback.

The Pakistani military understands the difficulties in holding the territory that they have cleared thus far. For now, the military has significant public support in pursuing these militants, but they cannot sustain direct military rule in the area for too long without fueling resentment among the populace. The civil administration in these areas is far too weak to enforce the writ of the state and local law enforcement is severely demoralized and limited in strength. For these reasons, the military is relying heavily on tribal militias, called Lashkars, to keep the Taliban from returning. This is an age-old practice by the Pakistani government to control militants in the tribal belt, but Islamabad is in effect legitimizing non-state entities, which sets a dangerous precedent in an already lawless and religiously conservative area. Some of the Lashkars in Buner, Lower Dir and Kalam Valley have resisted the Taliban even without military support in recent battles. Though the will of the Lashkars is strong, they run the risk of being overrun by Taliban forces should the military prove incapable of supporting them in the long run.

Though accurate estimates on casualties are still hard to come by, sources in the area report that casualties among security personnel have increased in recent days as street battles have broken out in various urban centers of Swat. The military is encountering heavy resistance in these areas and continues to face major challenges in holding territory. Nonetheless, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari announced May 17 in a Sunday Times interview that Swat was just the start, and that the military would soon extend the war into the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. A Pakistani source claims that discussions are underway over who would command an operation in Waziristan, with the local tribal leader Sajjad Wazir mentioned thus far. While talk of extending the offensive to Waziristan is music to Washington’s ears, STRATFOR has serious doubts over the Pakistani military’s seriousness over such an operation.

The Swat offensive has already presented a number of challenges, but Waziristan would be in another league entirely. These areas are tightly controlled by the Taliban in collaboration with local Wazir, Dawar and Mehsud tribes, while the Pakistani army maintains a small, confined presence in Zerinoor camp in Wana in South Waziristan. Though there are some pockets in Waziristan where tribal rivals to the Taliban are present, the military would have nowhere near the same level of public support in an offensive there as they do currently in Swat. South Waziristan is also the territory of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud, who has several training camps in the area and collaborates closely with al Qaeda forces that have found sanctuary in the region and use the territory as a staging ground for attacks into Afghanistan. In addition, the Pakistani military lacks both the force strength and secure supply lines from the corps base in Peshawar to launch a meaningful offensive against fortified Taliban positions in Waziristan. The Pakistani military is unlikely to open up another front in Waziristan while the success of the Swat offensive remains in question. That said, limited operations could take place in Waziristan.

The Taliban counteroffensive also appears to be in the works. Ten people were reported dead and 80 injured (several critically) from a car bombing May 22 in Peshawar, just some 43 miles from where the military is battling militants in Swat. Taliban militants are also retreating among refugees into the heart of Pakistan in Punjab and Sindh provinces. With the Taliban under the gun in the northwest, they have an incentive to demonstrate their reach and viability through attacks in Pakistani urban centers, including Islamabad and Karachi. The influx of Pashtun refugees into Karachi has expectedly set off the Sindhi nationalists in Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) and the local ruling Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). These parties have long been fearful of a Taliban influx into Karachi and are holding mass demonstrations and calling on their followers to take up arms in demanding the local assembly to seal the borders of the province from the Pashtuns. STRATFOR has highlighted the volatility of Karachi in the past, and it appears that Pakistan’s main port city and supply line base for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is now in serious danger of destabilizing.
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