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Counterinsurgency in Pakistan

Counterinsurgency in Pakistan by Seth G. Jones and C. Christine Fair. RAND, 2010, 206 pp.

Counterinsurgency in Pakistan provides a historical review of Pakistani interaction with insurgents in the Northwest Frontier Provinces (NWFP) and the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) as well as an accounting of US support to the Pakistani government. This work contributes to RAND’s numerous counterinsurgency monographs by adding a volume on the troubled Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Seth Jones, a political scientist at RAND and the author of In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (W. W. Norton, 2009) and Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (RAND, 2008), is one of the most prolific writers on recent US counterinsurgency efforts. His co-author, Christine Fair, a senior political analyst at RAND and senior research associate at the US Institute of Peace, authored Pakistan: Can the United States Secure an Insecure State? (RAND, 2010) as well as several other books.

This monograph recommends that Pakistan adopt a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy by abandoning militant groups as tools of foreign and domestic policy while advocating the United States adjust its “carrots and sticks” to influence Pakistan’s behavior as a responsible ally. To support this recommendation, the authors review counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan beginning in 2001 and argue the Pakistani militant groups in the FATA and NWFP present significant threats to US long-term security. These security threats lead to two primary US interests in Pakistan: first, to defeat al Qaeda and other insurgent groups with a capability to threaten the US homeland, and second, to prevent these same groups from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

The Pakistanis have a much more complicated relationship with these militant groups, and the long-term prognosis for successful counterinsurgency depends on a permanent split with these groups. Pakistan finds this split difficult because prior to 2001 the government often supported these militants in limited conflicts in Afghanistan, India, and the disputed Kashmir region. Since 2001, the Pakistanis initiated a series of offensives against various insurgent groups, but each ended with mixed results. Pakistan’s military is trained and equipped for conventional operations against India. While their counterinsurgency operations certainly killed insurgent leaders, they also destroyed many villages and created three million internally displaced persons within the FATA and NWFP. Overall, the Pakistani military’s heavy-handed approach “cleared” territory but could not effectively “hold” and “build” captured towns and villages.

Other government agencies in Pakistan failed to capitalize on successful offensives, and for future success, these agencies require increased capabilities. One of these agencies, the Frontier Corps, reports to the minister of interior and serves as a paramilitary force supporting the regular military during internal security missions. Unfortunately, the Frontier Corps remains underfunded and undertrained and thus, ineffective in operations against insurgents. Similarly, the Pakistani police force has languished in the past decade, not only because of underfunding, but also because of a colonial era frontier crimes regulation (FCR) still applicable to the FATA. Since the FCR mandates “collective punishment,” Pakistani military and Frontier Corps forces often punish an entire tribe for the transgressions of a small group of tribal members. These excessive punishments alienate the population and hinder the ability of the Pakistani police to provide civil control.

To overcome the limitations in the Pakistani counterinsurgency campaign, the authors argue for a population-centric strategy in eastern Pakistan. Although the military remains the primary “clear” force, the Pakistani regulars remain focused on the conventional threat from India and generally disdain counterinsurgency operations. While improved political relations with India could reduce this security threat, the minister of defense and the Pakistani government writ-large should articulate the danger of these militant groups to refocus the conventional military. Additionally, increasing the capability of the Frontier Corps and police could result in a successful “hold” force. Since the Frontier Corps and police are drawn from local populations, these culturally competent forces could provide more effective security without alienating the general public.

From a US perspective, Jones and Fair propose more pressure on the Pakistani government to achieve specific benchmarks. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the United States relied on “sticks” and persuaded General Musharraf to provide overflight and basing rights in Pakistan. US financial aid was not accompanied with appropriate oversight. In fact, the United States provided $1 billion per year to reimburse Pakistan for counterinsurgency operations in the FATA and NWFP without any fiscal guidance. In the future, it must rebalance the carrots and the sticks with efforts to influence Pakistan’s actions.

Military professionals reading Counterinsurgency in Pakistan will recognize parallels between Pakistani operations in the FATA and the 2003 US operations in Iraq. Slow to transition to a population security counterinsurgency strategy, the US military floundered for three years before the surge in 2006. Additionally, it performed clear operations effectively, but failed to hold and build on its initial successes. Finally, while the authors do not propose campaign estimates, this reader marveled at the complexity of the human terrain and believes the counterinsurgency in Pakistan will remain a manpower intensive, costly, and a long-term struggle.

The only limitation in the monograph is the reluctance of the authors to address the ultimate “blood and treasure” required for the Pakistanis to defeat militant groups. As a result, recommended policy prescriptions for both the US and Pakistani government leaders are not accompanied by a realistic cost estimate. Jones and Fair’s relatively short work is worthwhile reading for all military professionals, especially those interested in counterinsurgency strategy. Dedicating an evening to this RAND study provides the reader with a greater appreciation for the vast array of challenges Pakistan faces in defeating a determined insurgent foe.

Lt Col Jim Kockler, USAF

Air War College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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