One presidential candidate's recent remarks regarding a possible unilateral preemptive strike into Pakistan sent a cold shiver down the spines of many national security professionals and officers in the armed forces. It was particularly surprising coming from someone who was an early and often critic of what he saw as the Bush administration's unilateral, preemptive attack on Iraq. The candidate's aides have back tracked saying that he would seek President Musharif's concurrence, but almost everyone who knows the region knows that Musharef would be committing political suicide to allow such an overt action. The potential unintended consequences of a unilateral U.S. strike are sobering; the possibility of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of a radical Islamic Pakistani successor government is foremost among the defense community's nightmare scenarios. It would make al Qaeda look like the "Wiggles", and for all we know, al Qaeda might be shadow partners in the new governing mix.
The candidate's frustration is understandable, but we need to find more creative ways for the Pakistanis to gain control of the ungoverned tribal region of Waziristan. We need to help them think out of the box. Many of the problems that Pakistan has with gaining control of the tribal regions are twofold. First, the organization primarily responsible for Waziristan is the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists, and is notoriously independent. Consequently, the Pakistani President cannot count on them to carry out orders. Second, The Pakistani army is a conscript force made up of soldiers who largely represent the younger and poorer segments of the society. Many tend to side with fundamentalism, and are decidedly reluctant to kill other Muslims. Their more sophisticated officer cadre realizes that their charges can be pushed only so far for fear of mutiny. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the efforts of Pakistani security forces to secure the tribal areas and expel al Qaeda and the Taliban have been half hearted at best. Those who are veterans of Somalia saw similar Pakistani conduct in that conflict.
One out of the box solution for this dilemma would be to create a Pakistani version of the French Foreign Legion. For nearly a century and a half, French draftees were forbidden by law from serving outside of Metropolitan France. Consequently, the French built a colonial army around foreign volunteers and native colonial troops. The heart of this force was the Foreign Legion. Although the legion was sometimes derided as a mercenary force, the average French citizen was not concerned with its casualties or activities save for an occasional novel or film and the French lived with this force because it never saw the Legion with their borders. The exception to this was World War I when the nation was grateful for any foreign help it could get.
Just as many tribes in French colonies did not consider themselves French, the tribes of Waziristan do not consider themselves to be Pakistanis. A disciplined force of foreign volunteers equipped with vehicles and weapons appropriate to the terrain would likely be very effective, particularly if it could come with the money to fund development; in its later years, the French Legion has created a competent "heart and minds" capability that it uses effectively in the former French colonies in Africa where the Legions is frequently employed. Ironically, this is an area where foreign security companies might help. They have been largely counterproductive to the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq, but Waziristan is not a counterinsurgency, it is a war of pacification.
Assisting the Pakistanis in training, equipping, and funding a similar force would be money well spent by the United States. Unlike Afghanistan, where we equipped Muslims to fight the Soviets in the last century, we would be creating a largely western non- Muslim force that would let the Pakistanis fight Muslim foreigners on Pakistani territory using non- Muslim surrogates. This is what the military calls "economy of force". Instead of using American helicopter gun ships, drone aircraft, and precision guided missiles; the Pakistanis could use such devices with their national markings on their soil. The Chinese nationalists used the American Volunteer Group, better known as the "Flying Tigers" against the invading Japanese even as they were fighting a civil war against the Communists. Chinese of all political stripes helped the AVG by acting as spotters and rescuing downed airmen because these white foreigners were acting against a fellow oriental people who had invaded their soil. The Pakistani Foreign Legion option does not even ask for the native Pakistanis to go that far.
To be sure, some Pakistanis, as have many French, will object to using foreigners to fight their battles. That has not been a significant impediment to the French Legion. At least Pakistani sons will not be killing other Muslims, and dying in the process. Given the drawbacks of the American incursion option, this is a good alternative, and should be seriously considered by American and Pakistani policy makers.
Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps Officer and was an advisor on Iraqi ad Afghan security affairs to the Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2003-2005