Out of the Box Thinking for Pakistan

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

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Comments

Gary Anderson is right; the situation in Pakistan desperately demands out of the box thinking.

However this particular idea will not provide any better results than the current approach.

The AVG's legitimacy came from the reality that the vast majority of Chinese in the 1930s considered Japan the country's greatest enemy.

If the majority of Pakistanis today had to chose they would be far more likely to pick the US rather than Al-Qaeda or the Taliban as the bigger enemy. Even Benazir Bhutto's election would be unlikely to change that equation.

Non-Muslims even under the Pak flag fighting on Muslims on 'Muslim soil' will improve mission execution but it will not enjoy greater legitimacy than the PA - it will in fact almost certainly create the exact opposite effect.

Close study of British attempts to manage the area should warn us that the 'unrest' in Waziristan is like an accordion. It can expand and contract, depending on the tune thats being played. The widest possible extent being all Pashtun areas in Pakistan, including areas of Baluchistan and NWFP.

Widening the area of conflict is the simplest way to effectively neutralise any FFL force, forcing it in to escalations it can not afford and feeding in to the tribal needs for revenge and honour. For that matter this is the kind of strategy that tied first British and later Pakistani hands.

In the end any solution has to work with, rather than work against the nature of tribal society. It is Pashtun social networks that have to be mobilised against our enemy.

Tribal leaders must see real benefits for working against AQT - for the last few years they've mostly gotten a ticket to the next world.

The fundamental problem is the Pakistani state, whose desperate need for Islam as a legitimating and mobilising force means that it can never make more than tactical moves against jihadist forces and their influential supporters.

An FFL-type force under Coalition authority could play a useful part backing up such tribal leaders.

Building our ability to support and protect tribal leaders in any part of Pakistan willing to fight AQT should be the first priority. This may have to come at the expense of the Pakistani state, which can not be trusted as the middle-man.

This is a radical proposition, but as we agree out-of-the-box thinking is what we need.

What countries would the recruits come from? I am skeptical enough people from western non-Muslim countries would put themselves under Pakistani authority to make a difference.

The AVG is not a good analogy. It was basically an American government project. The Chinese were fighting brutal foreign invaders. That those invaders also lived Asia meant nothing, so the sympathy the Chinese had for the AVG was understandable.

I don't think the Pakistanis in Karachi will be so sypathetic to Christian foreigners fighting other Pakistanis.