Small Wars Journal

Operations in Pakistan's Tribal Areas

Wed, 01/30/2008 - 8:50pm
Strategic Design Considerations for Operations in Pakistan's Tribal Areas:

Dust-up along the North-West Frontier

William S. McCallister

"It is necessary, therefore, if we desire to discuss this matter thoroughly, to inquire whether these innovations can rely on themselves or have to depend on others: That is to say, whether to consummate their enterprise, have they to use prayer or can they use force. In the first instance they always succeed badly and never compass anything, but when they can rely on themselves and use force; then they are rarely endangered. Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed".

-- Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince


Ideas as to what constitutes good governance various among individuals, groups and cultures. The current definition of good governance as outlined in a recent report on threats from safe havens and ungoverned areas is a case in point. (1) The report defines governance as the "delivery of security, judicial, legal, regulatory, intelligence, economic, administration, social and political goods and public services, and the institutions through which they are delivered". The definition implies a social service centric function for government emphasizing "delivery" and distribution of social services. It further implies that only democratic institutions are a safeguard against militancy, extremism and terrorism. Not all cultures view the role and function of government in quite the same way. Tribal society, particularly along the North-West frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan judges the role and function of effective government quite differently.

Tribes compete with one another for limited resources and access to influence. The function of effective government in such a sociopolitical system is therefore expressed in another way. Legitimacy is based on the social contract with fighting as a form of negotiation. The social code is the basis for negotiating the social contract and hence "legitimacy" upon which the existing political formula is based. (2) The political formula in turn greatly influences the form and function of indigenous social institutions and organizations and reflects the accepted norm of behavior between individuals and groups.

The application of Pakthunwali or the "way of the Pathans"; requirement to manage competition among the various groups and promote some type of stability in tribal areas has evolved into a distinct sociopolitical system that embodies its own unique mix of social contract and political formula. The sociopolitical system along the North-West frontier is therefore best described as an arena in which groups compete. (3) The government acts as the fulcrum around which the various actors revolve forming, breaking apart, and reforming as warranted in competition for position, influence and authority.

Effective governance ensures that latent and existing hostilities between groups' remains confined within acceptable levels. Its primary role is to enforce traditional codes of conduct in managing violence. The fighting and lawlessness engulfing Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 may be directly attributed to a lack of controlling agent to enforce a semblance of balance between rival groups. The indigenous population therefore bases its definitions of ungoverned or under-governed areas on quite different criteria.

An ungoverned or under-governed area reflects the inability of the central government to maintain parity between the various groups competing and cooperating for position, influence and authority. A fair government is one that is perceived to maintain all actors equally and balanced against the other "in splendid equilibrium". (4) The central government may be considered "corrupt" if it favors only one particular group or has been co-opted by one or more groups at the expense of all the others. The criterion for illegitimacy along the North-West frontier is therefore judged in the manner in which each group perceives itself to be governed in comparison to other groups and not necessarily because the region is poor and socially chaotic and therefore assumed to be more prone to western concepts of corruption.

Applied Strategy: U.S. and Tribal Perspectives

The differences in mental models, experience and expectations greatly influences our perspective on strategic design processes and strategy in achieving political or military objectives whether in cooperation or competition with other actors pursuing their own objectives. The American cultural legacy fosters a rational interpretation of the world. U.S. strategic design processes are therefore rational and mechanistic. Tribal society, on the other hand, perceives the world from within the confines of its immediate and extended kinship group and territory where competition i.e. winning and losing is literally a matter of life and death. This outlook on life greatly influences behavior. As a result, tribal strategic design processes are more dynamic; flexible, competitive and adaptive in nature.

The western way of strategy is about how (way or concept) available power (means or resources) is applied to achieve objectives (end) in support of interests. Experts stress that the strategist must know what is to be accomplished and that only by analyzing and understanding the internal and external environment in which he operates can he develop appropriate objectives leading to the desired end-state. The theory itself highlights the requirement for strategy to ensure an appropriate balance among objectives, methods, and available resources.

The tribal way of strategy is of a networked nature. The reason why is found in the way the tribe is governed and administered. The paramount leader of a given tribe is assisted by a number of trusted advisors and principal lieutenants consisting predominantly of senior family members and a few outstanding commoners. His brothers and paternal uncles, in particular, are everywhere entitled and expected to assist him and thus have special authority over portions of the tribe as a whole. In carrying out his specific duties the paramount leader, in addition to his immediate family, is also assisted by various grades of local authority. The tribe is therefore administered not so much by the paramount leader alone as by the whole of his family and local authority, though as holder of the office he personally has distinctive powers and privileges. In terms of tribal strategy development, all factions represent powerful interests competing for leverage and influence in support of familial political, economic or security objectives.

While the paramount leader is the representative and spokesman of the tribe and is responsible for the tribe's external relations, the strategy to care for his people and to promote the tribe's welfare and security is a reflection of various powerful interest groups competing with one another for positions of advantage within the tribe. The outward expression of what we perceive to be strategic consensus at any given moment is the product of a process of adaptation, competition and cooperation within the tribe itself and subject to change as one or another faction gains or loses influence. Adaptation to changing conditions is intuitive and less based on rational cost-benefit analysis than shaped by traditional rules of behavior that governs competition and cooperation amongst the various factions.

Discussion of power should not be limited to only two categories; soft and hard power. Power in tribal terms may also be described as latent power. Targeted violence, or fighting as a form of negotiation, is a means to initiate change; applied force to change the existing sociopolitical condition in one's favor. Initiating hostilities seeks to test the present relationship and to create the conditions for even greater benefits to be realized in the future.

Strategic Risks Considerations Along the North-West Frontier

There are a number of risks considerations that must be addressed prior to involving ourselves in the sociopolitical arena along the North-West frontier. First and foremost is the risk of engaging an opponent whose strategic calculus differs so markedly from our own. U.S. strategic development processes are rational, mechanistic and as a result hierarchical so as to facilitate control. In order to maintain the perception of control we seek comprehensive knowledge over all facets of the environment and operation.

Tribal strategy development processes, on the other hand, are intuitive and the product of a process of competition, cooperation and adaptation. Tribal strategy does not seek to create comprehensive knowledge but only to gain local advantage at a specific point in time and space. It is opportunistic due to its intuitive character. This characteristic differential between western and tribal strategic design is a key point of consideration. While there is no disagreement that we must understand the situation and gain an appreciation for the potential first, second, and third effects at the tactical and operational levels, comprehensive knowledge of all the things that might influence the situation may be a bridge too far. Effects are determined not simply by preceding causes but are part of a continuous process of evolution. These complex interactions are too numerous to predict, identify and observe as they manifest themselves in their various end states along the historical timeline.

Our emphasis on controlling every potential strategic effect limits our flexibility in exploiting windows of opportunity and is the primary cause of much surprise when confronted with unpredicted events. Unpredicted events cause execution to revert to a reactive mode. Valuable time is lost as the strategic plan is realigned so as to focus on the changed condition. Time that is used by an adversary who relies on intuitive, flexible and adaptive behavior to exploit opportunities so as to shape the situation in his favor. In the meantime, unable to appreciate the cultural nuance and adapt quickly enough to the changed circumstances we are forced to press on with inappropriate tactical and operational level actions so as to maintain momentum regardless of the applicability or desirability of the potential long-term strategic effects we may be initiating with these actions. The Achilles Heel of our hierarchical strategic design and execution process is exposed when confronted by an opponent executing an intuitive, opportunistic and adaptive tribal strategy.

The second risk lies in the language we use in assessing the operational environment. Considerations of long and short-term factors such as causes of conflict, competing demands for resources, economic realities, legal and moral implications, and international interests are expressed in language. Implicit theories and interpretations are embedded in the vocabulary and subconsciously shape our perceptions and understanding of the world and our interaction with it. Widely held beliefs live on implicitly in words or phrases and therefore are likely never to be explicitly challenged or subjected to criticism. Descriptions of the operating environment are a case in point. Although much time is spent in defining the types of conflict in which we engage i.e. conventional or unconventional and its forms i.e. insurgency or counterinsurgency, we are not yet mentally flexible enough to describe our opponent accurately. Our terminologies to describe conventional or unconventional conflicts tend to brand the participants as conventional military or guerilla fighters, terrorists or criminals. When the opponent are tribal organizations, generally accepted terms such as insurgents, guerillas, terrorists or criminals do not necessarily provide the best description nor accurately describe the conflict in question. Language laded with interpretations or theories about our surroundings will profoundly shape the questions we ask and solutions we develop. Common terms by design seek to foster corporate concepts and shared understanding but if generally accepted terms describe the situation poorly, diplomatic and military initiatives based on this vocabulary are likely to deal poorly with the situation.

Insurgency or Irregular Warfare

Insurgency is currently defined as "an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict". (5) This definition, if applied along the North-West frontier may be too narrowly circumscribed. The definition does not take into consideration the social contract i.e. tribal relations with the central government or challenges to its authority. A particular tribal "dust-up" may not necessarily be aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government but may only seek to limit its control over a partial area of its declared sovereign territory. In essence, the tribe is engaged in renegotiating the social contract between itself and the central government. In this case, hostilities might be initiated to only limit government encroachment into territory inhabited by the tribe. Tribal fighters may employ subversion and direct attacks against government organizations yet compliment the effort with participation in the traditional governance process i.e. jirga system. (6) It is therefore important to avoid the temptation to simply label groups as "insurgents", "terrorists" and "criminals"; definitions that embody unquestioned assumptions contained in the language itself and cause us to respond reflexively in our own stylized forms of diplomacy and fighting.

Irregular warfare is defined as "a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population". (7) In tribal terms, irregular warfare is fought employing the tribe's diplomatic, economic, informational and martial instruments of tribal power.

The importance of description is highlighted in the following paragraphs. The scenario illustrated below should be familiar to all those currently engaged in fighting extremists in Afghanistan or along the frontier with Pakistan. The narrative reflects many "modern" concepts of insurgency and revolutionary warfare.

A religious personality proclaims a movement and declares himself Amir. Adherents of the movement swear a baiat or oath of religious allegiance to him and an advisory and planning council consisting of a vice-regent and supporters is established. Supporters are appointed as regional emirs and administrative officers such as religious tax collector. A highly sophisticated propaganda campaign is launched to promote the Amir and the movement.

The movement is sophisticated but remains largely covert in the early stage. Developing a district network usually begins with a religious missionary seeking out a suitable base where he can establish himself, often marrying into the local Muslim community. He then sets himself up as a religious teacher or mullah and gains a following in the district. He expands the administrative network by appointing three lay figures to act as general manager, tax-collector and postmaster. The great majority of recruits are poor, illiterate and unskilled young men, while those selected for further training and indoctrination are invariably older and better educated.

Once the administrative network is established, these four local representatives act independently of each other; the mullah teaches and proselytizes, the tax collector gathers funds, the postmaster arranges for communication of messages and movement of recruits, and the general manager co-ordinates the overall effort. Compartmentalization of duties avoids detection and the attention of authorities. The mullah may be investigated and called before the authorities to account for his seditious preaching, but will likely be permitted to continue his activities because he appears to be working in isolation.

In time, local groups are linked through a number of regional centers while the regional center is linked to the frontier through a network of routes and safe houses, which enable messengers, supplies and recruits to be moved up and down the line in secrecy and safety. Security measures such as giving each member a nom de guerre and establishing communication codes are established. As the organization expands it evolves into a highly effective organization for Islamic revival and revolution with branches throughout the support and target area and sustained by a large popular constituency.

A disciplined, small group of hard-core of fighters or ghazis are raised and led by a dedicated chain of command. They are well armed, trained and supplied by members or supporters of the movement. Many pious Muslims contribute to their upkeep including members of a number of leading Muslim houses throughout the Islamic world.

Since jihad should only be launched from territory where sharia prevails or recognized as dar al-Islam (house/abode of peace), the movement decides to establish itself in the mountainous territory of the North-West Frontier. The Islamists may be welcomed initially as a potential ally against a rival tribe but since being called upon by God to liberate the land from the infidel oppressor a jirga (8) composed of the elders of one tribe or a loya jirga composed of a number of tribes and sub-tribes may be convened to tender their armed support to the holy warriors. They are promised nanawati or hospitality that cannot be denied even to a criminal or enemy. The tribe is now obligated to honor badal i.e. the right of revenge or vendetta if they are killed by an outsider. The Islamists may marry into the local tribal community and could be offered a permanent home and a plot of land in perpetuity to support the impending jihad. This area becomes the movement's spiritual and worldly fortress from which to wage holy war against the infidel. The process of building social networks begins anew as mullahs begin teaching and proselytizing in the target area. Madrassas draw the youngest for further indoctrination. Once established in the mountains, the Amir and his closest disciples may issue a formal summons calling on all Muslims to join in holy war.

The Islamists exploit traditional methods of tribal governance and commence organizing local shura. Funds continue to flow into the tribal area as the Islamists ability to attract and create patronage relationships begin to bear fruit. District and regional shura may be formed to continue proselytizing new tribes attracted by increased revenues and religious sentiments. In time, a Greater Shura whose members include the Islamists' inner circle, elders and religious leaders from all the provinces and districts may be summoned. The Greater Shura serves to engage and reduce tensions between rival tribes ready to challenge the rising power of the emergent alliance. Rival tribes may form their own shura feeling ignored, threatened or in perpetual blood feud with tribes that are members of the Islamist gathering.

The jirga now calls for all out war against the infidel. Tribal levies or laskhkar are raised for the campaigning season. (9) The small elite group of dedicated, hard-core fighters forms the vanguard of the Salafi ghazi or war party. It fights along side the tribal levies under the Amir's personal command. The ghazis are afforded prestige and special privileges and are the envy of the levied tribal fighters who now strive to be accepted as members of this special band.

The lesser jihad is initiated by attacking the weakest opponent first. Ambassadors are sent calling on the opponent to convert before the ghazi are ordered to attack. If the tribe is too powerful a non-aggression pact may be concluded until strong enough to engage directly. Guarded against engaging the opponent if he is strong, they wait until he is too weak to defend himself and only then conduct raids into neighboring territories that look more like pillaging expeditions than war. They hesitate at the first sign of resistance, flee if pursued and pursue if the opponent withdraws. Surveillance is conducted for days on end until an opportunity to surprise and slaughter an opponent without great danger to themselves presents itself; the tribal art of war instructs that the greatest victory lies in destroying everything without incurring any losses yourself. The opposing tribe relies on a system of arbakai militias, bands of local men who take up arms at times of danger to protect themselves and their territory. It too adheres to the same tribal warfare tenets as its opponent.

In 1827-8 a very different kind of threat appeared along the Frontier. His name was Syed Ahmad. He is credited by British authorities as the founder and first of the Hindustani Fanatics. Syed Ahmad was a disciple and follower of al-Muwahhidun (Unitarians) or Wahhabism. From 1828 onwards Syed Ahmad's message of Islamic reform was heard in Sunni mosques and meeting places across northern India. His "path of Muhammad" network worked in secret, swore oaths of loyalty to their leaders, followed their own code of morality and believed themselves to be God-fearing. The Syed Ahmad's strategy to wage lesser jihad against British authorities applied the tactics, techniques and procedures summarized above eventually culminating in the Sepoy or Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Syed Ahmad's activities spread the message of al-Muwahhidun among the tribes along the present day North-West Frontier. To the British authorities his followers were known as the Hindustani Fanatics. A generation later the message reappeared in Arabia calling itself Al-Ikhwan or the Brotherhood. It later mutated into Salafi ideology or "followers of the forefathers" and in our own time is known as the Taliban or al-Qaeda. (10)

Recent news in the popular press asserts that the Pentagon is "ready, —and able" to send U.S. troops to conduct joint operations with Pakistan's military in the tribal areas. (11) The Los Angeles Times reports that "American officials remain skeptical of the Pakistani army's counterinsurgency abilities and want to find more ways to help the army become more efficient." (12) One can't but help sense an air of arrogance in our skepticism in the Pakistani army's ability to properly execute counterinsurgency (COIN) or irregular warfare operations in a tribal society. The reason for skepticism may be more about value judgments than reality.

Much thought should be given to what we are about to do. Syed Ahmad's approach to irregular war preceded by approximately 180 years Lenin's What is to be done, Mao's treatise on guerilla warfare, Che Guevara's foci theory, Carlos Marighella's Mini-manual of the Urban Guerilla, David Galula's Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency. His organizational blueprint and those of present day jihadist operating in the tribal areas are based on much older concepts of community and traditional codes of behavior. It is easy to draw analogies between our own revolutionary warfare and counterinsurgency experiences but quite another to believe it just as easy to template this experience wholesale upon tribal culture. We have to accept the fact that the use of analogical reasoning can oversimplify inherently complex problems. People tend to use analogies on the basis of surface similarities rather than in-depth examination of the situation at hand. Top down or "theory driven processing" describes the tendency to immediately fit new information into the established analogy and causes decision-makers to dismiss other similarities for more detailed study and comparison. The result is perseverance or the phenomena of persistently believing in the applicability of the analogy even in the face of contradictory information. (13) Perseverance is something that we must guard against, especially when dealing with a culture as challenging as the Pathan living along the North --West Frontier. Much wisdom is passed on through words, phrases and analogies but also much folly that is difficult to correct once it gains momentum.

Operational Planning Considerations

Operational planning should consider the following as we prepare to assist the Pakistani army and execute COIN and irregular warfare operations in a tribal society. First, shame and honor not hearts and minds governs individual and group behavior along the North-West Frontier. We are not going to win hearts nor change minds. Study and gain a detailed appreciation of Pakthunwali, the honor code of the Pathans, in order to effectively communicate intent, whether kinetic or non-kinetic, within the target audience's cultural frame of reference.

Appreciate the tendency of tribes to segment. This organizing principle is expressed in groups allying themselves against an external threat, economic or political necessity even though they may be potentially hostile toward one another or involved in open conflict. The segmentation principle applies to tribes, religious movements, military units, etc. British experience along the frontier provides for numerous example of this principle. Although an area may be divided into numerous tribes and clans that are constantly at each other's throats, the moment an outsider so much threatens to encroach these same tribes and clans put aside their feuds and unite under one banner. The tribes resisted the best efforts of the Great Mughal, British and now the Pakistanis in this manner for ages. (14)

The third consideration is patronage. Patronage is the guarantor of the "social contract." It supports establishing and articulating relationships between individuals and groups that share solidarity and origin. Therefore, it is closely linked to segmentation. Patronage reflects a two-way exchange. In exchange for someone's patronage, the patron is responsible for providing something in return i.e. protection, economic and or political assistance, etc. A patronage relationship is not easily entered into. The decision to do so reflects a strategic decision and a commitment by two parties to maximize a "kindred" strategy or long-term relationship.

The last consideration is territory. Every piece of terrain is considered owned or controlled by some tribe or clan. Territory will be defended by force. The extent of territorial control is determined by the state's ability to project power and influence and challenge ownership. Tribal law is in effect.

Study the tribesman and his culture. In the words of T.E. Lawrence "their minds work just as ours do, but on different premises. There is nothing unreasonable, incomprehensible or inscrutable [about the Pathan]. Experience of them and knowledge of their prejudices will enable you to foresee their attitude and possible course of action in nearly every case." (15)

Be clear as to who and what it is that we are really fighting. Is it the tribe, or the social code of Pakthunwali itself, is it the disciples or followers of al-Muwahhidun (Unitarians) better known as Wahhabism or Hindustani Fanatics, Al-Ikhwan, Salafi ideology, Taliban, al-Qaeda, the global jihad, the entire Islamic world or the Islamic faith? We need to be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that after 9 generations of exposure to Islamic revivalism many tribes in the frontier region embody the ideology of al-Muwahhidun and that no amount of statesmanship, salesmanship or wishful thinking is going to change the situation. Not even the dangling bright-shiny object of representational government or promises of an efficient social services distribution system.

Empowering moderate forces in the tribal areas is not a defense against extremism and terrorism. (16) Neither is extending the government's control over and imposition of good governance upon the inhabitants of the North-West Frontier. The acceptance of western rule of law may very well be achieved in the near-term with the imposition of civil and political authority into the tribal areas but government presence will in time be perceived as occupation no matter the arguments to the contrary. The tribes will inevitably rise in rebellion to challenge perceived tyranny and slip back to fighting as a form of renegotiating the social contract. Western notions of legitimacy and good governance are unlikely to resonate with individual tribesmen since they do not share our cultural heritage and appreciation for the implied wisdom these concepts embody.

Before we embark on pacifying a given tribal area we must have a clear appreciation whether the military campaign is in our vital or national interest or a matter of national prestige. Many a "cool points" have been lost by other great powers of their day tangling with mountain tribesmen. There is no win-win in these situations. If I win a little; you lose a little. Secondly, once we embark on chastising rebellious tribes we must accept that we are in a personal relationship; an ongoing conversation. Treaties of friendship and concessions will be honored until they are broken. Unless we are —to "brother up" we will always be the outsider, foreigner or infidel. If by remote chance we decide to literally marry into the tribe we must understand that we will incur the enmity of all those tribes presently unfavorably disposed to our new relatives and extended family. We must therefore maintain constant situational awareness of tribal politics for tribal relationships will change and adapt as alliances are renegotiated, allowed to lapse or sought with tribes that were until recently considered hostile.

We will leave aside for now a detailed analysis of Pakistan's strategic interests in the region. In its simplest terms, Pakistan lacks strategic depth vis-í -vis its primary competitor India. Pakistan therefore seeks to improve its position by fixing Indian forces in Kashmir. (17) To do so, it must maintain a dynamic balance in the tribal areas and Afghanistan. Pakistan's shaping operations consist of simultaneously supporting Islamic Pashtu proxies inside the tribal areas and Afghanistan i.e. the Taliban while at the same time checking Pashtu ethnic nationalism. (18) It is therefore likely, in order to retain U.S. support, that Pakistan will be —to sacrifice AQ in the tribal areas so as to continue to exploit the potential of the Afghan Taliban and Kashmiri groups against India in the future. Suffice it to say, Pakistan is the fulcrum that seeks to manage and shape the orbit of tribal competition to achieve its own vital interests.

All effects desired in tribal irregular warfare are short-term. There is no military campaign to end all military campaigns nor will the imposition of good governance withstand the vagaries of time. Before our skepticism in the Pakistani army's ability to properly execute counterinsurgency (COIN) gets the better of us we may wish to study the Pakistani army's operational design in dealing with martial tribes instead of basing our opinion strictly on tactical failures in execution. There is no doubt that we will win every tactical engagement against tribal fighters but still lose the military campaign.

Military campaigns in tribal areas may be better served if seizing, holding and clearing terrain is not the envisioned end-state. A more appropriate mission design may be to divide and isolate the tribe from its existing social network in order to destroy the elite group of dedicated, hard-core fighters that form the vanguard of the embedded Islamist movement or war party. The hard-center will be protected by a concentric ring of tribal levies or laskhkar that should not be the primary target. Aside from the vendetta obligation that this would incur on the part of the tribe, the same tribe is a future potential ally when campaigning against one of its rivals.

A given tribe is perceived by others by virtue of its social network, alliances, patronage relationships and martial prowess. The "force" that balances the objective, methods and available resources of the tribe is an example of a Center of Gravity (COG) and reflects Classic Chinese military thinking to first "attack the strategy, then the alliance, and lastly the soldiers themselves". In tribal terms, methods and available resources are a reflection of the tribal leader's ability to attract (segmentation), maintain (patronage) and defend (territory) allies. Each method and the available resources to implement a given strategy signifies an attractor or force that potentially serves as a balancing mechanism between the objective, methods and available resource and therefore represents a potential decisive point for targeting.

Tribal power is dependent upon their connections and influence. If a tribe's power is diminished few will want to ally themselves. Tribes that feel isolated may overreact in desperation--which isolates them even further. Tribal diplomats will attempt to create the impression that an opponent is losing his connections. This will be done indirectly for if done directly the attacker may become entangled in an open fight. Attempts to divide the opponent from his power base (connection and prestige) are intended to make him appear to be weak.

No tribal leader will declare his ambitions until certain of success because of the risk of exposure, antagonism and mobilization of more powerful opponents against his tribe. Instead he intrigues, he influences as best as he may, he conspires. If he is to win he has to enlist or neutralize challengers.

Within any tribe people naturally form smaller factions based on mutual self-interest. The primary desire is to find strength in numbers. These sub-groups form power-bases and if left unchallenged will threaten the status-quo of the tribe, alliance or confederation as a whole. The formation of factions within the tribe is a leader's greatest threat for eventually these factions will work to secure their own interests before those of the tribe, alliance or confederation. Before launching an overt attack attempts will be made to first weaken the opponent by creating as much division in his ranks as possible. An example may be targeting an opponents leadership structures outside the tribal area and crediting success to assistance received from select members of the same movement. The desired shaping strategy is therefore to divide and isolate before initiating any military action.

When the decision is made for military action it must be short and decisive. The unit must not linger in tribal territory longer than necessary. Cultural messaging requires that other tribes clearly understand that the cost of challenging the status quo is not worth the consequences. Successful combat action must be followed up immediately with negotiation/mediation to establish the parameters for peaceful coexistence until the next dust up. It is during this phase that "hearts and minds" projects may be negotiated. All projects must be negotiated on a quid pro quo basis and never out of compassion or sympathy. Pakthunwali will not condone condescension.


Military operations along the North-West Frontier are far more intellectual than a bayonet charge. The sociopolitical environment in tribal areas differs greatly from our experience. Legitimacy is based on the social contract with fighting as a form of negotiation. The social code is the basis for negotiating the social contract and hence "legitimacy" upon which the existing political formula is based.

Perspectives as to implementation of strategy differ. Western designs are rational and mechanistic. Tribal designs are dynamic, intuitive, flexible, competitive and adaptive in nature. Although easy to draw analogies between our own revolutionary warfare and counterinsurgency experiences words, phrases and analogies mean different things to different people and cultures.

The social code of "Pakthunwali" governs individual and group behavior in the tribal areas. The cultural operating codes that provide the framework for causal processes are shame and honor, segmentation principle, patronage and territory.

Military campaigns in tribal areas differ from our own doctrinal insurgency and counterinsurgency templates. Political and military planners must therefore take into account that the overall tribal sociopolitical blueprint and those in use by present day jihadist operating in the tribal areas are based on much older concepts of community and traditional codes of behavior.

William S. McCallister is a retired military officer. He has served extensively in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Mr. McCallister is currently employed in Iraq as the senior analyst for Applied Knowledge International (AKI), a consulting company specializing in human factors and cultural terrain modeling in support of II MEF operations in Anbar province.


1. "Ungoverned Areas and Threats from Safe Havens", Final Report of the Ungoverned Areas Project, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, January 2008.

2. Pakthunwali" also the "the honor code of the Pathans" is based on melmastia (hospitality), nanawati (hospitality cannot be denied even to a criminal or enemy), and badal (the right of revenge or vendetta). The greatest tests of honor involve zar (gold), zun (women) and zamin (land). Punishments and settlements are derived from narkh (tribal precedent); the jirga can impose strong sanctions and punishments, including punishment of a noncompliant person or clan, confiscation or girvi (mortgage) of property, fines and formation of a laskhkar (tribal militia) to punish the accused party. The social code governs behavior between individuals and groups in the tribal areas of the North-West frontier.

3. The Islamic law of nations (siyar) defines a "nation" as a group of related individuals.

4. "The tribes are at their best when in splendid equilibrium". Attributed to Gertrud Bell while describing the Arab tribal system in early 20th-century Iraq.

5. JP I-02, Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication No. 3-33.5.

6. The Afghan jirga or "council of elders" serves a similar function as a shura and is generally defined as a decision-making council. The main difference between the Jirga and a shura is that whereas a leader can reject the recommendations of a shura; the Jirga has decision making authority. Shura are a traditional method of community governance in tribal and Islamic cultures. It provides a mechanism to reach consensus among the disparate factions represented in the larger community. Shura are consultative in nature; they do not decide issues but provide leaders a means of receiving input from the population. Specialty shura are formed to address diplomatic, economic or martial issues. The leadership is not bound by the recommendations of the shura but may authorize or delegate decision-making powers to the body if desired. Shura are formed and disbanded as required.

7. IW JOC version 1.0 Jan 07

8. Loya Jirga is an inter-tribal assembly.

9. "Laskhkar" are Afghan tribal militia. The Laskhkar system is a social institution and should not be considered a functioning military organization from a professional military perspective.

10. Charles Allen, God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad", Little, Brown, 2006, pages 14, 20, 30, 37, 41, 50.

11. Ann Scott Tyson, "U.S Troops 'Ready' to Aid Pakistan, Washington Post, January 25, 2008.

12. Julian E. Barnes, "Gates Offers Troops for Joint Efforts with Pakistan", January 25, 2008.

13. P.J. Ridderhof, LtCol, USMC, "Reasoning by Analogy", 23 Dec 2003, WAR ROOM REPORT 2-04, dated 9 January 2004.

14. Charles Allen, God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad", Little, Brown, 2006, page 8.

15. T.E. Lawrence, "27 Articles", The Arab Bulletin, 20 August 1917.

16. "Pakistan's Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants", Crisis Group, Asia Report Number 125 -- 11 December 2006, page 27.

17. Mark J. Roberts, "Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate: A State within a State?", JFQ, Issue 48, 1st Quarter 2008, page 107.

18. "Pakistan's Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants", Crisis Group, Asia Report Number 125 -- 11 December 2006, page 2.

19. Courtesy of T.E. Lawrence: "Irregular Warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge."


SWJ Editors Links

Operating in Pakistan's Tribal Regions - Abu Muqawama

How To: Wage a Tribal War in Pakistan - Noah Shachtman, Danger Room

Discuss at Small Wars Council


Excellent article.

A question of metrics arises, how do you measure effects of operations and policys.


With a good paradigm and active monitoring one can develop metrics for social change.
Its a bit like putting pressure on a water filled balloon but reactions can be measured.

E environment ( known )
S stimulus
O organism ( one cell amoeba or closed terrorist cell )
R response
E environment ( change )

You have also exposed 'their' Achilles Heel.
"The Achilles Heel of our hierarchical strategic design and execution process is exposed when confronted by an opponent executing an intuitive, opportunistic and adaptive tribal strategy."
Intuitive, opportunistic and adaptive reactions ARE knowable with in a range of possibilities.

We have the tools but do we have the leadership to apply them.


Fascinating. Combat anthropology. Do we have anybody fluent enough and culturally sensitive enough to create and lead something anomalous to a Central Asian <a href="">CIDG</a&…;? Would we want to try that even if we could?

<a href="\01\30\story_30-1-2008_pg7_718"> Orakzai tribes form Lashkar against Taliban</a>

<a href="… 'Awakening' Council Version in Pakistan!</a>

<a href="… Anthropologist Think Tank's An 'Awakening' Council Version in Pakistan!</a>

Pashtuns aren't Mountain Yards or Iraqis, and the Hindu Kush is not Anbar or the Central Highlands, but are there any takeaways from those experiences that can be applied to this?