A failed state with growing ethnic and sectarian divides led by a government made up of ethnic and tribal warlords who are in it for themselves and therefore are not really interested in the state of the union, but rather the state of their bank accounts. There is also an insurgency taking place under the white flag of a radical religious movement that is predominately Pashtun, but also includes a number of other groups of various ethnicities predominately from outside of Afghanistan(which is itself barely even a country) who still have safe havens across the Durand Line- an international border recognized only by the U.S. and NATO. The weak and corrupt government, headed by a man who was seen by Bush as the perfect choice back in 2001-2002, is only in power because of NATO's presence. The Afghan President also happens to be aware that the U.S. and NATO need him for their mission in Afghanistan and therefore he has a lot of leverage. It's the opinion of many, including myself, that Hamid Karzai's primary concern is for himself and the other Brothers Karzai(plus cronylords).
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai undermines the counter-insurgency goals, counter-terrorism has gained traction in the form of raids. Those raids are happening constantly and if the numbers are to be believed it is going to lead to a lot of detainees and a lot fewer extremists. Even if the insurgents can be worn down into a peace deal, Karzai and Co. can find a way to screw it up. His government and authority barely exist, and where it does exist it does so in a predatorial and deeply corrupt manner. It is such "warlordism", or rather "crimelordism", which brought the deeply-religious and highly-extremist Taliban to power in the 1990's. The difference now is that many of the non-plurality sects(Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks) saw what the all-but-entirely-Pashtun Taliban did to them in the 1990's and beyond. It's important to note that the Afghan National Army(ANA) is dominated by these minorities. Hamid Karzai was seen as the perfect choice back in 2001/2002 because he is an ethnic Pashtun who supported the Northern Alliance. Now he is an ethnic Pashtun making continuous overtures to his fellow Pashtuns- but will they ever really accept him, and will the non-Pashtuns accept the terms? Probably if Hamid Karzai agrees to be Pakistan's new man in Afghanistan... Mullah Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Jalaluddin Haqqani have two huge things in common; they are all chiefs of major Afghan insurgent groups, and they are all well-connected to the Pakistani military-spy agency, the ISI.
As for NATO, the last of the "surge troops" have arrived. They'll be under fairly-strict rules of engagement to limit civilian casualties, of course, but while the ratio of civilians killed by the Taliban vs. killed by NATO/ANA will end up heavier on the Taliban's side, that does not necessarily equate to more support for the foreign NATO forces which have been there for nearly a decade now. We'll see what they can accomplish at a time when patience is dwindling. What's interesting is that there have been more U.S. security contractors killed in Afghanistan this year than U.S. troops. And this does not take into account Afghan security contractors. A major test for Karzai will be whether he is either successful or heartful about his decision to "phase-out" all security contractors; both international and Afghan, with some exceptions such as embassies. While the international contractors have a tarnished reputation(see; Blackwater), the Afghan contractors/firms are often times best thought of as mafias. Another development worth keeping an eye on is the effort to raise local villagers to defend their community, even if Karzai appears to be limiting the number of militiamen that will be allowed.
And as for the Taliban and Friends, their summer-time goals appear to have largely failed. They killed a large number of NATO troops but not nearly as many as they were trying to do. Despite using IEDs so frequently, often killing civilians as a result, the U.S. is now better equipped to deal with them relative to last year and are actually losing fewer troops on average. The insurgents launched a number of major assaults on a number of major bases in Afghanistan, and everytime they were routed after inflicting minimal damage. This is in contrast to the kinds of relatively-successful assaults launched last year, like the infamous Battle of Wanat. With winter cold and snow coming in the next few months the war will slow down and more talks will be likely.
The raids against the militants have become very frequent as have press releases about these raids. The average age of Taliban fighters and commanders have decreased according to NATO, and they claim to have captured or killed nearly 3,000 militants during the summer. Then again, it was General David Petraeus who once said that "we can't kill our way out".
The recent parliamentary elections saw old friends of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar doing well, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin insurgent group allied itself to the Taliban following the U.S. invasion. The warlord and former Prime Minister has plenty of bad history with Mullah Omar, and his group is the most likely of the three main insurgent groups to reconcile with the Afghan government. They have been at the center of all major infighting between Afghan militants. Hekmatyar was also widely considered the most ruthless and brutal of all the Afghan warlords in the 90's. The insurgents overall increased the level of violence relative to last year's presidential election, which is not a good sign. It also appears that there was massive cheating of the highest order, sometimes benefiting Karzai's friends and sometimes not like in the case of Hekmatyar. Local power brokers appear to be on the verge of increasing their influence. Who's interests do they have at heart?
The South, especially Kandahar and, Helmand;
Kandahar is the heartland of the Afghan Taliban and is also where the Deobandist movement began its rebellion against the warlords, along with its subsequent takeover of the country. The civil-military Operation Hamkari has been underway for awhile, and now the purely-military Operation Dragon Strike has begun to target Taliban strongholds just outside of Kandahar City, specifically in Zhari, Panjwye, and parts of Arghandab districts. Operation Dragon Strike's start, which actually began a week ago, marks the beginning of large-scale operations in Kandahar province. NATO claims there are more Afghans taking part in the operation than NATO troops, but most of those Afghans are likely from non-Pashtun regions of Afghanistan. It was in Zhari that Omar began the Pashtun-uprising against the warlords. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the chief of the provincial council in Kandahar and easily the most influential man in the province. He drew up a list of winning candidates in Kandahar province before the parliamentary election even took place.
In Helmand province, the capital of opium production, the militants are reportedly cash-strapped by NATO efforts to interfere with the opium trade. How efforts to get the farmers off of opium production progress will be worth watching, but past attempts proved to be failures.
The South-East, especially Khost, Paktia, and Paktika;
In "Haqqani Country", the U.S. is pushing hard at the insurgents and those facilitating movement across the border to Waziristan. NATO/ISAF makes almost daily press releases about raids being conducted here against the militants, especially those belonging to the Haqqani network. Dozens of militants were killed in an airstrike here over the weekend when they tried crossing into Afghanistan from Waziristan. Dozens of other militants were also killed when they crossed into Pakistan after launching attacks in south-eastern Afghanistan. NATO helicopters, not CIA-operated drones, carried out those strikes in the tribal areas.
The militants tried hitting back throughout the summer and September by launching major assaults at a number of bases in the mountainous region. All of those assaults on U.S. bases failed. Most of the large-scale attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan took place in the south-east with three exceptions being Jalalabad to the north in the eastern Nangahar province, infamous Bagram nearby Kabul, and Kandahar Airfield in the southern heartland of the Afghan Taliban. Since the end of August there have been six attacks in the area against NATO bases.
The East, especially Kunar, Nuristan, and Nangahar;
Much was made about the decision to pull troops from the Korengal Valley in Kunar province, but that has not meant that the U.S. has decided to refrain from engaging militants in the region. Raids have become more frequent here too in addition to the rest of the war-torn country. Still, it is unforgiving terrain. Mullah Fazlullah, the "Radio Imam" from Pakistan's Swat valley, is widely(one, two, etc.) thought to have sought refuge in the area with a lot of friends following Pakistan's military offensives against the Pakistani Taliban.
The North, especially Kunduz, Baghlan, and Takhar;
Once peaceful, the insurgency has since spread to the area in and around Kunduz. The surge was initially designed to focus on the south and east, but forces were diverted north as problems grew. The NATO mission here had been under German administration, but that has been changing as the U.S. steps up its efforts throughout Afghanistan. There are Pashtun enclaves in the north. The Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin are both present here along with the Islamic Movment of Uzbekistan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a radical militant group from Uzbekistan, has also been turning up north of Kunduz in the ex-Soviet state of Tajikistan. Ethnic Uzbeks are present in the north(especially on the border with Uzbekistan), although it's unclear if the Uzbek militants in the north are actually finding support amongst the ethnic Uzbeks oif Afghan descent. The IMU fled into Afghanistan to flee Uzbekistan's security forces in the 1990's, finding support amongst the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other extremist militant groups. Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan the IMU fled with most other militants across the border into Pakistan, namely Waziristan where they still maintain a presence. Most of the ethnic Uzbeks in Afghanistan were with the Northern Alliance, and therefore sworn enemies of the Taliban.
Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan;
Bajaur tribal agency is the northern-most of all the semi-autonomous tribal agencies. On the border with Kunar province in Afghanistan, Bajaur is considered a key entry point by the militants. The Pakistani military has carried out two operations here in the past two years. However, in both cases the militants could either flee across the border into Afghanistan's east or go just south into Mohmand tribal agency. Clashes are still reported.
Kurram tribal agency has been the site of tribal conflict, specifically over water and due to sectarian differences. Kurram agency, located deep in Sunni-dominated "Pashtunistan", has a significant population of Shia. The Pakistani army had an operation taking place in parts of the agncy since the end of March targeting the Pakistani Taliban. Progress, however, has been slow, especially after the massive flooding that ravaged much of Pakistan. The Orakzai tribal agency, the Pakistani Taliban's "second home", was the main focus of the military operation that began in March. Parts of Khyber agency, including Bara but especially the Tirah valley bordering Orakzai, remain militant strongholds. Militants regularly attack NATO tankers/containers moving through the Khyber Pass. Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was based out of the central-FATA region before taking command from Baitullah Mehsud..
Southern-FATA / North and South Waziristan:
When the militants crossed the hardly-recognized border from Afghanistan into Pakistan, the U.S. faced a dilemma on how to deal with them without putting boots on the ground. The answer has come in the form of drones, especially the Predator and Reaper series equipped with precision Hellfire and th smaller Viper-fire missiles. The intensity of the drone strikes has grown dramatically under U.S. President Barack Obama, who early in his campaign for President stated an intention to do just that. The month of September has been the most intense ever, nearly double the previous record, with nineteen strikes taking place in North Waziristan and one in the Waziri-regions of western South Waziristan. The attacks appear to have grown not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality; that is, there are fewer and fewer reports of civilian casualties relative to when the drones first began to be used. This is partly as a result of increased practice, increased intelligence gathering, and better technology. The majority of the strikes have focused on the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, between the main North Waziristani town of Miramshah and Afghanistan's Khost province
North Waziristan is the sanctuary for a number of militant groups, ranging from local Taliban to Pakistani/Mehsud and Punjabi Taliban(LeT, LeJ, SSP, Asian Tigers, etc) to al Qaeda Central to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union(IMU splinter group) to the ETIP(Uighur), and of course the Haqqani Network- considered the most dangerous of the Afghan insurgent groups. Pakistan's military lacks the capability to launch any major operation into North Waziristan due to the massive damage wrought to the rest of Pakistan by the massive flooding, which in addition to requiring the use of the military for relief efforts has also damaged key roads and bridges that would be vital to any large operation in the tribal areas.
South Waziristan is a split between the Waziri-dominated regions and the Mehsud-dominated regions. The Ahmadzai Waziris dominate the western part on the border with Afghanistan's Paktika province, including the area in and around the main town of Wana. Mullah Nazir is the dominate commander in th Waziri-regions of South Waziristan and is considered "good Taliban" by the Pakistani military establishment. Like with Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan, Mullah Nazir has an agreement with the government to stay out of Pakistan's fight with the Pakistani Taliban and to allow Pakistani security forces to move through their territory.
A country who's very nature was shaped by the context of its creation- its separation from India six decades ago, which resulted in major population shifts and warfare. Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan ar bitter rivals, especially in regards to Kashmir. Pakistan is much smaller. Pakistan makes up for the size difference by empowering extremists in a strategy that in many ways has backfired. Pakistan now finds itself victim to the extremism that they had long encouraged and are judging militants based on the danger they pose to Pakistan's interests. Conspiracy theories are treated in Pakistan like they are on Fox News. Their civilian government is led by the extremely-unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari, widowerer of Benazir Bhutto, and the more-popular Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The popular army is led by General Pervez Kayani. The civilian government is in a major standoff with the Supreme Court. Punjab Province is where most of the population rests, and is often eyed with animosity by the three other provinces.
The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan had been strained for many years. Indeed, many Afghans know all too well what role Pakistan has played in much of their misery. This can all be nicely-summed up in the capture of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's #2 back in February. It's no open secret that the high-profile capture had nothing to do with taking on the Afghan Taliban but everything to do with undoing peace-talks that had been going on between Baradar and his fellow Popolzai tribesman and the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Since then, Hamid Karzai has apparently received Pakistan's message ; no peace talks can go forth without their participation. In this front, there is gradual but steady progress.
If the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban can both agree on one thing, it is that they both have been and still are being double-gamed by Pakistan. U.S. officials constantly try to find and offer new ways to push the Pakistani state into cutting its ties with terrorist organizations, a number of which were founded by Pakistan to serve its "interest" against arch-rival India. Given the massive flooding and continued fighting between Pakistan's army and the Pakistani Taliban, it's unlikely that Pakistan will risk making more enemies this year.
Predominately-Pashtun Afghan refugees are facing pressure as Pakistan wants them to start returning home. Many of these Afghan refugees were made homeless again by the flooding. Military operations in the tribal areas have also led to the internal-displacement of many people prior to the flooding.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as North-West Frontier Province, which serves as Punjab province's buffer against FATA:
Fighting still takes place in the province between the state and the militants, especially from areas close to the Khyber tribal agency. The Bara and Tirah valleys of Khyber are where a number of militants are launching their strikes from. Five schools were bombed in the provincial capital of Peshawar in the past week, as though the flooding had not inflicted enough damage on Pakistan's already weak education system. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has lost more schools to terrorism than to the massive flooding. Most of the bombed schools in KP Province were in the Swat valley.
Half Pashtun and half Baloch, Balochistan has long been troubled and has become increasingly-so in recent years. A low-intensity insurgency exists amongst the impoverished Balochs who dominate most of the vast and sparsely-populated province. The Pashtuns dominate the north-east of the province, including areas surrounding the provincial capital of Quetta. NATO tankers have been regularly assaulted while en route to Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
Karachi, Sindh Province:
What was once called the "Quetta Shura" could now be the called "Karachi Shura". The shift began when Washington started to discuss expanding the drone strikes out of the tribal areas and into urban areas such as Quettta, the provincial capital of Balochistan province. The drone strikes also chased out a number of militants from FATA. Karachi is far from the tribal belt. The provincial capital of Sindh province in the south, it is a very densely-populated urban area where sectarian/ethnic strife is on the rise. This could grow worse as a number of people displaced by the flooding make their way to violence-stricken Karachi and surrounding areas. Targeted killings are a regular occurance.
The war is not lost. Just like measures of victory are vague, so are measures of failure. But as the last(hopefully) of the reinforcements arrive, it's clearly not going well. Even if NATO keeps capturing/killing 1,000 militants a month, as they apparently did over the summer, it will not make up for the many faults of Hamid Karzai. Even if drone strikes stay on the pace set so far in September, which is over one strike every day and a half, they will not be able to answer the Waziristan question alone. Pakistan's double-game is hard to read as they are keeping thier cards close to their chest.
Daily Times can confirm that Pakistan is trying to solicit a deal between the US and Afghan Talibans with the help of certain friendly Arab nations while successfully partitioning Afghan Talibans, the TTP, Pakistan's version of Taliban, and al Qaeda. Plans are in place for an operation in North Waziristan, but Kayani has indicated that he will decide when to go ahead, if at all.
A top Pakistani intelligence chief told Daily Times, "With Saudi and UAE envoys coming in, Hamid Karzai dealing with the Pakistani establishment to strike deals with the Taliban, the Haqqanis might also join the coalition and there could eventually be a happy ending."
While on the other hand, concerned with the negotiations and dealings, al Qaeda too is gradually shifting its base from its global nerve centre - North Waziristan - to urban areas of Pakistan. The group has also cemented alliances with the TTP and has given refuge to most of the Mehsuds in North Waziristan, its original base, while successfully linking with and even funding various sectarian groups in Punjab and Sindh.
While Western diplomats and Pakistani security officials reveal that although negotiations are "on" with regards to Afghanistan, their real and immediate concern now is al Qaeda and the TTP, which might just organise a Mumbai-style attack or a "massive one" to try and destabilise talks and the reconciliation process. A Western diplomat commented, "Expect some fireworks."
What has certainly seemed obvious is that while Pakistan plays a double-game with the U.S. and Afghan Taliban, they do not appear to be playing such a game with the U.S. and al Qaeda Central. Rather, they are trying to navigate a very murky world. A negotiated peace would be ideal as it offers a chance for a U.S. drawdown, but does Hamid Karzai have the interests of Afghanistan at heart or himself and the other Brothers Karzai? We'll see. At the moment, U.S. General David Petraeus is saying that the Taliban have reached out to Karzai. So again, we'll see.
The next AfPak analysis will be sometime in January.
When considering the situation in Pashtunistan, consider these maps of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is in the Pashtun areas where the U.S. and NATO have the most problems. It's important to note that while Pashtuns make up a much larger proportion of the population of Afghanistan than they do in Pakistan, there are still more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. Here is a good map and rundown of the areas that make up the main warzone.