Clearly, It Is Pakistan’s Fault

by Joshua Foust on 1/12/2009

What to make of the massive crossing by hundreds of militants from Afghanistan into Pakistan to attack a Pakistan Army post?

Hundreds of militants crossed over from Afghanistan to attack a Pakistani military outpost today, officials said, in an illustration of the merging of the Taliban insurgency on the two sides of the border…

In the confrontation in Mohmand Agency, a neighboring district to Bajaur, Pakistani officials said at least 40 militants and six soldiers were killed in fighting near a military camp close to the Afghan frontier. Up to 600 fighters massed for the predawn assault, attacking the remote outpost with rockets and mortars, according to Pakistani authorities and news reports.

The camp’s defenders managed to fight the attackers off, but clashes in the area continued for some hours, according to a military statement.

In addition to the six government troops killed, seven were injured, and local tribal authorities also said militants were believed to have captured at least five soldiers. Many troops abducted in battle are later beheaded by insurgents.

Analysts said the Mohmand fighting reflected stepped-up coordination between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and underscored the ease of movement by militants across the rugged, poorly demarcated border.

Well, I’m certainly glad we have analysts to tell us these things. But this attack sounds eerily familiar. In Colonel G.J. Younghusband’s history of the Queen’s Own Corps of Guides, an early version of the Pashtun militias the British would employ—with varying levels of success from abject failure to raving success—to secure India’s northwest frontier, they faced a similar battle. In 1860, the Guides set out to “settle” the Mahsud tribe in Waziristan (home today to Nek Mohammed and Baitullah Mahsud), which had been harassing settlements along the Frontier. The Guides set up a forward camp, but before it could be secured and defended by artillery the group of 1500 fought off a 3,000-person attack, killing well over a hundred Wazirs and losing only 33.

In other words, while this is a significant event, perhaps for how it speaks to the Pakistani government’s changing relationship with the militias, it’s also not exactly anything new to the area. They’ve all done this before, and it’s a safe bet they’ll be doing it in the future as well.

Some fun historical reading on this topic:

Geoffrey Moore, ”Just As Good As the Rest”: A British Battalion in the FAQIR of IPI’s WAR. Bedford: Jaycopy, 1978.

Major Mohammad Nawaz, FF, The Guardians of the Northwest Frontier. Peshawar: Frontier Corps, North West Frontier Province, 1994.

Robert Nichols, ed. Colonial Reports on Pakistan’s Frontier Tribal Areas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Malcolm Yapp, “Tribes and States in the Khyber 1838-1842,” in Richard Tapper, The Conflict of Tribe and State in Iran and Afghanistan. London: Croom Helm, 1983, pp. 150-191.

COL. G.J. Younghusband, C.B., The Story of the Guides. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1908.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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