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Is Pakistan Doing All It Should to Secure Its Afghan Border?

Discussants: Bill Roggio, and Kathy Gannon, Special Correspondent for the Associated Press covering South-Central Asia and the Mideast and Author of I is for Infidel, From Holy War to Holy Terror
Updated March 2, 2007


Last year, as NATO forces battled a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, the country witnessed the highest number of combat-related deaths since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. With the 2006 death toll reaching four thousand and concern that winter's end will bring more clashes with the Taliban, security along the Pakistan border has come under increasing scrutiny. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been accused of failing to clamp down on militants taking refuge in its semi-autonomous tribal areas and making incursions across the Afghan border.

Bill Roggio, a widely published journalist who has embedded with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and authors the Fourth Rail blog, debates former CFR Fellow Kathy Gannon, author of I is for Infidel and a longtime AP correspondent currently living in Pakistan, about whether Islamabad is doing all it should to secure its Afghan border.

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Kathy GannonMost Recent

March 2, 2007

Kathy Gannon

Again let me say Pakistan is not doing enough to secure its borders and the border regions are a safe haven for radical Islamists whether aligned with Afghanistan ’s former Taliban regime or al-Qaeda and its affiliates. What’s the answer? Roaring in with all guns blazing, killing lots of people in the hopes that you get a few of the leaders? That hasn’t worked in Afghanistan and it won’t work in the tribal regions. It will make hundreds, maybe thousands more enemies.

The problem is that the U.S. put all its eggs in the one basket: the Pakistani military. Why are things so bad? It’s not because the military made an agreement in Waziristanin 2006. It’s because the military gave a toehold in Pakistan back in 2002 to the very people who are at the root of the Islamic jihadist movement.

Check out the religious alliance that rules Northwest Pakistan: it is a partner in the Baluchistan government and is the official opposition in the federal government. Every single one of them has a jihadist wing. A key component of the ruling religious alliance in the frontier government, Jamaat-e-Islami, has sent its followers to Chechnya, Bosnia, and northwestern China. Several al-Qaeda men were arrested at the homes of its party workers.

In Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s eight years in power, he hasn’t found new civilian partners to replace the radical religious right. They remain the military’s only partner working to quiet the Pashtun belt of Pakistan.

I said at the outset of the debate and I say again: The United States made allies with the wrong people. Think back to what happened the last time the U.S. made allies of the Pakistanmilitary. It got September 11.

And on the Afghan side the U.S. has made allies with the mujahedeen leaders whose radical Islamic vision is no different than al-Qaeda’s and who have links to al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba. These groups were based in northwestern Afghanistan in the early 1990s by the mujahedeen government, which offered safe haven when the United States was pushing Pakistan to shut down its Kashmiri militant training camps. It just moved them next door to Afghanistan with the support of the mujahedeen government there and the same people are back in power today.

For all these reasons I am trying to identify the complexity of the problem, and move the debate forward to what should be done about it. This isn’t new but it is deteriorating because of the political room to maneuver given by the Pakistani military when it turned (as it always does) to the religious extremists and sidelined mainline political parties.

The solution has to be a political one that puts an end to the tribal regions having separate administrations from the state. The tribal area is Pakistani territory and should be subject to Pakistani law. People must be arrested and control must be established. The task is no easy thing to accomplish with all the eggs in the basket of the one institution in Pakistanthat has always held contempt for politicians and made sure that political institutions never fully developed during Pakistan ’s sixty-year history.

Bill RoggioMost Recent

March 1, 2007

Bill Roggio

I certainly am not trying to hang the problems inside Afghanistan on Pakistan alone. But yet again, the question posed was whether Pakistan is doing enough to secure its borders.

The fact is Pakistan's failure to reign in the terrorists in these regions threatens not only Afghanistan, but the very stability of both the nuclear armed Pakistani state and the international community.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are operating, in some cases openly, inside Pakistan. The rise of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated Pakistani and Central Asian terrorist groups (such as the Tahir Yuldashev's Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or Lashkar-e-Taiba) in western and southern Pakistan is a serious issue that you have avoided.

To ignore that the Taliban in Afghanistan receive very real support from Pakistan understates the severity of the problem. When thousands of Taliban from Pakistan have been positively identified as organizing, arming, training, and raiding from camps in Waziristan and Bajaur, this isn't a problem that can be easily swept under the rug. While I was embedded with the Canadian Army in Kandahar last summer, Pakistani Taliban were routinely captured. Last fall, captured fighters admitted to being recruited and trained in Pakistan. “Mullahs in Pakistan were preaching to us that we are obliged to fight jihad in Afghanistan,” said a Pakistani Taliban fighter named Alahuddin. “A Pakistani Taliban commander, Saifullah, introduced us to a guide who escorted us to Barmal.” The unit he crossed over with was largely from North Waziristan, and Maulivi Saifullah signed the Waziristan Accord. There are numerous accounts such as this.

The infrastructure being built in Waziristan, Bajaur, and Quetta, and which is now expanding into the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, cannot be ignored. This isn't an internal Pakistani problem. These bases are being used to mount attacks inside Afghanistan, and against the Pakistani government, India, and the West. Last year's Mumbai bombings have been traced back to Waziristan, as have the Kabul suicide bombings and numerous Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, the London airline plot and subway bombings, and a host of other terrorist attacks.

U.S. intelligence now believes Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are operating from Pakistani safe havens. Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's senior military commander, is operating from Pakistan, with the backing of the Pakistani state, according to Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. The list goes on. Ask yourself just one question: Why did Mullah Dadullah endorse the Waziristan Accord?

In Afghanistan, U.S., NATO and Afghan forces have the military option to strike at camps and armed formations, and they exercise this option regularly. The same is not true in Pakistan, where the government has ceded control to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their allies. Pakistan has some difficult decisions to make. It must establish the writ of the government in the largely ungoverned tribal regions. Like it or not, this will require military force to root out the networks of terror training camps and capture mid and high level leaders for starters. There are no easy solutions to the problems inside Pakistan.

Kathy GannonFebruary 28, 2007

Kathy Gannon

You make some very solid and very correct points.

But it was Ustad Saznoor, a lieutenant of Abdur Rasul Sayyaf’s, who went to Sudan to get Osama bin Laden, not Jalaluddin Haqqani, though he certainly supported giving him refuge. The other key player was Engineer Mahmood, a lieutenant of Yunus Khalis, who, as the mujahadeen government’s education minister, said publicly there was no need to educate girls.

Yet Khalis, who is not in Pakistan because he died last year, was also picked up by the U.S.-led coalition as an ally in 2001, and one of his lieutenants is now governor of Kabul. Another (who has since died) was a minister in Hamid Karzai’s first transitional government.

Even more disturbing are reports from those who know much better than I that Arab militants have found a save haven in Afghanistan’s Paghman province, Sayyaf’s home region.

Thus, it seems that “unsavory,” as a term to describe them, just doesn’t say it. Nor can it be said that there is not collusion afoot with al-Qaeda. There is definitely indirect collusion with the Taliban in that the lawlessness and insecurity created by the post-Taliban corruption and drug dealing have given strength to the insurgency. Given the fluidity of their loyalties, it is not a stretch to suspect their collusion with anti-government insurgents who share their desire to see NATO and coalition soldiers out of Afghanistan.

As recently as this week, a former Pakistani ISI chief, who is a vocal opponent of international forces in Afghanistan, said he continues to get messages from Sayyaf and Rabbani. He didn’t reveal the contents of the messages but it’s unlikely to have been a weather report.

Yet you are absolutely correct to point out that the question we are debating is the role of the Pakistan military in securing the border. And again you are right that the Pakistan military is not doing enough. We both are agreeing and repeating that Musharraf’s government thinks it can control the extremists but it can’t.

The point I am trying to make is that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is a complex mix of problems, none of which should be seen in isolation. Hanging it all on the lawless tribal regions and the Pakistan military’s lack of action (which there certainly is) won’t sort out Afghanistan. The situation on both sides of the border is making it increasingly dangerous for NATO, but even more so for ordinary Afghans.

That NATO said the Taliban were mostly defeated in 2004 speaks more to poor intelligence than reality, not unlike those 2003 words that announced an end to hostilities in Iraq. The same camps existed, the same names were being tossed around, except that some are dead like Naik Mohammed and others like Baitul Masood have emerged as their replacements.

It isn’t that the insurgents own the tribal regions in south and west Pakistan and in Bajaur agency alone. The situation today is that they increasingly own large swaths of Afghanistan as well, can move with relative ease, and have more places to regroup and reorganize.

More has to be done on both sides of the border. The more pressing debate is what should that be and how.

Bill RoggioFebruary 27, 2007

Bill Roggio

The question wasn’t “are there problems within Afghanistan, and are the warlords contributing to these problems?” I concede they are. Afghanistan is full of unsavory actors. But the warlords you mention are currently not colluding with the Taliban to destabilize the regime or sheltering al-Qaeda. And Yunis Khalis and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who are currently based out of Pakistan, are responsible for bringing Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan after he was expelled from Sudan.

The question posed was if Pakistan is doing enough to deal with the problems on their border. The answer still is no.

The Musharraf regime is operating from a position of weakness. There are deep sympathies for extremists within the Pakistani military and intelligence services. In some cases, as with elements of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, they actively support the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Musharraf’s government believes it can control and co-opt the Taliban and extremists, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the problem has worsened since the government cut deals with the likes of Nek Mohammed, Baitullah Mehsud, and a host of “local Taliban,” “militants,” and “miscreants,” as the government prefers to call them. Afghan Taliban commanders are based inside Pakistan. One such commander, Mullah Manan, had a compound on the border in Baluchistan, and had cut a deal with the ISI to become a “good Taliban” as late as 2004. He was killed this month in Helmand province, Afghanistan while fighting NATO forces.

Sealing the complex border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is virtually impossible. But allowing al-Qaeda and the Taliban to own the border region is unacceptable. The Pakistani government sent in the military in 2004 and was roundly defeated, hence the “peace” deals. But at least while the military fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the terrorists were prevented from establishing training camps, refitting, and recouping from losses. NATO believed the Taliban to be largely defeated in 2004 because Pakistani operations at the very least forced them to keep their heads down.

The fact remains that western and southern Pakistan remains a safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani government is doing little to stop this. A peace agreement is in the works in Bajaur, where al-Qaeda operates, Ayman al-Zawahiri had been targeted in the past, and the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM)—a Taliban group that continues to send thousands of fighters into Afghanistan—openly rules. TNSM is run by Faqir Mohammed, who last fall called “Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar heroes of the Muslim world” and vowed “joint efforts to fight the enemies of peace in Bajaur Agency.” These are the people with which the Pakistani government is cutting deals.

Kathy GannonFebruary 26, 2007

Kathy Gannon

To call the suggestion that Pakistan is doing all it can to secure its Afghan border “laughable” oversimplifies the complexity of the tribal region that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan; the nature of the Pakistani military that Washington has chosen to partner with; as well as the nature of Washington’s other partners in Afghanistan, those so-called Afghan warlords, who are powerbrokers in Kabul, influencing appointment of governors, ministers, and police chiefs and driving the country into the anarchy that gave rise to the Taliban.

Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is 2,430 kilometers. Sealing or “securing” the border would require a Berlin-wall style construction and a half-a-million strong army (at least) to patrol it 24/7. Controlling the border regions are a logistical and military nightmare, an impossibility. Pacifying the tribesmen of this area, who have no ideological grudge with the Taliban, also can’t be done militarily. Thus the need for agreements, but they too will fail without political will.

Thus the much bigger issue is Washington’s choice of partners in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. The institutional and political changes that will bring stability to both sides of the Durand line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan depends on who is running those countries.

In Pakistan, Washington has partnered with the military, having learned nothing from history. The last time it partnered with the military was with [former dictator] Zia-ul Haq, who embraced and nurtured Islamic extremists. President Pervez Musharraf might not want Islamic extremists to dictate governance but he wants the military in power, and in Pakistan that means a partnership with the country’s Islamic right wing. That’s a fact of life in Pakistan.

It was on Musharraf’s watch that the religious extremists in Pakistan for the first time in the country’s history took political control of one province, are a partner in another, and constitute the official opposition at the federal level. They are there because Musharraf wanted to sideline the mainstream political parties.

The military, of which Musharraf is a product, is inspired by jihad and has created, nurtured, and funded a cadre of jihadists that operates outside its ranks to wage its covert attacks, usually against India, but also to advance its causes elsewhere.

What the Pakistan military hasn’t figured out, though Musharraf might be getting the idea, is that it can’t control the religious extremists it uses. But that doesn’t mean the military has stopped using them. It hasn’t.

Musharraf might not want them here in Pakistan but he and his military are worried about Indian influence in Afghanistan. They feel the Afghan government is unfriendly to Pakistan. The military doesn’t know any other way to play its games, whether at home or abroad and it somehow always gets Washington on its side.

In Afghanistan it’s no better. Washington’s partners are the likes of Abdur Rasul Sayyaf, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Mohammed Fahim, Atta Mohammed, Rashid Dostum. They are extremist in their views, have militias of their own, and wield considerable power, often deciding key appointments including governors and police chiefs who allow the drug trade to flourish as well as protect and nurture corruption that has frustrated attempts to build a strong solid police force.

Worse still, these are the men who brought Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in early 1996 and gave him refuge when Sudan forced him to leave because of U.S.pressure.

When they last ruled Afghanistan, terrorist training camps at places like Darunta, Farmada, Tora Bora, and Khost all flourished under their patronage. The Taliban didn’t bring bin Laden to Afghanistan or start the terrorist training camps, they inherited them from the mujahedeen who are back in power today. Their return to power by the international community, and freedom to pursue their lawless ways has frustrated ordinary Afghans. It has stripped Afghans of their faith in their government and in the international community that supports it. That means even if they aren’t working against the government, they are no longer working with it. This, not the border region, is at the heart of why Afghanistan’s anti-government insurgency thrives today.

Bill RoggioFebruary 26, 2007

Bill Roggio

The answer to the question is absolutely not. Afghanistan certainly has its share of internal problems, ranging from bad governance, to rampant corruption, to warlords and drug lords, to radical Islamists and Afghan Taliban. Nonetheless, the military and suicide attacks within the country are largely fueled by Taliban, al-Qaeda and Hizb-i-Islami fighters operating from inside Pakistan.

First, the deaths in Afghanistan over the course of 2006 need to be put into proper context. Well over 80 percent of 4,000 killed were Taliban fighters, and hundreds of those killed have been repatriated to the Pakistani tribal areas. The overwhelming majority of the casualties in Afghanistan occurred in provinces that directly border Pakistan's tribal areas and Baluchistan .

Large swaths of western and southern Pakistan serve as Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries. The Federally Administered Tribal Agencies of North and South Waziristan, as well as Bajaur, serve as Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries and command posts. These agencies host both specialized al-Qaeda camps and camps for Taliban foot soldiers. In South Waziristan, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed to be behind the wave of suicide killings across Pakistan, maintains an army of up to 30,000 fighters alone. He is but one of over a dozen powerful Taliban commanders. Quetta serves as a Taliban command and control center, as well as a place for fighters to rest, recuperate and recover from battlefield injuries. Major Taliban and related Islamist terrorist organizations run significant recruiting drives in the Federally Administered Tribal Agency, Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

The fall of western Pakistanis confirmed by both NATO commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani press. NATO commanders and the Pakistani press have repeatedly reported large and small formations of Taliban fighters crossing the border to engage Afghan and NATO forces, attack district and province centers, and thwart reconstruction projects. NATO forces routinely engage these battalion-sized formations crossing the border. NATO has also begun to shell Taliban forces across the Pakistani border.

Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the outgoing NATO commander in Afghanistan, has called for strikes against Taliban positions inside Pakistan. This sentiment has been repeated, both on and off the record, by numerous military and intelligence officers familiar with the situation inside Pakistan.

The root of this problem can be directly traced back to Pakistan's failure to subdue the Taliban and al-Qaeda during operations which began in 2004. After the Pakistani Army took serious casualties (the real number is unknown, but intelligence sources estimate upwards of 3,000) during fighting in South Waziristan, the government signed a secret deal in the spring of 2006 that essentially ceded control to the Taliban.

Afterwards, the Taliban violated the terms of the agreement and established a parallel government, opened recruiting offices, continued to shelter foreign terrorists, dispensed its own brand of sharia justice and assassinated pro-government tribal leaders. The North Waziristan Accord followed shortly afterward in September of 2006. Since then, cross border attacks have increased by 300 percent, and the violence in both Afghanistan and Pakistan has skyrocketed. The Pakistani government seeks to cut more deals akin to the Waziristan Accord, and give the Taliban great control over not only the tribal areas, but the entire Northwest Frontier Province. Given that Pakistan's response has been to cede territory to the Taliban while cross border attacks increase in Afghanistan, the notion that Pakistanis doing all it can to secure its border with Afghanistan is laughable.

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