No Awakening in the Cards For Pakistan

The Pakistani military recently hustled journalists through tiny villages in Bajaur, a tribal area along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, where the Pakistani Army is encouraging villagers to form local militias, called lashkars, to join the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

At the same time that authorities are encouraging the lashkars to join the fight against Islamist militants, they've asked Afghan refugees to leave camps in the tribal areas and return home.

While a formal reason has not be given, security forces suspect that Taliban supporters are hidden in the camps.

What's going on here?

An armchair general might deduce that the Pakistani government is hoping that they can foment tribal anger into a popular uprising similar to the Sunni Awakening in Iraq.

For those of you new to the story, we're winning the war in Iraq. A significant part of that success -- we'll leave it for historians to argue how much -- is due to a change in coalition counterinsurgency doctrine that was the result of some very smart men looking at what has worked in the past in other parts of the world, and adapting a solution that fit.

Another significant event contribution to progress in Iraq occurred when Sunni sheiks in al-Anbar province got very tired of al-Qaeda's senseless brutality towards their tribes, and decided that the best way to express their distaste was through the barrel of a gun.

Though the Sunni uprising in Iraq -- the "Awakening" -- helped turn the tide in a war that was on the verge of failure, what made the turn stick were the partnerships that developed between Sunni tribes and coalition and Iraqi forces.

Sunni tribes provided intelligence to coalition and Iraqi forces, coalition forces dismantled terrorist cells (sometimes violently), and then tribal militias kept watch for attempts at re-infiltration as Iraqi forces came up to speed and gained trust as they provided security. At the same time, the coalition paid the Sunni tribesmen. Many, if not most of them, were part of the Sunni insurgency who had been shooting at U.S. and Iraqi forces and setting bombs just months earlier. Their employment encouraged them to stick to the straight and narrow.

From time to time, al-Qaeda struck back and attempted to make examples of isolated tribes that were part of the Awakening by attacking and overwhelming them.

Insurgents in Iraq quickly learned that massed assaults against isolated tribes worked... until a member of the tribe made a phone call to the nearest coalition quick reaction force (QRF).  When the cavalry arrived with Apaches in tow, the insurgents were almost always overwhelmed, taking heavy losses. Sunni tribes in al-Anbar began to trust coalition and Iraqi forces, Sunni tribes in other provinces began to follow suit, and the rest is history.

The Pakistani government would like to see the same scenario play out in Pakistan. But their hopes of a Pakistani Awakening is going to fail in the tribal areas.