Belmont Club

The horror. The horror.

Bill Roggio describes classic insurgent political theater. After defeating a tribal group opposed to them in Pakistan, Taliban executed its leaders and desecrated their bodies.

Pir Samiullah, a rival tribal and religious leader opposing Mullah Fazlullah’s forces in the Matta region of Swat, and eight of his followers were killed in a Taliban assault on Dec. 16. Two of his aides were subsequently beheaded in public, while an estimated 40 of his followers have been captured. “The Taliban also torched the houses of Samiullah and 15 elders of his group,” Daily Times reported.

After Samiullah was buried, the Taliban returned, dug up his body and hanged it in public. The Taliban made an example of Samiullah and those who oppose Fazlullah’s rule.

Samiullah was the first tribal leader in Swat to raise a lashkar, or tribal army, to oppose the Taliban. He claimed to have organized more than 10,000 tribesmen to oppose the Taliban and protect 20 villages. Samiullah and his followers are members of the Gujjar community, which is a group distinct from the dominant Pashtun tribal confederations that support the Taliban.

Defeating an enemy like the Taliban — or al-Qaeda — is not primarily about killing them; nor convincing them of an idea; still less is it about redressing some grievance. It is about destroying the basis of their power, which is fear. The Surge in Iraq did not start to work until the average man in the street felt reasonably sure he wouldn’t be tortured to death in front of his family. Mullah Fazlullah understands this perfectly. Therefore the execution and desecration of his enemies was meant to send a pointed message: you are are not safe from me. Winning “hearts and minds” is of little use when the Taliban has the population by the short and curlies.

Marlon Brando’s famous speech as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now contrasts the conventional notion of “winning hearts and minds” with the methods used by the Viet Cong. Kurtz came to believe from his experience that evil was stronger than good; and that being the case, either way the enemy would win. Confronting the man who had been sent to kill him to end an embarrassment to the regular army, Kurtz argued that “you cannot judge me”. No one could judge him who didn’t understand the real rules.

Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms.

Socialism understood the rules. And so does al-Qaeda. And leaving a pile of little arms is precisely what, with a little variation for local color, the Taliban or al-Qaeda aim to do to any village foolish enough to oppose them. They will hunt down every tribal leader who resists them in the most vicious possible way. The question is: what do you do with that fact? In the heyday of Colonialism, the obvious riposte was to set counter-terror against terror. Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, the Grave of a Hundred Dead describes how it worked in Burma. Here’s how it starts.

A Snider squibbed in the jungle,
Somebody laughed and fled,
And the men of the First Shikaris
Picked up their Subaltern dead,
With a big blue mark in his forehead
And the back blown out of his head.

Subadar Prag Tewarri,
Jemadar Hira Lal,
Took command of the party,
Twenty rifles in all,
Marched them down to the river
As the day was beginning to fall.

They buried the boy by the river,
A blanket over his face–
They wept for their dead Lieutenant,
The men of an alien race–
They made a samadh in his honor,
A mark for his resting-place.

For they swore by the Holy Water,
They swore by the salt they ate,
That the soul of Lieutenant Eshmitt Sahib
Should go to his God in state;
With fifty file of Burman
To open him Heaven’s gate.

But that policy, taken to its logical conclusion, simply makes one side exactly like the other. Brando’s Kurtz understood this perfectly and realization drove him mad. “And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God… the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we.”

The other alternative is to gradually and remorselessly empower the population to resist terror. Community organizing has gotten a bad name of late, being associated with the shennanigans in Chicago, but the process of organizing a grassroots resistance to terrorism is arguably much more genuine CO. The problem is that the process is long and painstaking. It cannot be performed from 20,000 feet. It cannot be accomplished by diplomats or nuclear weapons. And therefore the politicians will probably shrink from it. Bill Roggio describes the handicaps under which resistance to the Taliban operates.

The Taliban hold an advantage over the disparate tribal groups in organization and fighters. The Taliban are organized throughout the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, while tribal resistance groups operate independently. The Taliban “out-number and out-gun [resisting tribal groups] by more than 20 to 1,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October. And the tribes receive little support from the government and military. In many cases, they do not want government assistance.

In many cases, the tribal enemies of the Taliban do not want government assistance. Would you?