Gul’s narrative winds through each of FATA’s seven administrative districts. He pays particular mind to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement, a network of jihadist groups that coalesced in 2007 and was until recently led by Baitullah Mehsud. Like the Afghan Taliban of which Mehsud was formerly a part, the group aims to drive U.S. and NATO forces out of Afghanistan. But it has additional goals, including the disruption of cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S. and the imposition of sharia law throughout the country. As Gul puts it, the TTP “is out to destroy the entire Pakistani security establishment” in pursuit of these goals.
Pakistan has responded in force, pouring almost a fourth of its armed forces into FATA and its environs, and sustaining more than 2,300 combat deaths. Gul highlights evidence of increasing coordination between Pakistani and US intelligence services—a high-profile example being the drone strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009. He also suggests that Pakistan’s military leader, General Ashfaq Kayani, has seen the error of supporting jihadist proxies to project Pakistani influence in the region, and no longer has the money for it in any case.
But it’s hard to be sure. To support his speculation of Kayani-led “paradigm shift” in how Pakistan perceives its interests, Gul twice quotes a “quip” from the general, in which he brushed aside allegations of Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai attacks of November 2008: “We cannot outsource our national defense; that is a thing of the past.” But pith is not evidence, however highly placed the source, nor is it completely reassuring given the history Gul himself describes. Further, repeated reference to the number of casualties Pakistan has sustained in pursuit of the TTP says nothing about how, or if, Pakistan intends to deal with the groups who focus their attacks on Americans and Afghan security forces.
Ultimately, argues Gul, Pakistan must “address issues such as good governance and the rule of law” and “integrate FATA properly into Pakistan.” These solutions seem cursory, and even inconsistent, in light of the preceding 221 pages, many of which point to the historical impossibility of such integration and the fundamental incompatibility between centralized, Western-style “good governance” and the tribal structures that have ruled the area since well before the advent of Islam.
Still, The Most Dangerous Place makes it clear that ignoring the area, which has been called “the geographical crossroads for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,” is no longer an option. Obama’s “Af-Pak” strategy is a belated acknowledgment that the US war in Afghanistan doesn’t stop at the Durand Line. To paraphrase Trotsky: you may not be interested in FATA, but FATA is interested in you.
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