Guest Post by Nicholas Schmidle: The Good News and Bad News About Pakistan You Haven’t Heard


(Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times)
Nicholas Schmidle is a Fellow at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
The Pakistani military is apparently pounding the Taliban in the Swat Valley right now. Since the operation began on May 7 – the day President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington – the army has released daily reports detailing the number of militants killed. On Friday, they claimed to have taken out 55 Talibs in the previous 24 hours.
That’s a very bad metric of success.
This is not a war to be won with body counts. As Nawaz Sharif, the two-time former prime minister, told me in an email exchange earlier this week, “It’s also a battle of ideas about future visions for the society.” (You can read more of my conversation with Sharif in the latest issue of The New Republic.) So how is the battle for hearts and minds and visions going, you might wonder? Not well.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported on Friday that more than 834,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have been registered so far. Many of them are confined to camps in areas south of Swat, scrambling for food, shelter and water.
At an event last Tuesday at the New America Foundation (parts one and two), Steve Coll and I discussed the situation in the camps, and I suggested that the Pakistani government – backed by the United States – had a golden opportunity to be visible in the camps, doing everything possible to reassure the refugees that Islamabad’s policies towards the Taliban had changed and that they were serious about protecting the population.
In other words, to restore lost confidence in the state. Because after a few more weeks of bombardment, the Pakistani military will probably retake the city of Mingora, clear the roads of Taliban checkpoints (another misleading measure of success), declare victory, and tell the refugees to return home. And they will, only to find that the army has returned to their bases and that the Taliban haven’t been defeated – but merely taken to the hills.
Imagine my surprise then, when I read last week that 2,000 members of the Falah-i-Insaniat (“Welfare of the People”) Foundation are running around the camps providing services. Falah-i-Insaniat is the new name of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the front organization for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. You’ve heard of them, right? They were the ones suspected of being behind the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November that left almost 200 people dead.
So to re-cap: the government writ collapses in Swat and the Taliban move in; the government attempts to re-establish control in Swat and flushes hundreds of thousands of refugees into camps; due to a lack of planning and capacity, government writ in the camps is tenuous, and banned jihadi organizations pick up the slack.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you can read all about Swat, the Taliban, and the paranoia and schizophrenia of the state in my new book, To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan. The book is a first-hand account of contemporary Pakistan, based on the two years (2006-2008) I spent there as a fellow of the Institute of Current World
In January 2008, I was deported as a result of a piece I wrote in the New York Times Magazine called “Next-Gen Taliban.” The story argued that a new generation of militants – headed by firebrands like Maulana Fazlullah in Swat – had escaped control of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, Islamist parties, and traditional authority structures such as tribes, making the insurgency increasingly unmanageable.
The book describes this split at greater length through the lens of my personal experiences in Swat and throughout Taliban-affected parts of the North West Frontier Province. If you get to the end, you can read about how I went back to Pakistan in August 2008, seven months after being deported, only to this time read news items about my own kidnapping, which I took as a hint to get out.
I’ll be updating my personal website and my Facebook page often; I invite you to follow the book’s progress there. In the meantime, you can watch recent appearances on C-SPAN and listen on NPR here and here.
— Nicholas Schmidle


16 comments on “Guest Post by Nicholas Schmidle: The Good News and Bad News About Pakistan You Haven’t Heard

  1. Don Bacon says:

    The human exodus from the war-torn Swat valley in northern Pakistan is turning into the world’s most dramatic displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the UN refugee agency warned.
    A Pakistani military offensive against Taliban militants in their Swat valley bastion has forced more than a million people from their homes, the government and the United Nations say.
    Almost 1.5 million people have registered for assistance since fighting erupted three weeks ago, the UNHCR said, bringing the total number of war displaced in North West Frontier province to more than 2 million, not including 300,000 the provincial government believes have not registered. “It’s been a long time since there has been a displacement this big,” the UNHCR’s spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva, trying to recall the last time so many people had been uprooted so quickly. “It could go back to Rwanda.”


  2. pauline says:

    Finding the supposed Mohammed Atta wallet intact on the streets of Manhattan on 9/11 was as 3-dollar-bill phoney as Cheney’s claims of Al- Quaida and Hussein connections were justifiable reasons for war in Iraq. Those waterboarded said so, right?
    This is all political acting/directing and skullduggery as its absolute worse.
    btw, check out the Illinois Dept of Corrections inmates for a character named James Files. He was supposedly the shooter on the grassy knoll in Dallas. Still alive he has given very few interviews, but he knew enough details of exact gun-type used and who hired him — E. Howard Hunt. And who hired Hunt? GHWB, but I’m giving away that Hankey video. Those photos of Tricky Dick Nixon and Lee Harvey Oswald at an intelligence training camp were of course pure coincidence — kind of like finding that Atta wallet.


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    The minute these lyin’ sacks of shit start throwing the word “commission” at us, you know the fix is in.


  4. pauline says:

    Have you viewed the California teacher, John Hankey, and his video, “JFK II – The Bush Connection”?
    I’m watching an NPR special on the Kennedy’s right now and I’m starting to think those “truth commissions” were hard at work decades ago.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Blogs are good for every one where we get lots of information for any topics nice job keep it up !!!”
    Go spam somewhere else, you jackass. We aren’t interested in your bullshit advertisement links.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Personally, I believe Osama was dead before the first plane hit, or shortly afterwards. He was a loose end that simply could not be allowed to be questioned.
    Interesting that the ISI general Mahmud Ahmed was never pursued or indicted. Interesting too that the faulty list of hijackers was never revised after it was revealed that many of those named were still alive. The so called “9/11 Commission” sure did a great job explaining these enigmas, didn’t they? I’m sure we can expect the same stellar performance from this effin’ joke they’re now trying to screw us with; this proposed con-job known as “The Truth Commission”.


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Great news. We can buy your book.
    Hooray, hot damn and didlee dee!!!!
    But uh……….really…….ya gotta be kidding me.


  8. pauline says:

    Don Bacon wrote:
    “However there were many reports in 2002 that OBL was probably dead, which was no surprise. . .”
    What is a big surprise is the Pakistani president stating between the 32 sec and 37 sec of this interview that his wife had called GHWB and asked him if he was destablizing the government of the first Arab female president and that she (and he) knew that OBL was acting as an operative for GHWB.
    How many times have you heard in this in MSM? If there is any truth to his “charge”, it changes the whole 9/11 event.


  9. JMHX says:

    Pakistan presents a series of complex problems not only for the Middle East, but also for Asia and the Indian subcontinent. There’s a pretty solid site I’ve been visiting called Asia Chronicle ( that handles issues like Pakistan’s loose nukes and the possible threat to the region they pose. Check it out as a more in-depth study of what’s being talked about here.


  10. Don Bacon says:

    You can’t justify wars for profit without personalizing an enemy, so the US has to keep OBL alive. However there were many reports in 2002 that OBL was probably dead, which was no surprise since he was in end-stage kidney failure and needed dialysis every three days — pretty hard to get in a cave.
    from 2002:
    The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-terrorism chief, Dale Watson, says he thinks Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead. (BBC)
    “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” [Afghanistan president] Karzai said on CNN’s “Late Edition” on Sunday. (CNN)
    “I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a … kidney patient,” [Pakistan president] Gen. Pervez Musharraf said on Friday (CNN)


  11. pauline says:

    His comments are probably too true for most in the western world to believe. You may want to replay a few times to get the gist.
    Pakistani President: Osama Bin Laden is dead


  12. Don Bacon says:

    Despite the alarmist cries from the US, Pakistan’s survival was never at risk from the Taliban. They have no following in Punjab or Sindh. What was at risk if the Pak army hadn’t attacked their own countrymen, driving them into the desert, was a shutoff of US funds. War is a racket, in Pakistan as in the US.


  13. Zathras says:

    It might be wise to look at this in a different way.
    The Pakistani government has done a great deal to earn the disrespect of the Pakistani people, and has done it over a very long period — much longer than the period in which the internal affairs of Pakistan were of any interest to the United States. The suppression of a burgeoning Taliban insurgency is not the ideal occasion for the government to turn over a brand new leaf, and begin treating the population in Buner and Swat in a completely different way than it had for the last 60 years. It couldn’t do this even if it wanted to.
    The urgent question that had to be decided now boils down to which is stronger, the Pakistani army or the Taliban. The spreading fear in Pakistan (and among Pakistan’s friends) had been that the insurgency was being unopposed, with the government powerless to keep the Taliban from overrunning one area after another. The application of concentrated firepower on a large scale is one way of addressing that fear — maybe not the best way, but the way that makes use of the tools the government in Islamabad has.
    If the government’s current campaign ends with the Taliban pushed out of Buner and Swat, the story won’t end there. A campaign of this kind will arouse some local discontent, even among people who dislike the Taliban. If the government really does declare victory and then turns its back on the large refugee population, even more discontent will be created. On the other hand, not undertaking a campaign against the Taliban at this point really wasn’t an option, not if the government’s survival was not ultimately to be put at risk. The first step had to be taken, even if Pakistan’s ability to take the next few were in doubt.


  14. Don Bacon says:

    The number of displaced Pashtuns, by some accounts, is now up to 1.3 million people. These are people who have had to leave their homes, and their pets and possessions, and try to survive out in the desert somewhere.
    These are Pashtuns, remember, people who, more then most of us, from everything I’ve read including Winston Churchill’s dispatches from the area long ago, these are people with a dominant revenge gene. These are people who will sometime return to their homes which have been looted and possibly devastated during the current Pak army offensive.
    In the meantime there are Pashtun fundamentalists moving around the refugee camps “providing services”, as well as recruiting new members I’m sure, from the disgruntled, revenge-seeking MAMs (military age males).
    Let’s say that only one percent of the displaced people are recruited. Ten thousand people. But that’s too conservative, probably. So say 50,000 new fighters? Plus I’m sure the Pak army has captured some people and tortured them. They and their kin are not going to be happy campers.
    The US did all this in Iraq — it didn’t work. These militaristic types never learn.


  15. JRUB says:

    So let me get this straight…
    Bad News – Pakistan will not remove Taliban influence
    Good News – I can read a book about it.
    Or is the good news (for Pakistanis) that you got deported from Pakistan? And the bad news that you wrote a book and no one is going to read it.
    Or is the good news that now you might sell a few copies of your book (and get some Facebook friends). And the bad news that Mr. Clemmons has sold his soul for shameless self promotion of a colleague.


  16. Dr Hijazi says:

    talking about Pakistan mean talking about the bad royal saudi family that creating trouble in the region,talking about pakistani crisis mean remembering the bad practice of Wahabisb ,Alqaieda,Bin ladin,radical jihadism.
    All are made in saudi arabia,
    really the key to resolve all the region crisis is with the royal saudi family that has strong relation with the radical jihadists,and Taliban.
    all radical movements are beliving in the Wahabism ideas that supported by Saudi family,i think no other way to overcome the crisis rather than requesting from KING ABDULLA or PRINCE NAIEF to startb talking with their friends in the regions,and stop to help the radical jihadist movement in the world.


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