Khyber Pass, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai never had a shared border strategy. But, standing at Michni Post, the highest point of the Khyber Pass, staring down at the thousands of trucks and buses buzzing through Afghanistan into Pakistan under the shadows of the Hindu Kush, the answer is obvious: controlling the Afghan-Pakistan border requires a counterinsurgency policy that looks at Afghanistan and Pakistan together.
Pakistan’s new government has a great opportunity to make this change. In order to cut off the Taliban and al-Qaeda’s recruitment and supplies, both countries should fight the militants in tandem.
That means, first, improving security training for the border forces, starting with Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, the 50,000-man combat force along the 1,600-mile Afghan border. These “sons of the soil” are in bad shape. They receive no more than two dollars a day to patrol the area, which ranges from 25,000-foot-high mountains to barren deserts.
They also fight with old weapons. As one senior commander told me, “the Taliban are better equipped and have more fire power.” They have no air mobility, and worse, no rapid reaction force to support them. Two Frontier battalions have been under siege at Ladha Fort in South Waziristan for the past few months.
Security along the border can run on parallel tracks. Major General Muhammad Alam Khattak, the Frontier Corps’ Inspector General, made a suggestion to me: “Take our Frontier Corps. Train them somewhere and bring them back.” Afghanistan should do just that. Through NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghan National Army training program, it should rotate the Frontier Corps battalions with their Pashtun brothers one at a time. Additional resources provided by Pakistan for proper equipment and force buildup – including the creation of a Frontier Corps Rapid Reaction Force – should be committed so that Frontier Corps soldiers become the counterinsurgency partners in Pakistan that Afghanistan needs.
Second, reconciliation with the insurgents should begin by inducing defections. This was recommended by a senior US military commander, who said that “60% of insurgent activity could be curbed by reconciliation.” Despite overwhelming support for this process, methods to do so are absent.
In Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, 2,000 Taliban fighters were rounded up and vetted by ISAF forces, only to be abandoned after the initiative was not supported by Afghanistan’s central government. In Khost, dozens of former Taliban members from the Tribal Areas defected, promising to lay down their arms in exchange for – only to be given nothing.
In both cases, the defecting insurgents said the same thing: they could recruit dozens more; they just need incentives. A regional reconciliation program targeting mid- and lower-tier Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders should be developed and implemented by Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Third, the drug lords should be arrested and detained. As one senior Afghan government official said, “If you can’t remove a corrupt judge, how can you deal with the Taliban?” There are a hundred top drug lords in Afghanistan. Everyone knows who they are. Yet none has been arrested.