Attrition: Religion, Tribes and Morale in Pakistan

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November 3, 2007: The Pakistani security forces (military, para-military and police) have about a million personnel, and about a quarter of them are involved in counter-terrorism operations. Casualties, for a force this large, have not been high. While dead and wounded have been about a thousand this year (much less than one percent of the counter-terrorism force) desertions and AWOL (absent without leave, meaning they are expected to return eventually) have been running at a rate of over five percent a year. In other words, more than ten times the number killed or wounded.

This high desertion/AWOL rate should come as no surprise. At least twenty percent of the troops are recruited from the tribal areas, and about a third of Pakistanis describe themselves as Islamic conservatives (and many thus partial to Islamic terrorists). Islamic conservatives are particularly negative about killing fellow Moslems (unless the victims are "bad" Moslems). The tribal types are not enthusiastic about fighting fellow tribals (despite the large number of nasty feuds between many tribes.) This accounts for the many reports of low morale in army units. The government is particularly worried about the many officers who are tribals or Islamic conservative. These are fewer, in proportion to those in the ranks. That's because the government has, for the past few years, been seeking out and dismissing officers who sympathize with Islamic radical organizations. This still leaves thousands of tribal officers on the job, and these fellows are very handy when fighting tribes, as they can use tribal connections to defuse hostile situations.

The greatest fear is that some pro-terrorist officers will organize a rebellion. Overall, that is not a major threat. But for those units in the tribal areas, it would be a major setback.

 


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