Paramilitary: What Am I Bid?


July 9, 2012: For over a century the police in the Pakistani tribal territories have mostly been the Frontier Corps (FC). First established by the British in 1878, when Pakistan and present-day India were both part of British India, the FC was continued when Pakistan became an independent nation in 1947.

The British used a lot of British personnel to supervise the FC, and Pakistan did the same by sending Pakistani Army officers to assume FC leadership posts. Still, the NCOs were locals and exercised considerable authority over the FC troops. Moreover, powerful local tribal leaders still had influence over members of their tribes who were in the FC. The understanding was that as long as the FC kept order (suppressed banditry and tribal wars), they would be paid by the Pakistani government and left alone. This meant that the FC was not always available to deal with unpopular local missions: like arresting popular tribal rebels and disarming their followers. The Pakistani had to take local tribal politics into account before issuing unpopular orders to the FC. As a result, Pakistan Islamic radicals and terrorists could often bribe, persuade, or threaten the FC to stand aside or even work with the terrorists. The Pakistani Army, after consulting the army officers commanding FC units, tended to not ask an FC unit something that the FC troops might refuse to do. Thus, in some cases, the army and FC troops fought together against Islamic terror groups. At other times the army had the local FC stand aside and the army did the fighting.

The FC concept recognized that in tribal cultures, the tribe takes care of law and order, as much as it can. The British understood that the FC could bring to bear some organized muscle if a tribal feud had to be averted or some local tribesmen who had gone rogue and become bandits, had to be put down. One thing the FC could not do was be used against tribes that were basically minding their own business. That sometimes included criminal activity (smuggling, usually) approved of by the tribal leadership (in return for a cut of the profits). The British also understood that the FC were kept loyal, in part, because they were paid on time, armed and equipped, and trained to be better fighters than any collection of local tribesmen. But the FC men still belonged to a local tribe and could not ignore the demands of tribal leaders and often local religious leaders as well.

The U.S. has long known of the FC and used the basic techniques in many of the "little wars" it has been involved in over the last two centuries. The sudden defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, was largely because the U.S. finally got most Sunni Arabs to accept the offer of paid jobs as pro-government tribal militias.

The same technique has not worked as well in Afghanistan, and that's because the main enemy there is not the Taliban but the drug gangs that produce over 90 percent of the world's opium and heroin. The drug gangs can, and will, pay more for the service of tribal gunmen. Those who join the Afghan police or pro-government militias are constantly tempted by drug gang bribes. There is no easy solution for this problem.

The Afghan drug gangs also bribe the Pakistani FC as needed. That's how most heroin is exported from Afghanistan via Pakistan. In situations where loyalty is being bought, there is always the risk of being outbid.




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