Arming Pakistan’s Militias

The US Moves to Arm and Train Pakistan's Border MilitiasOne of the main thrusts of my research so far has been to demonstrate that diffusing state monopoly on the use of force to armed militias in periphery areas is not a particularly sound long-term strategy for state consolidation.  I demonstrate that although local paramilitary groups are often successful where regular state military forces have failed in suppressing localized insurgencies, empowering these groups generally leads to a situation in which the state in question ends up both weakening its own capacity to exercise domestic order and becoming beholden to the militias’ parochial interests.  Rather than consolidating a regime’s hold on the state, it actually increasingly fragments authority, breaks down central legitimacy, and deconstructs the material and normative bases for state order and unity.

Although my work has been primarily limited to weak and failed states which theoretically administer their own affairs such as Colombia, Lebanon, and Sudan, I have recently began drawing out the implications of my argument to include zones of foreign military occupation.  In particular, I argue that similar dynamics are at work in American-occupied Iraq as demonstrated by the arming and training of local tribal militia in Anbar province to fight foreign "Al Qaeda" insurgency forces.  The catch here is that the United States, as an occupying power, can afford to limit its interests to the short term defeat of anti-American forces and terrorist bases without critically considering the impact of local militia empowerment on state unity.  The reemergent Iraqi state, however, debilitated as it is by sectarian politics, foreign interference, and violent kleptocratic patronage politics, can hardly afford the cultivation of additional alternative bases of power than those already available in the Kurdish peshmerga and autonomous rule in the north and competing Shi’ite militia, most notably the Mahdi Army under Muqtada al Sadr and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades.  Given the implicit (or explicit) dependence of the central state on Shi’ite majority rule, the rise of a foreign-armed and legitimated popular force in the Sunni population will likely only further challenge the unity of the state even as they have been increasingly successful in combating Al Qaeda.

Now, according the New York Times, the United States wants to do the same thing in the frontier areas of restive Pakistan along the Afghani border.  While the explicit aim is to bolster the Pakistani Army’s ability to fight insurgency forces which have undermined efforts at national consolidation in Afghanistan, this approach clearly forgets or ignores that fact that the Pakistani regime itself has little legitimacy in Waziristan and surrounding areas.  Thus while seeking out, funding, and training anti-Al Qaeda tribal militia may, as in Anbar, help to combat insurgent forces and prevent the establishment of international terrorist training camps, this approach is also likely to further weaken Pakistan’s monopolization on the use of force, in turn only further debilitating the already highly unstable domestic regime.  While it may be unpopular to bolster the forces of a semi-authoritarian state under General Pervez Musharraf, it is a pipe dream to believe that empowering violent elements in the periphery who already reject the secular Pakistani regime will not use their newly acquired power to further weaken the state, even as they may oppose al Qaeda elements in their midst.

It is easy to forget while lawyers protest in the streets of Pakistan’s metropolitan areas against Musharraf and returned former prime minister (and renounced kleptocrat) Benazir Bhutto makes rousing speeches about the virtues of democracy, that other issues are on the table.  We in the West may wish to see the rise of a Pakistan that is democratic and committed to the respect of human rights, but we often forget that the very basis for state order and unity, that is effective security and control of territory, is itself greatly challenged.  If the "democratic world" wishes to see the fall of authoritarian rule in Pakistan, at the very least we should ensure that even as Musharraf’s regime implodes we do not add to the destabilizing dynamics which will prevent a democratic and united Pakistan from rising from the ashes.

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