The Best Defense

Waziristan (III): Insights into the nature of the formidable Pashtun foe

The British learned early on the price of underestimating their foe, who rarely allowed a tactical error to go unpunished, writes Andrew Roe in his very useful book, Waging War in Waziristan.

In one major triumph, in 1901, tribesman took over a British outpost. "The success of this attack," Roe states, "was in part due to a number of tribesmen disguised as shepherds who for a number of weeks prior to the attack observed carefully the habits and weaknesses of the garrison."

Think that IEDs are new somehow? In April 1938, "50 home-made bombs were laid on roads and railway lines," and even on military parade grounds.   

Another interesting fact: Historically, Waziri villages have been located near cave complexes, in part because in winter the caves are warmer than their houses. (Tom: I remember being in a cave in Germany Valley, West Virginia, where American Indian tribes had done the same -- 55 degrees inside with a fire for light and warmth sure beat zero and windy in the mountains outside.) I also didn't know that the area was far more forested in the 19th century, but that a lot of trees were cut down, leading to erosion, loss of topsoil, and a drier climate -- not unlike today's Haiti. 

I was also intrigued by an observation Roe mined about the personality difference between the two major tribes in Waziristan: "The Wazirs had been compared to a leopard, a loner, cunning and dangerous; the Mahsud to a wolf, most to be feared in a pack, with a pack mentality, single-mindedness, and persistence." (One of the benefits of this book is that he quotes memoirs and studies liberally.)

The best way to reach out to the tribes was through medical aid, especially to reach the fencesitters in the middle. When one tribe requested a female doctor, they remarked that she didn't need to bring instruments or drugs, as they still had the ones they had stolen in 1919. 

But generally I found the book more illuminating about the British than about the tribes.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The Best Defense

A Saudi-Turkish alliance against Iran?

Stand back and watch John McCreary analyze a minor news event and detect the deep historical trends underlying it:

Turkey-Saudi Arabia: On 9 March, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan received the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam in Saudi Arabia, according to Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency today.

The King Faisal International Prize is presented to scientists and others who make contributions to Islam and a positive difference in the world. At the award ceremony, Erdogan said Turkey has strived to establish peace, stability and security in the region and the world.

Comment: To recap the action, the Saudis gave the supposed leader of a secular state -- Turkey -- an award for his service to Islam. That would seem to clinch the argument in Turkey's constitutional court about Erdogan's service to Turkey's secular constitution and history. The Saudis openly encouraged Erdogan's erosion of the legacy of Ataturk.  

STRATFOR's thesis is the Saudis are looking to Turkey to act as an ally in restraining Iranian pretensions to regional hegemony. The Turks have their own leadership aspirations which involve pursuing a neo-Ottoman strategy that joins Sunnis and Shias under enlightened, of course, Turkish leadership. 

Even if the Turks do not cooperate much with the Saudis, the Turkish-Persian rivalry for regional dominance is rooted in thousands of years of history. The Arabs are clever enough to revive that old dispute while sitting on the sidelines. Erdogan and the Iranian Ayatollahs are arrogant enough to fall for the bait.