Feb 10, 2009

Our counter-terror strategy

Our counter-terror strategy OVER the last few years, Pakistan has been confronted with the ever increasing threat of insurgency. The latter is being fuelled by both state and non-state actors. The US coalition’s onslaught in Afghanistan being the rallying point is defeating the very purpose of Pakistan’s war on terror.While alienating our own people, the very movement we created to fuel the Afghan jihad has come home to roost in ways which have found our army unprepared to take on the changing tactics of our foes.While political will is sorely needed for any strategy to succeed in the long run, the on-and-off mode being employed to confront this insurgency is ruining any chances of a long-term political settlement.Mao’s famous maxim, ‘there are no defined lines or fixed enemy’ in guerilla warfare holds good even today. The situation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border today tends to confuse our strategists in fighting a war on our own turf and limits our own or US options in pursuing a common enemy across self-created fault lines. This weakness is obviously being exploited by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The latter are exploiting Pakhtun nationalism to fuel a common strategy against the Pakistan Army and US-led coalition forces.The other maxim of ‘securing the enemy’s firm base’, as a prelude to tactical manoeuvre, is also being ignored. Where is this firm base in the first place? Is it in Waziristan, Bajaur or Afghanistan? Confusing, yes, because that is the very purpose of the insurgent’s strategy: to keep shifting its firm base whenever there is a direct threat to it.When the coalition troops directed their offensive against Al Qaeda and the Taliban at Tora Bora to eliminate the leadership of this movement, the leaders fled to Pakistan’s tribal areas. Within the tribal areas, they had the flexibility to concentrate to launch pre-emptive attacks against the security forces and then vanish into neighbouring regions to avoid annihilation and live to fight another day.The forces being employed need to operate along unconventional lines from secure bases, with rapid reaction through aerial assault using special forces and backed up by long-range artillery and air defence. Failure provides the enemy with the initiative of ambush and isolation leading to defeat. We have repeatedly made the same mistakes and paid dearly for them.What then should be the unifying strategy of the US and Pakistan security forces fighting this common enemy? The Pakistan Army’s aversion to any predator or missile strike into Pakistan territory to kill the Taliban is tactically defeatist in essence and strategically flawed in concept. The Pakistan Army not only lacks any worthwhile real-time surveillance capability to pursue multiple targets in these remote regions, it also lacks the means to destroy these through long-range precision weapons.Should not, therefore, both sides of the border be treated as a common war zone to eliminate this threat? Whosoever presses the trigger is immaterial, as the enemy being elusive and fluid will vanish if not destroyed by the swiftest possible means which until today comprise Predator drones and the precision-strike capability of US artillery batteries.Coordination in communications by both forces, surveillance using real-time download facilities and wireless employing common Nato procedures to swiftly call in strikes when the enemy is spotted no matter which side of the border he emerges would be the essence of success.The fact that the killer round has come from across the border should not make us defensive in essence as long as there is a common strategy to eliminate the threat. Long-range special patrols to continuously track fleeing militants and pass them over to coalition forces waiting on the other side once they cross would be of great benefit. These special forces should have the inbuilt capability to pursue, communicate and guide weapon systems for precision strikes based upon updated intelligence reports.The Pakistan Army’s strategy of eliminating this threat seems to be confused over the issue of maximum use of force using regular forces or using paramilitary forces as surrogates who neither have the will nor the means to destroy the enemy. This is not only prolonging the conflict, it also risks alienating the very populace we intend to defend because of the collateral damage and the militants’ terror policies.The Pakistan Army is governed by its own rules of engagement under fire and should not get involved with local jirgas and elders as political agents are used to establishing their writ by evoking harsh penalties through collective punishments. Images of senior army commanders garlanding outlawed militants who have mercilessly slaughtered our soldiers is detrimental to the morale of the officers and men who are fighting and sacrificing themselves for ‘a cause not dear to their hearts’. The army should give a clear message that it will never negotiate with those who have slaughtered their comrades, and will pursue them till they have been eliminated.Every insurgency has to be tackled according to the prevailing environment, its players and their supporters. The situation on the Pak-Afghan border has to be seen in the context of its present reality, not in the perspective of conventional thinking where the traditional enemy could be counted in terms of men, weapons, equipment and capabilities. Unfortunately for many, cold calculations of threat identification haven’t changed with the times.Our reluctance to name countries and tribes and their surrogates who are fuelling this war against our very existence is strange if we claim that foreign fighters are actively involved. The ISPR has to be pro-active and not apologetic in its response, the lame excuse of passing the buck, is not only demeaning to the paramilitary forces, who are bearing the brunt of the casualties, but ultimately reflects a lack of will to act concertedly against the state’s enemies. The Pakistan Army has a proud tradition to uphold and vacillation and inept leadership will not do when addressing matters of critical national security

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