Pakistan’s Blowback Mountain

One cannot ignore terrorism for the sake of those with perverted mindset in one’s own midst, fighting it is the responsibility of Pakistan's government and should be its priority. One clear unambiguous message for Pakistan's rulers is that “blowback” is a mountain they have to climb in case of a military operation against Taliban

Posted on 03/13/14
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
A Pakistani soldier stands guard at a military checkpoint. (Photo by Muhammad Ali Mir, Creative Commons License)
A Pakistani soldier stands guard at a military checkpoint. (Photo by Muhammad Ali Mir, Creative Commons License)

The major problem facing Pakistan is the vacillation of the government in dealing decisively with the terrorists because (1) fear of blowback in the urban areas if there is any major counter-insurgency operations in the mountains and (2) some terrorists groups in the Punjab (province) have loose links with influential political elements, they not only fear their presence in their constituencies but depend upon them for their electability. Both assumptions are only partially correct.

 

The terrorists’ sleeper cells in the urban areas can cause both human and material damage, with the counter-insurgency operations being successful this capacity has diminished considerably, and will be further depleted when our troops go into North Waziristan. While blowback is a distinct possibility, the extent of collateral damage will not be in keeping with the claim of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella organization of Pakistani extremists fighting the state), this canard is only force-multiplied in the public mind by their supporters and apologists having good media access. No civilized society can allow such abhorrent people, who foment anarchy just to create sensation and increase their viewer coverage, time and space in the media.

 

The TTP is keen for a ceasefire now because they have suffered considerably damage by the PAF’s(Pakistan Air Force) precision hits, not only in North Waziristan but in Mohmand and other adjacent districts. The TTP’s rank and file do not possess equipment for snow warfare, while they can operate for a short time above the snow line, it is impossible for them to maintain hideouts in the snowy heights. Until the snow melts in late April, the TTP have to find hideouts in the valleys, there is a “window of opportunity” here where they are vulnerable to both air and ground interdiction.  During spring and summer, they can have numerous hiding places in the mountains to operate from.  To compound their problems the precise nature of the attacks have unveiled two important facts viz from (1) the TTP has been infiltrated across the board by ISI operatives and (2) these operatives had the capacity to pass on information as “actionable intelligence”. The TTP therefore desperately need time to regroup. There is no surety that in the valleys they will not again be hit by the PAF, or more likely face a ground offensive by the Pakistan Army. While on the surface their spokesmen, and those helping them, maintain their charade of bravado, the TTP has been sending desperate signals through back channels seeking a temporary ceasefire. This has also been conveyed through intermediaries among the tribals who are not actively engaged against the govt.

 

Contrary to the perception given to the public, but now expressed by the TTP’s inability to rein in its recalcitrants, both within its ranks and these that give it lip-service mandate, there is active infighting going on between some TTP factions. They vehemently disagree with each other about the conduct of the future war against the State in attempting to overthrow the present system of government and replace it with their model of a Shahriah compliant one. Maulvi Fazlullah has only lip-service dominance over the TTP as their leader, the Mehsuds mostly hate him. Moreover  the displaced tribals not part of the TTP, particularly the Mehsuds, are aggrieved by the deprivation of their hearth and home. For tribals it is not honourable to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Reports indicate they have been pressurizing the militants to seek accommodation with the state so that they can return to their own tribal areas.

 

While the Afghan Taliban do not engage or encourage any activity  against Pakistan, they have an alliance of sorts with the TTP, mainly because of convenience. The areas occupied by the TTP along the borders gives them depth and sanctuary.  Because of the Pakistan Army’s successful counter insurgency operations, they feel the effect because sanctuaries and bases are being denied to them.  For them to maintain these in Pakistan has been a dire necessity.  Moreover most religious militant groups in Pakistan send their fresh recruits for a few weeks into Afghanistan to gain battlefield experience. This manpower induction, even for a short time, is invaluable support for the Afghan Taliban.   These battle-trained, if not battle-hardened, TTP personnel return shortly to their various original militant outfits.  The Afghan Taliban are pressing the TTP to somehow keep the peace with the Pakistan Army till the end of the year when they expect most (and maybe all) the coalition troops to leave.

 

The Pakistani government must get its act together, importantly it must capitalize on the partial awakening of Imran Khan (the cricketer-turned politician) in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The PTI leader recognizes now that there are TTP factions which will never cease acting against society and the state, and is now advocating a selective approach, targeting only those who show no inclination for peace. The misplaced perception in the mindset of the PTI rank and file that the TTP really wants peace has evaporated, however some heavyweights in Imran’s media cell remain “unguided missiles”, causing him and the party damage.

 

The Army and the ISI (Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency) are on the same page.  One major misperception being spread by TTP militants and enthusiastically espoused by the motivated in the media is that there is a divide between the Army and the ISI.  This is pure unadulterated nonsense!  The army has given huge sacrifice in the battlefield in a tremendous officer to men ratio (1:10-11), will those officers some of whom who do a stint in the ISI, support the Jehadis inflict great casualties among their own brethren engaged in its conduct of CI operations?  While the army is engaged in CI operations, the government could possibly give ISI the mandate, along with the legal cover it would need, to conduct counter-terrorism (CT) operations in the urban areas. This they can do today with only limited budgeting support in contrast with the long lead time needed to activate NACTA and a Rapid Response Force” (RRF).

 

Why is the government set on a course of seeking appeasement when the cacophony of pleas it is getting from backchannels confirms that the TTP is hurting badly, and has nowhere to go for the present and immediate future.  One must leave room for negotiations, this can be overt and/or covert. However it is simplistic to suggest, and in the case of the TTP and their perverted and motivated supporters in society, particularly in the media, that you cannot both fight and talk at the same time. Talking can take precedence over action and sometimes fighting can come over negotiations, but one can both talk and fight. In the present circumstances where the opposition forces are not united and those that claim to represent them having only limited mandate for those engaged in terrorism (and pure criminal conduct) against the state, it is ridiculous to suggest a ceasefire when the other side well knows it cannot neither rein in nor restrain its disparate elements, and certainly not those giving it nominal lip-service mandate at best, or none at worst.

 

One cannot ignore terrorism for the sake of those with perverted mindset in one’s own midst, fighting it is the government’s responsibility and should be its priority. One clear unambiguous message for Pakistan’s rulers, “blowback” is a mountain you have to climb.

 

The writer is a Pakistan-based defense analyst and can be reached at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

 

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