Pakistan’s Anti-Terror War Challenge

If Pakistan really wants to eliminate terrorism, its army must continue its counter-insurgency operations in earnest while their civilian bosses convert rhetoric into reality by National Counterterrorism Authority conducting counter terrorism operations through a dedicated counter terrorism force based on real-time actionable intelligence.

Posted on 01/30/14
By Ikram Sehgal | ViewsWeek
A Pakistani troop man  a strategic height in Malaknad region of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. (Photo by Al Jazeera English, Creative Commons License)
A Pakistani troop man a strategic height in Malaknad region of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. (Photo by Al Jazeera English, Creative Commons License)

Our major problem is that we cannot seem to separate Counter-insurgency (CI) operations from Counter-terrorism (CT).  Terrorism is more urban-based, insurgency normally operates mainly in rural areas. With great sacrifice CI has been a resounding success, a CT policy does finally exist now but it is yet to be translated into reality.

 

Al-Qaeda is safely entrenched in Yemen. “Al-Shahab” is a potent force in Somalia. In Nigeria, the “Boko Haram” are being battled by the military but not with any great success. Al-Qaeda in Northern Africa, i.e. Algeria, Mali and Mauritania, is however on the defensive
Contrast the CI operations in the Al-Qaeda infested areas of the world to that of Pakistan. While Al-Zarqawi’s killing by US forces in 2006 put Al-Qaeda operations back many years, it has since bounced back with a vengeance, particularly in Al-Anbar Province. In Syria, Al-Qaeda factions are battling anti-Assad forces even more than they are confronting government forces. Both in Iraq and Syria they are fighting as organized army units, complete with weapons, equipment, communications and transportation, etc.  FT of Jan 20, 2014 carries a telling photograph of the mobile forces of “Islamic State of Iraq” in a convoy of identical 4 x 4 Toyota double cabins.

 

Al-Qaeda is safely entrenched in Yemen among the fiercely independent tribes of the South who are very resentful of the more affluent north. AQAP is considered Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch, exporting terror to many places in the world. Well-armed and with well equipped units, this militant faction’s cohesive organization is more than a match for the Yemeni Armed Forces.

 

Though forced to cede the wide swathes of territory it once controlled, “Al-Shahab” remains a potent force in Somalia.   Its units are still able to operate despite being squeezed into smaller space.  It has retaliated by exporting terror into the adjacent states like Kenya.   Like in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it gives allegiance to Zawahiri.

 

In Nigeria, the “Boko Haram” are being battled by the military but not with any great success. Al-Qaeda in Northern Africa (i.e. AQIM) i.e. Algeria, Mali and Mauritania is however on the defensive, French forces frustrating its ambitions to take over a whole state.  They are still capable of mounting set-piece attacks like they did 18 months ago, nearly seizing control of Mali after a wholesale takeover of a remote Algerian oil and gas facility.

 

In Libya the situation is fluid, with many of Al-Qaeda factions operating at will.  Wide swathes of desert territory remain in their control while their presence is deadly, if not overwhelming, in the urban areas. In a well researched article “On the March” in the FT, the fundamentalist threat perception was well elucidated, how resilient is the Al-Qaeda resurgence, how centralized is its structure and how much of a threat does it pose internationally? Mike Rogers, the US Republican Congressman chairing a US House Committee investigating Al-Qaeda resurgence cautioned against the false narrative of the Al-Qaeda demise, “the defeat of an ideology requires more than drone strikes”.

 

While terrorism is alive in Pakistan, its perpetrators can only function in small armed groups and not as regular units of considerable size as in other parts of the world
While terrorism is alive and well in Pakistan, its perpetrators can only function in small armed groups and not as regular units of considerable size as in other parts of the world. The only time Al-Qaeda functioned like an Army unit was during the Bannu jailbreak where its performance was impressive.  Given the success of the Pakistan Army in Swat and FATA, it was not only a major setback but potentially dangerous. It did set off alarm bells in Pakistan but once the furore in the media subsided the government went back into stupor on the counter-terrorism issue. The FT article was very disappointing in that it seems to deliberately ignore the Pakistan Army’s successful CI operations, however inadvertently they recognized this by going into detail about the expanding Al-Qaeda organizational structure in the other countries.  The recent attack on a Frontier Constabulary Convoy, again in Bannu, and the bomb explosion in RA Bazar in Rawalpindi adjacent to GHQ seems to have woken the government up.

 

The Armed Forces have faced political vacillation on commitment of political will before.  They had to enter into peace agreements in FATA in 2003 and 2005 at the insistence of the then Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and their supporters in the federal government.   Thereafter in Swat they had to suffer humiliation at the hands of Sufi Mohammad and his sadistic son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, now elected head of TTP after the demise of Hakimullah Mehsud. At great cost to themselves they had to go back on the offensive twice to rid Swat of Fazlullah’s vicious criminals.

 

The terrorist mindset is not ready to talk, they only talk of talking to gain time, particularly when they are hard pressed
The divided political will on how to deal with the militancy is one of the major problems facing the country. Maulana Fazlur Rahman continues to play a dangerous double game, but is neither trusted by the federal government, of which he is now a part, nor the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (the umbrella organization of Pakistani terrorist groups). While it is understandable that Imran Khan militates against drone strikes because they cause “collateral damage” in the province his party rules, and has been campaigning for dialogue with the TTP, he needs a tutorial on how long he can continue to support what is essentially a “dialogue of the deaf”.  The terrorist mindset is not ready to talk, they only talk of talking to gain time, particularly when they are hard pressed. Imran Khan can prove himself to be the leader that he certainly is, by protecting the life and limb of the people of his province as per the mandate given to him.  They are at unending risk because of TTP and their criminal allies posing as ideologues.   Imran must also take into concern the life and limb of the soldiers of the national army, his attitude creates the perception of being callous to their sacrifice.

 

Adhering to the dictates of the elected government the Army has suffered grievously in not maintaining the momentum it had gained against the militants. While they can go back into the CI mode they cannot counter terrorism in the urban areas for many reasons, the prime among them that they are not equipped to do so, another being that coming into contact with the urban population will cause collateral damage and smear their image, you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.

 

The political will of the government must not remain rhetoric only, its support for the military must be expressed without ambiguity. Moreover the civilian governance they provide from within their ranks must have genuine love and trust for the men in uniform, not those who are not only corrupt but blatant liars and hypocrites but because of their inferior complex have inherent hatred for the uniform which they can barely conceal. Ch Nisar Ali Khan can deliver, the Federal Interior Minister must not be waylaid by advice from vested selfish interest based on their warped political motivation. If we really want to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan, the Army must continue its CI operations in earnest while their civilian bosses convert rhetoric into reality by National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) conducting CT operations through a dedicated CT Force (CTF) based on real-time actionable intelligence.

 

A few days ago Ch Nisar Ali Khan annunciated the “National Security Policy” where the government’s commitment for CT operations led by NACTA has been spelt out. While an all-out war has not been declared the political will seems to have been finally conveyed in black and white to the Armed Forces. Will this new found determination last?

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