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 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”.
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.
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?