Friday, May 22, 2009

Pakistan: Hunt for Taliban lacks intelligence, physical security, over-all strategy, direction and prioritisation of operations

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The operations of the Pakistani security forces against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliate the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) have been marked by a lack of intelligence, physical security in the non-tribal areas, an over-all strategy, direction and prioritisation of different stages of the operations.

2. The disconcertingly inadequate intelligence is evident from the fact that neither the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Army nor the Intelligence Bureau (IB) of the Ministry of the Interior seem to have the vaguest idea of the command and control of either the TTP or the TNSM. One knows more about the command and control of Al Qaeda than about those of the TTP and the TNSM. One knows a lot about their leaders---- Baitullah Mehsud of the TTP and Sufi Mohammad and Maulana Fazlullah of the TNSM--- but beyond that one knows very little. How are they organised, where are they trained, who are their individual commanders, where and how are they deployed----the answers to these questions are inadequate. So much is known about their ideology, but so little about their operational capabilities and potential.

3. A basic requirement of a good counter-insurgency operation is your ability to protect your back as you are engaged in your battle against the enemy. Your ability to protect your back depends on good physical security behind you. Good physical security depends on the police and the IB of Pakistan. The fact that the TTP and the TNSM have been able to indulge repeatedly in terrorist strikes in non-tribal areas----even in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Sargoda---- even as the security forces are confronting them in the tribal areas speaks poorly of the state of physical security in Pakistan. This is the result of long years of neglect of the police and the IB. The need for their revamping and modernisation has not received the attention of either Pakistan or the US.

4. No counter-insurgency operation can be effective unless it is sustained and driven by a determination to succeed in the over-all national interest. The counter-insurgency operations of the Pakistani security forces in the Pashtun tribal belt have neither been sustained nor marked by a determination to succeed. One has been seeing this in the operations undertaken by them in 2003 in South and North Waziristan, in the Swat Valley since 2007 and subsequently in the Bajaur Agency, the two Dirs and Buner districts of the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

5. The operations have been in fits and starts depending on the extent of the pressure to act exercised on the Pakistani leadership by the US. When the pressure is high, the action is high. When the pressure declines, the action declines. The repeated statements by President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), on Pakistan's determination to defeat the TTP and the TNSM have not been reflected in appropriate operational action on the ground. These statements have been made to reassure the US leaders ----President Obama as well those in the Congress--- of the determination of the Pakistani security forces to act. They have not come out of a genuine conviction in the Pakistani political and military leadership that Pakistan's future would be in danger if the Security forces do not neutralise the Taliban.

6.Openly, to reassure the US, Pakistani leaders charactetrise the Taliban as a threat, but, in reality, they look upon it more as a worrisome nuisance than as a serious threat to the state of Pakistan. Since Pakistan became independent in 1947, the Pakistan Army never had effective control over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Malakand Division, which had always remained the spawning ground of religious extremism. After 9/11, even the little control that was there before 9/11 has further weakened and the religious extremism emanating from this area has further increased. Large sections of the Pakistani civil society have been concerned over this development, but not the political class and the military-intelligence establishment. The Army's objective is to reduce this nuisance to its pre-9/11 level and to contain it.

7. It thinks it will neither be possible nor advisable to totally eradicate the influence of the Taliban. It is not possible because it would not have the required local support for its operations in the tribal belt. It is not advisable because, in the Army's view, the tribals such as the Mehsuds and the Wazirs have acted as force multipliers against India during the past conflicts with India and will be prepared to do so again in any future conflict. It is also not advisable because of the strategic potential of the Taliban to serve Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan.

8.The lack of a determination to succeed is evident from the lack of an over-all strategy, direction and prioritisation of different phases of the operations. The areas affected by the activities of the Taliban fall into three categories. The first category consists of North and South Waziristan, which are under the virtual de facto control of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies since 2003. The increasing number of Predator strikes by the US in this area have kept the terrorists on the run without weakening their operational presence and capability. Only sustained and effective ground operations either by the US or by Pakistan or by both can achieve this result. Pakistan is opposed to any US role in the ground operations. At the same time, it is either unwilling or unable or both to undertake such ground operations on its own.

9. The second category consists of Bajaur, Swat and other areas of the Malakand Division. The Taliban has a certain measure of de facto control in these areas. There is no role for the US in these areas. Counter-Taliban operations in these areas have to be the responsibility of the Pakistani security forces. Through their open statements, Pakistani political and military leaders seek to give the impression of admitting their responsibility for action, but this admission has not been translated into effective action. Instead of first identifying the weakest points in the control of the Taliban, targeting them, removing the Taliban from there and then expanding the operations to areas where the Taliban control is stronger, the security forces have been hitting around blindly here and there without an over-all plan. There are too many fronts and too little progress.

10. The third category consists of the other districts of the NWFP where the Taliban's presence is more ideological than operational. No plan has been drawn up for preventing these areas from coming under the operational control of the Taliban.

11. The Obama Adminiastration's policy of showering Pakistan with money and arms and ammunition even in the absence of proof of sincerity and conviction and even in the absence of progress on the ground is once again creating a worrisome impression in the Pakistani leaders that to continue to benefit from US support and largesse all they have to do is to create an illusion of motion without actual movement. That is what they are doing.

12. That is what Pervez Musharraf did when he was the President. The two Waziristans came under the effective control of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associates and the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, operating from sanctuaries in Balochistan, staged its spectacular come-back in Afghanistan when he was the President and was the beneficiary of billions of dollars given by the Bush Administration. What promises he made to the Bush Administration to reform and modernise the madrasas and prevent their misuse for jihad! How much money he took from the US for madrasa reforms! What happened to those reforms?

13. That is exactly what Zardari, Gilani and Kayani are doing now. Creating an illusion of motion without actual movement, while extracting billions of dollars from the US. The Pakistani leadership---political and military--- has developed into a fine art the extraction of money from the US by exploiting the presence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in their territory.

14. If the Taliban ultimately succeeds in further strengthening and expanding its control in Pakistan, the US will have to share a major portion of the responsibility for failing to make Pakistan act effectively instead of merely seeming to do so. ( 22-5-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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