Hiccups of War on Terror
By Asif Haroon Raja
By the time PPP regime took over in March 2008 Fazlullah had created a state within state in Swat and adjoining districts. Former President Zardari and PM Gilani were forced to order a big operation in Swat in April 2009 after Fazlullah broke the peace deal signed two months earlier and his militants threatened Islamabad after capturing Dir and Buner. Operation Rah-e-Raast cleared Swat, Bajaur and other adjacent districts in militants control in a month time. In Swat, 50-60 meters long tunnels; SMG, pistols, Kalashnikov, MI-4 and other type of rifles, Israeli sniper rifles, 12.7mm, 14.5mm and 107mm guns, mortars, rockets, safety fuses, detonating cords, RPG-7, grenades, remote control sets, wire rolls, Rocket Launchers, explosives, electric detonators, camouflage uniforms, medical kits, binoculars, suicide jackets, bullet proof jackets, Pajeros, Hiace, Hyundai, ammunition, currency of different countries were seized in huge quantity. All of it was supplied from Afghanistan to defeat the Army. Fazlullah, Faqir Muhammad and other TTP leaders managed to flee to Kunar.
Operation in South Waziristan (SW) was launched in October 17, 2009 after the attack on GHQ a week earlier. Mother of all battles was won in a month time and TTP’s back was broken. Huge caches of arms and explosives were recovered. Deployment of 140,000 soldiers in FATA and PATA suited the ruling regime led by PPP since it allowed them greater freedom of action to indulge in loot and plunder without any fear. Grant of three years extension to Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was also aimed at keeping the Army appeased. Other watchdogs overlooking corruption were systematically politicized and institutions undermined. Accountability process was blunted under the excuse of national reconciliation although reconciliation was between rogues and crooks only. Rank and file of PPP, MQM, ANP and their affiliates looted the national wealth with both hands and pushed the country to the brink of collapse. Looting spree continued till the last day of their rule. The judiciary was found wanting in dealing with corrupt elements as well as terrorists. Not a single corrupt influential was punished and 4000 terrorists arrested by Army were set free.
While the rulers indulged in massive corruption and immoral practices to weaken the foundations of the country, the Amy remained focused on defeating India’s Cold Start doctrine and in maintaining minimum nuclear deterrence and also in saving the country from the cancer of terrorism and sacrificed lives. When the Army successfully overpowered the three major strongholds of Swat, Bajaur and SW in quick time and also resettled 2.5 million displaced persons from Swat thereby pouring cold water on the evil design of adversaries, and refused to walk into another death trap of NW where they were sure to nail down the Army, stealth attack on Abbottabad to get Osama bin Laden followed by an attack on Mehran naval base and then an attack on Salala posts were launched. Gen Kayani resisted attacking NW since the Army had suffered about 3000 casualties, it was overstretched, tired and needed a breather, it needed funds and counter terrorism equipment which the US was not providing, economy had run aground. NW needed another Corps size force which would have weakened military balance on eastern front. India was in aggressive mood after Mumbai incident, Kabul regime was aligned with India and the US was annoyed on closure of Shamsi airbase and NATO supply routes, and stoppage of military and intelligence cooperation/sharing. Above all, the ruling regime was untrustworthy and was involved in Memo scandal. Hussain Haqqani in Washington and Wajidul Shams in London were playing a devil’s role. Civil administration refused to takeover cleared areas and relieve the Army.
Gen Kayani had given his mind in one of the Formation Commanders’ conference in 2012 that 2014 would be the right year for an operation in NW since by that time bulk of ISAF would have left Afghanistan and already captured areas sufficiently consolidated through rehabilitation and development programs. Moreover, all the units would be recycled three times in conflict zone and got fully battle inoculated. Therefore, to say that he was hesitant or that he went against the wishes of his Corps Commanders is not correct. Army chief’s and not corps commanders’ decision is final.
It cannot be denied that when Kayani took over as COAS, the Army’s morale was down on account of several factors. It had been launched in 2003 without training in guerrilla warfare, acclimatization, counter terrorism equipment and motivational program to convince them of the cause. Big majority in Pakistan was against Pakistan’s US centric foreign policy and the war viewed as US war. The US and not the militants were hated. As a result, foreign supported militants had gained control over 18 administrative units in the northwest.
It is to Gen Kayani’s credit that he changed the system of training of unit training from normal training cycle to low intensity conflict in early 2008. To raise the morale of soldiers, he not only gave an extra ordinary welfare package to them but also declared 2008 as the ‘Year of Soldiers’. He also promoted and chose senior commanders for employment in combat zone with care. He did away with the policy of his predecessor of not visiting forward areas and was always present with forward troops at critical places. If he could jump into the cauldrons of Swat, Bajaur and SW and overpower them in quick time, what was stopping him from taking another plunge? Wisdom demanded that time and circumstances were not opportune for further stretching out the neck into a place where possibility of all militant groups including Haqqani network, Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, Maulvi Nazir group that were pro-Pakistan getting together and possible support of Afghan Taliban couldn’t be ruled out. In that point of time, the stretched neck was more vulnerable to be severed.
In the wake of some terror attacks taking place in Swat in recent times gave reason to some so-called strategists that the space oriented strategy applied by Kayani in Swat was incorrect and it should have been destruction oriented strategy. Let it be clear that even in war with India, it is not possible to employ these sorts of strategies in classic sense and to complete operation cycle because of Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth and short timeframe of wars. Unlike occupying forces in Afghanistan, war on terror in Pakistan has been fought with one hand and one leg tied because of the consideration of collateral damage to civil population, their property and infrastructure in combat zone. Even though great majority of civilians were vacated from Swat before the start of operation, still a sizeable percentage stayed back either at their own or under coercion of Taliban. Each town/village/compound had been converted into a stronghold where peaceful citizens also resided. Destruction oriented strategy as professed would have meant destroying all and sundry. Even then, faceless hardcore militants would have escaped to Afghanistan. In my view the idea is unsound. What did the sole super achieve with destruction oriented strategy applied in Afghanistan and Iraq? In space oriented operations, destruction is inherent but not overriding.
Nawaz Sharif preferred peace over war with militants and wasted full one year in trying to convince them to come to the negotiating table but failed. Attack on Karachi airport on June 9, 2014 brought immense pressure of GHQ on him and he was impelled to okay Operation Zarb-e-Azb in NW. By that time a realization dawned upon the rulers that war on terror was no more US war but own war and had become an existential threat. It was gathered that the terrorists were funded, trained, equipped and launched from Afghan soil as well as from NW by RAW, NDS and other agencies based in Kabul to destabilize Pakistan. Existence of CIA network and Blackwater was also established. Kamra airbase, Mehran naval base, Peshawar airport, Karachi airport and ISI setups couldn’t be effectively targeted without foreign guidance. These targets were struck to weaken military’s early warning and defensive capability. More proofs of foreign interference in Balochistan’s separatist movement were also traced.
This US agenda for Pakistan is similar to that applied throughout the broader Middle East Central Asian region. US strategy, supported by covert intelligence operations, consists in triggering ethnic and religious strife, abetting and financing secessionist movements while also weakening the institutions of the central government. The broader objective is to fracture the Nation State and redraw the borders of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Balochistan’s strategic energy reserves have a bearing on the separatist agenda. Following a familiar pattern, there are indications that the Baloch insurgency is being supported and abetted by RAW, NDS, MI-6, CIA, and Mossad. The BLA bears a canny resemblance to Kosovo’s Liberation Army (KLA), which was financed by the drug trade and supported by the CIA and Germany’s BND. Washington favors the creation of a “Greater Balochistan” which would integrate the Baloch areas of Pakistan with those of Iran and possibly the Southern tip of Afghanistan. Military scholar Lt Col Ralph Peters writing in the June 2006 issue of The Armed Forces Journal, suggested, in no uncertain terms that Pakistan should be broken up, leading to the formation of a separate country: “Greater Balochistan” or “Free Balochistan”.
Brutal attack on Peshawar School on December 16 killing over 150 students and staff planned and executed from Afghanistan was aimed at shattering the morale of officers and men and in breaking the will of Army. Instead, it further steeled the Army under Gen Raheel Sharif and united the nation. It brought the government, military, political parties and all segments of society on one page and it was decided to go full hog against the beasts claiming to be better Muslims. Gen Raheel led the operation Zarb-e-Azb from the front and achieved outstanding results. He also pushed Karachi operation led by Rangers and operations conducted by FC against Baloch rebels and accomplished highly pleasing results thereby winning the hearts of the Pakistanis and earning applause from the world leaders. The scope of counter terrorism was then extended to urban centres to eliminate sleeping cells and some headway has been made. Morale of the Army is high despite high casualty rate. Ratio of officers versus soldiers martyred is 1:8, which has no parallel in recorded military history of world armies. The world officers to men ratio stand at 1:30. The Army is now respected by the world and seen as the best Army to tackle terrorism. Already it has made its mark in the UN missions and rated as the finest.
Pakistan Army supported by PAF is engaged in fighting a critical battle against the militants in FATA since June 15. TTP’s last bastion in NW has been uprooted and its command and control system, communication system and network dismantled. 95% of the areas, including two major towns Miranshah and Mir Ali, have been cleared and hideouts in mountains destroyed. Shawal valley is now being combed and hopefully before the onset of winters it will be cleared. The TTP is factionalised and considerably weakened but still it is not down and out because of continued support of foreign agencies including RAW, Afghan RAAM and NDS and availability of safe havens in Afghanistan. Likewise the BLA, BRA and BLF in Balochistan have to a large extent been checkmated but terrorists are still continuing to carryout acts of terror randomly because of support from Afghan soil. These anti-State outfits can be roundly defeated once for all if Kabul cooperates and agrees not to support them and also denies its soil for cross border terrorism by other agencies. The big question is how it is possible for RAW and NDS to support cross border terrorism in Pakistan without the blessing of US military and CIA stationed in Afghanistan? Why can’t CIA employ drone to strike Fazlullah and Khalid Khurasani?
While India is incorrigible and the US is untrustworthy, what our policy makers should do is to someway befriend Kabul regime, keep India in its place, get closer to Iran and Russia, develop integrated intelligence system with China, improve border control and intelligence system to prevent terrorists sneaking in and carrying out Badaber like attacks, monitor Afghan refugees more closely and expedite their return, eliminate sleeping cells and fish out abettors, facilitators and sympathizers of terrorists in cities, find ways and means to target terrorist bases in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar, register NGOs and maddrassas and watch the activities of suspicious Mullas, bridle media under a code of conduct, keep a watch on Embassies/Consulates passing information to wrong people, throw out Blackwater elements and dismantle CIA network if not already done, make use of 2.5 million ex servicemen as eyes and ears of armed forces in every city/town/village and even for security of installations. At the same time our diplomatic missions and publicity wing should be awakened from their slumber and mandated to expose the ugly face of India ruled by a terrorist and responsible for fomenting terrorism and disturbing peace in South Asia and hell-bent to scuttle China-Pakistan economic corridor, spoil Pakistan’s relations with neighbors, isolate, discredit, destabilize and fragment Pakistan. To eliminate terrorism, the ruling regime will have to play its part by addressing the root causes, changing the lifestyle of the elites, bridging the gap between the rich and poor, alleviating poverty and giving sense of ownership to the poor, providing cheap and quick justice to all, getting rid of scourge of corruption which is more harmful and dangerous than terrorism.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran/defence analyst/columnist, author of five books, Director Measac Research Centre, Director Board of Governors Thinkers Forum Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org