Talks or War with Taliban
“How many deaths will it take till he knows
that too many people have died?” – Bob Dylan
Before discussing the diametrically opposing options, it will be worthwhile to delve into the recent history and bring to light the circumstances which have brought Pakistan to such an impasse. Ongoing dialogue process has run into difficulties and seems to be collapsing.
Authenticity of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. It has so far not been established whether 9/11 episode was real or engineered and whether Osama bin Laden was behind it.
Terrorism Confined to Muslims Only. George W. Bush led neo-cons most immoral act after 9/11 was to attribute terrorism to Muslims only. Global war on terrorism was hence confined to Muslim world only while the non-Muslim world was given a clean chit. Even the freedom movements legitimized by the UN were dubbed as terrorism. Above all, biased laws on terrorism were framed but terrorism was not defined.
Why Afghanistan was Chosen as the Target? Afghanistan, an impoverished State devoid of armed forces, technology, intelligence, resources and having gone through a decade long horrendous war with the Soviet forces followed by four years of internecine war (1992-1996) was chosen as the initial target by USA because of its geo-strategic importance and its hidden mineral wealth. It shares border with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and China in the north and Pakistan and Iran in the south. Under the garb of Operation Freedom, Washington’s hidden objectives were to convert Afghanistan into a strong military base, wherefrom it could launch covert war against all the target countries around it to not only maintain its world hegemony but to also harness the resources of Central Asia.
Demolition of Afghanistan in November 2001 and Iraq in 2003 undertaken by George W Bush junior led neo-cons were aimed at establishing a secure southern front to complement the western front that was established by merging Eastern Europe into EU in early 1990s. The underlying idea behind the establishment of two fronts was to dominate Eurasia as propounded by Brzezinski in 1970s. Brzezinski had prophesized that whosoever controls Eurasia controls the world.
Afghanistan/Pakistan Peaceful in 2001
When the US led forces invaded and occupied Afghanistan duly sanctified by the UN in November 2001 on unconvincing grounds, both Afghanistan and Pakistan were peaceful countries and enjoying brotherly relations. Indian influence in Afghanistan had waned for the first time and Pakistan’s western border had become safe. Conditions in FATA and Balochistan were peaceful and there were no Taliban or suicide bombers in Pakistan except for the sympathizers of Afghan Taliban and Osama bin Laden (OBL) because of their heroics in the war against the Soviets and the US spiteful role after achieving its objectives.
Why Pakistan was deceptively befriended?
The fact that after 9/11, the US chose Pakistan to fight the war as a Frontline State is a clear cut indication that Pakistan at that time was viewed as a responsible and valued country and not a dangerous country. However, Pakistan’s nuclear program was an eyesore for India, Israel and USA. The planners had made up their minds to intentionally create anarchic conditions in Pakistan so that its nukes could be whisked away under the plea that it was unstable and ungovernable.
Ruling out India’s suggestion to destroy both Afghanistan and Pakistan in one go, Washington decided to befriend Pakistan and capture Afghanistan with its assistance and after weakening it from within through sustained covert war, axe it. The reasons behind this piecemeal approach were that it was not possible to occupy Afghanistan without full cooperation of Pakistan, and secondly, Pakistan was a nuclear power.
Pakistan Specific Hidden Objectives
Although Pakistan was made an ally, in reality it was a deception to destabilize, denuclearize, de-Islamize and secularize Pakistan and make it subservient to India. Later events and tens of articles published by the US media/think tanks have proved this contention to be correct. It is a different matter that the US couldn’t achieve any of the objectives.
Action Plan against Pakistan
The two extreme flanks of Pakistan resting on FATA in the northwest and Balochistan in the southwest were selected as preliminary targets for subversion. After making FATA restive, flames of terrorism were to be gradually expanded towards settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and then to major urban centres.
The initial attempt towards that end was to first allow bulk of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders and their fighters to escape to FATA from Tora Bora caves in December 2001. Thereafter, force Pakistan to induct regular troops into South Waziristan (SW) to flush them out; thus creating a small rivulet for the terrorism to seep into FATA. The flow was to be regulated by RAW and Afghan NDS and backed by CIA. MI-6, Mosad and BND were to assist the covert war.
CIA and FBI established their outposts in tribal agencies under the garb of netting al-Qaeda operatives. The two outfits established a clandestine outfit called Spider Web in which retired Pak Army/ Afghan commandoes and locals were enrolled.
About 600 pro-Pakistan tribal Maliks, elders and clerics were killed by the members of this outfit thereby creating space for the anti-State militants to establish their authority. The chosen actors were bought over by providing sacks full of dollars, arms, equipment, vehicles and Thoraya communication sets. Abdullah Mehsud, cousin of Baitullah Mehsud, released from Guantanamo Bay after brainwashing him and providing an artificial leg was among them. The rivulet was thus turned into a river.
Likewise, another rivulet was created in Balochistan with the help of Sardars of Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes. Concerted and sustained efforts were made to destabilize FATA, Balochistan and later on Karachi to gradually sink Pakistan in sea of terrorism. Six intelligence agencies based in Kabul kept sprinkling tons of fuel on embers of religious extremism, sectarianism, ethnicity and Jihadism. Drones were introduced to further fuel terrorism.
Purpose of Destabilization of Pakistan. Purpose behind destabilization and defamation of Pakistan through terrorism and propaganda war was to pitch Pak Army against the most fearless fighters in FATA and in Balochistan in an endless war; force Pakistan to soften eastern border and fortify western border thereby making it easy for India to operationalize its Cold Start doctrine with ease; defame armed forces, nuclear program and State institutions; enfeeble economy, dry up investment; make Pakistan lawless; create fear, insecurity and uncertainty among the people; project Pakistan as a failed State and ultimately create conditions for snatching the much sought nukes peacefully or forcibly.
Major Urban Centres Barricaded. Once terrorism seeped into urban centres, all major cities had to be barricaded with road blocks and police piquets. But the terrorists still managed to carryout acts of terror against most protected installations because of satellite guidance and presence of Blackwater elements and CIA network with their safe havens in US, British, German, Indian and Afghan Embassies in Islamabad and Consulates in other cities. Thousands of foreign funded NGOs played their role as agent provocateurs/ informers.
Battle between Security Forces and Militants
The militants in FATA are Islamists waging an ideological war to establish Islamic Caliphate. They neither believe in Pakistan’s constitution nor in democracy saying these are of western model and anti-Islamic. The miscreants are fighting State forces with tenacity because of uninterrupted financial and weapons support from foreign agencies. Their choice weapons are suicide bombers and IEDs.
In Balochistan there are more than two dozen terrorist groups. Insurgency led by secular BLA, BRA and BLF is materialist oriented wanting control over resources and independence. Most of rebellious Baloch leaders have been given refuge abroad and extended full support.
150,000 troops combating the militants in the northwest enjoy a definite edge over the militants. In Balochistan, Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary, Levies and Police are fighting the Baloch separatists and sectarian forces targeting Hazaras and have contained anti-State forces.
Despite best efforts by our security forces and rendering huge sacrifices, TTP network aligned with several local Jihadist groups as well as al-Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Turkestan Islamic Movement could not be tamed. They have been striking soft and hard targets at will. Their suicides bombing producing nurseries are functional and they are never short of new recruits.
While the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar are waging a Jihad against occupation forces to free their country and recapture power, Pakistani Taliban claim to be fighting a Jihad against Pak security forces by terming Pak Army as a mercenary army of the US. Main plank used for recruitment is to safeguard Pashtunwali and establish Islamic system by imposing Shariah in the country.
For the achievement of their goal of making Pakistan an Islamic Emirate, they have been resorting to extreme brutalities like assassinations, terror attacks on military and civilian targets, worship places, shrines, funerals and markets. Schools in Swat, FATA and settled areas of KP including Peshawar have been destroyed in large numbers. Kidnapping for ransom, forced recruitment and marriages, beheading of captives and brainwashing teenagers as suicide bombers are their methods to strike terror.
IEDs, explosive laden vehicles and suicide bombing are their preferred weapons of destruction. Worst is that unlike in the past when they were supported by Pakistan to wage Jihad in Afghanistan, now they are aided by non-Muslim powers and Karzai led regime in Kabul to wage war against own people. All these acts are against the principles of Islam.
Unlike the US military which is supported by Army contingents of 48 countries in Afghanistan, Pak security forces are fighting the war against militants backed by foreign powers at their own with meager resources and their performance has been much better than ISAF.
Why Religious Extremism Intensified in Pakistan? Some of the glaring reasons that have given rise to religious extremism in Pakistan are as follows:
Early demise of Quaid-e-Azam resulted in leadership crisis, which persists to this day.
Uneven development of provinces and growth of regionalism gave rise to fissiparous tendencies and strengthened centrifugal forces in smaller provinces.
Insensitivity and callous attitude of the elites towards the deprived class bred resentment.
Selective accountability and pro-rich judicial system added to the frustration of the have-nots.
Corruption in all government, judicial and police departments eroded moral turpitude and scruples.
Unresolved Kashmir dispute and State terrorism of India against Kashmiris heightened Jihadi tendencies.
Western hatred towards Muslims and hounding and persecution of religious elements dubbed as terrorists intensified anti-US feelings.
Promotion of western values and demeaning Islam by liberals/ seculars antagonized the Islamists.
Propagation of modernism and liberalism under the garb of enlightened moderation resulted in spread of obscenity and vulgarity and corresponding increase in religious extremism.
Divisive education system provided unequal opportunities for social growth.
Reasons behind Growth of Talibanization in Pakistan
The US coldheartedly abandoned Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jihadists in 1989 and instead embraced India which had remained the camp follower of Soviet Union since 1947 and had also partnered Soviet Union in the Afghan war and had vociferously condemned US-Pakistan proxy war. This callous act opened the doors for religious fanaticism and militarism.
Pakistan suffered throughout the Afghan war and continues to suffer to this day on account of the debris left behind by Soviet forces and proxy war. By the time last Soviet soldier left Afghan soil, Pakistani society had got radicalized owing to free flow of weapons and drugs from Afghanistan and onset of armed uprising in occupied Kashmir.
Onset of armed uprising in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) further militarized the society and gave birth to large number of Jihadi outfits, making AJK the operational base for Jihad in IOK.
Pakistan’s efforts to tackle the fallout effects of the war got seriously hampered because of harsh sanctions imposed by USA under Pressler Amendment in October 1989 and political instability throughout the democratic era from 1988 to 1999.
Iran and Saudi Arabia started fuelling sectarianism in Pakistan throughout 1990s in a big way. Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan and Majlis-e-Wahadat ul Hashmeen were funded by Iran and Sipah-e-Sahabha Pakistan, now named as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (Sunni Deobandi) were supported by Saudi Arabia, which gave rise to religious extremism and intolerance and sharpened Shia-Sunni divide.
Unseating of democratically elected heavy mandate of Nawaz Sharif led government by Gen Musharraf and the latter opting to ditch Taliban regime and to fight global war on terror at the behest of USA energized anti-Americanism, religious extremism and led to creation of Mutahida Majlis Ammal, which formed governments in KP and Balochistan. MMA on the quiet nurtured extremist religious groups that were also funded by foreign powers.
After 9/11, while the US declared al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban as terrorists because of their suspected role in terrorist attacks, Pakistan not only ditched Taliban and aligned itself with USA; it changed the status of tribesmen of FATA from defenders of western border and strategic assets into terrorists and started gunning them.
Loyal tribesmen turned hostile and picked up arms against the State in reaction to induction of Army in SW, Pakistan’s alignment with USA and handing over of al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to US for reward money.
Militancy gathered pace after the drone attack on a religious seminary in Bajaur in October 2006 killing 80 students. It activated militants under Maulvi Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur.
Spate of suicide attacks surged after the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa incident in July 2007, keying up militants in Mehmand Agency, Dir, Malakand and Swat and transferring terrorism to urban centres. Jundal Hafsa was established by Asmatullah Muawia in end 2007 to avenge the deaths of inmates of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa.
Emergence of TTP in Pakistan
Tehrik-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) comprising an alliance of five militant groups emerged on Pakistan’s landscape in December 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud belonging to Shabi Khel tribe, which is not among the main tribes of Mehsuds. It took the TTP five years to establish itself starting 2002 with its sub-commands in five tribal agencies of FATA and main HQ at Srarogha in SW. Subsequently it spread its tentacles into settled areas of KP called PATA including Bannu, DIK, Swat, Malakand and Dara Adam Khel. Linkage with Punjabi Taliban under Asmatullah Muawia extended TTP’s reach to southern Punjab as well. Alignment with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Kashmir related Jihadi groups that were banned in 2002/03 spread the sphere of influence of the TTP to every part of Pakistan.
Today it has 54 groups under its wings including a dozen foreign groups. Maulvi Nazir group in SW and Hafiz Gul Bahadar group in North Waziristan (NW) have remained independent and are in bad books of USA.
Peace Deals with Militants
Between 2004 and 2008 when Gen Musharraf was at the helms of affairs, eight peace deals were signed with militant outfits. Only two deals struck with Maulvi Nazir and with Hafiz Gul Bahadur survived. Bahadur has now revoked the peace agreement on May 28, 2014. During the period from 2004-08, the Pakistani Taliban with the help of foreign support had gained an upper edge. 18 administrative units were under their control. Large numbers of soldiers were in the custody of TTP and morale of lower ranks in Army and Frontier Corps (FC) was low. Peace deals enabled the militants to regain breath, regroup and get their prisoners released.
Peace deal with Maulana Fazlullah and Maulana Sufi signed in Swat in February 2009 was dishonored in April 2009 when the militants after agreeing to renounce violence in return for enforcement of Nizam-e-Adal in Malakand Division violated the treaty by intervening into Lower Dir and Buner. It evoked a nationwide condemnation.
Reasons Behind Under Performance of Security Forces. Some of the reasons behind under performance of security forces were:
The troops had been launched to fight guerrilla war without acclimatization, training, motivation and financial security.
A significant percentage of troops particularly the Pashtuns were convinced that the Taliban were on the right to demand Shariah.
The FC was ill-equipped and not trained to fight guerrilla war.
Above all, intelligence dissemination was controlled by CIA and ISI had taken a backseat.
Troops had to remain mindful of collateral damage and to bear the brunt of negative propaganda of foreign and home media.
Unlike ISAF, own troops seldom got air or helicopter support when in distress.
Operations were cyclic in nature. Troops moved from one tribal agency to another after signing peace deal without consolidating gains.
Militants enjoy the choice of time and target. They have safe exit and supply routes and safe havens in Afghanistan.
Shortfalls Rectified.These shortfalls to a large extent were rectified by Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani when he took over in November 2007 by starting low intensity conflict training and awarding a highly attractive welfare package to lower ranks. ISI under Lt Gen Shuja Pasha made concerted efforts to recover the lost intelligence ground.
Army Wrested Initiative in 2009
When the Army backed by PAF launched a major military operation in end April 2009, it was a different Army and it took the militants by complete surprise. If the militants daringly put their lives at stake so did the soldiers. Both matched in boldness and chivalry, but the Army had an edge because of better discipline, fighting techniques, mobility, firepower and above all superior cause. Junior officers led from the front while senior officers closely supervised the operations.
As a consequence, Swat operation was a complete success, although heavy casualties occurred due to tough resistance put up by the well dug in militants and suicide bombers. Fazlullah and his followers beat a hasty retreat and fled to Afghanistan. The FC threw out the militants from Bajaur.
Why Fazlullah failed in Swat?
The system in vogue in Swat for over hundred years was close to Shariat. The people were dispensed quick and fair justice, provided cheap education and the Wali was approachable. When Gen Yahya integrated Swat with Pakistan in 1970 and did away with their age-old system, the rot began. However, process of education continued, making Swat one of the most educated districts. Lack of justice and bureaucratic red tapism gave birth to TNSM under Maulana Sufi in 1990. The movement was crushed in 1994 but after agreeing to introduce Shariah in Malakand Division. The commitment was not honored since High Court in Peshawar and Supreme Court retained monopoly over Shariat courts.
When Fazlullah came in limelight in 2007, his daily FM radio broadcasts were listened to and he became very popular because of too many flaws in our judicial, electoral and parliamentary systems. Once Fazlullah became powerful with the help of his foreign patrons and launched a reign of terror, he became unpopular and the people wholeheartedly welcomed the Army.
Impact of Operation Rah-e-Nijat
When Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone in August 2009 in SW, the TTP vowed to avenge his death and surged up spate of suicide attacks and bomb attacks. Storming of GHQ by militants on October 10, 2009 impelled Gen Kayani to take the battle to the main base of TTP in Mehsud inhabited SW. On October 17, a three pronged offensive was launched. Night operations were conducted for the first time in that region, thereby giving no respite to the militants. Within a month, the mother of all battles was won and TTP scattered. Provision of safe bases by Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur helped the Army in achieving success. TTP was disallowed to re-establish itself in Kurram, Orakzai and Mehmand agencies. Khalid Omar Khurasani heading TTP in Mehmand Agency fled to Nangarhar and Maulvi Faqir Muhammad in-charge TTP chapter Bajaur Agency to Kunar. In mid 2013, security forces won the battle of Tirah against TTP-Lashkar-e-Islam combined forces. Tariq Afridi heading Darra Adam Khel’s TTP chapter was killed in the Tirah battle.
Why Army Couldn’t Consolidate its Gains?
In 2009/10, Army managed to recapture 17 out of 18 administrative units. Operations in Swat, Bajaur and SW broke the back of the TTP and Army gained an upper hand. About 3000 militants were captured alive and handed over to the police for trials. While the Army did its job superbly, it was unfortunate that the judicial prong couldn’t keep in step with the military prong and not a single terrorist was convicted and punished. All were released who later on recommenced their militant activities with a renewed vengeance. Likewise, civil administration has until now not been able to take over its duties in the captured areas. Army is performing multiple jobs of security, rehabilitation and development but is devoid of special powers of investigation and trial. PPO is being resisted by opposition parties.
But for phenomenal clandestine support by foreign powers to the terrorists, scourge of terrorism could be bottled up. The disarrayed network of TTP was helped to get regrouped in NW, Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan.
Why Military Refrained from Attacking NW
Pakistan refrained from launching a major military operation in NW despite extensive pressure from the US because of multiple constraints. These included paucity of troops since the Army had already deployed about 150,000 troops in the northwest. Pulling out additional troops would have been at the cost of weakening the critical eastern front and losing strategic balance. With displaced persons from SW, Kurram Agency and Tirah Valley not having returned to their homes, it would have resulted in further displacement of 4-5 lakhs from NW. Already five millions have suffered displacement from their homes. Facing defeat, the militants could have escaped to urban centres and with the help of sleeping cells, settle down and continue with their militancy.
An operation would have annoyed the only three friendly groups of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Haqqani network and late Maulvi Nazeer as well as Afghan Taliban, with the possibility of all the groups getting united on a single platform and confronting the Army in a treacherous terrain. With untrustworthy Indo-US-Afghan nexus playing a double game and wanting Corps plus size force to get bogged down in NW, such a course would have proved disastrous.
Stealth helicopters attack in Abbottabad on 2 May 2011 to get OBL followed by an attack on Mehran Base on 22 May and attack on Salala Post on 26 November were in reaction to Army’s reluctance to launch an operation in NW. Inaction in NW however gave a free hand to TTP affiliated groups to continue striking targets at will.
Dissent within TTP over Talks
Unlike Hakimullah Mehsud who disfavored talks, his deputy Waliur Rahman assisted by Khalid Mehsud, alias Khan Said Sajna favored dialogue and had convinced the Shura members to make an offer of dialogue to the government. His group suggested Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Munawar Hassan, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan to act as guarantors to preclude possibility of backtracking from the agreement. The offer was not taken seriously by the PPP led regime and it made it conditional to renunciation of violence.
Talks offer was renewed once rightist PML-N and PTI were voted to power after May 11 elections. A stage was set for a big breakthrough when Waliur Rahman who was the moving force behind peace talks was killed by a drone on May 29, 2013. Jundul Hafsa, also known as Janoon-e-Hafsa took the revenge by killing ten foreigners at base camp of Nanga Parbat on June 23, 2013. One thing became clear that offer of talks by the government created division in TTP as well as in the society. Asmatullah Muawia and spokesman Ehsanulah Ehsan were sacked by Hakimullah in August 2013 for favoring peace talks. Sajna after being appointed as head of TTP SW chapter was replaced by Latif Mehsud who was given additional portfolio of commander TTP chapter Miranshah. Both Muawia and Sajna defied their ouster and the later started making efforts to form his independent group in Mehsud inhabited SW. It further heightened differences between the pro and anti-peace groups. The US and its allies supported anti-Pakistan militants and targeted anti-US militants based in FATA.
It was generally expected that the TTP leading militancy in the northwest and in Punjab would tone down its acts of terror particularly against civilian targets once PML-N and PTI formed governments in the centre and KP respectively. As a result of their soft approach the TTP had spared these two parties and targeted liberal political parties during the election campaign. ANP suffered the most in terms of human losses and in elections.
Contrary to high expectations, the Taliban accelerated their terror strikes after the new government took over in early June 2013. Bulk of attacks took place in KP and PTI lost three sitting MPAs. This surge occurred in spite of APC called by the government on September 9, 2013 in which it was agreed by all the participants belonging to different parties and religious groups as well as the Army to enter into dialogue with the militants without pre-conditions and give peace a chance. Fight-and-fight strategy was replaced by talk-and-talk strategy.
The government stuck to its standpoint despite lot of noise made by seculars and liberals. Anti-peace talks lobbies launched a concerted campaign to sabotage proposed peace talks and kept picking fault lines in the resolution passed by the APC. When the TTP welcomed the initiative taken by the APC, it was taken as a sign that the road had been cleared for negotiations between the two sides. The KP government felt so confident that it announced phased withdrawal of troops from Buner, Shangla, Upper and Lower Dir, Chitral and Malakand districts starting mid October 2013 and handing over responsibility to civil administration. While the ground was being smoothened for the meeting, an unexpected and unfortunate incident took place a day after the announcement of withdrawal plan. On September 15, Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi and two others embraced martyrdom as a result of an IED planted by Fazlullah’s militants at Upper Dir.
Peace process got a big jolt when TTP claimed responsibility on the following day and vowed to continue hitting military targets. This hostile act in response to Government’s policy of appeasement was regrettable. It caused deep anguish and anger to the rank and file of the Army and put the central and KP governments in awkward position but gave a strong handle to the anti-peace lobbies to beat the peace makers with and make fun of them.
As the debate between pro-peace and anti-peace lobbies intensified, another gruesome act of terror took place on September 22 in Peshawar where a church was struck by two suicide bombers soon after Sunday prayers killing 84 people and injuring 175. While TTP denied involvement, Jundullah Hafsa, a faction of TTP comprising Punjabi Taliban and led by Asmatullah Muawia claimed responsibility of church attack. In the wake of widespread denunciation inside and outside the country over the dastardly attack on church and condemnation by Ulemas of all schools of thoughts terming the act against the teachings of Quran and Sunnah, TTP Shura urged Muawia to disown the act. Soon after his disownment, another group Jundullah led by Ahmed Marwat based in NW claimed responsibility.
Hakimullah received another setback when his confidante Latif Mehsud was arrested by US forces in end October in Afghanistan. In the backdrop of Interior Minister’s hectic backdoor efforts, Hakimullah consented to attend a meeting in NW on November 2, 2013 but peace process halted when Hakimullah was killed by a drone in his newly constructed house in Dandey Darpakhel in NW on late night of 31 October. Although hardliner Asmatullah Shaheen was appointed acting Ameer, struggle for succession took a precarious turn. Sharp division within TTP Shura over the next appointee forced Mullah Omar to intercede and break the impasse by appointing non-tribal but highly controversial and runaway Maulana Fazlullah as the new Ameer. His deputy Sheikh Khalid Haqqani was also a non-tribal from Swabi. Shahidullah Shahid was appointed spokesman.
In the wake of series of revenge terror attacks, PM Nawaz Sharif disappointed pro-war lobbies by giving peace yet another chance and formed a government peace committee comprising Irfan Siddiqui, Maj retired Amer, Rustan Shah and Rahimullah Yusafzai. TTP responded by giving names of Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulvi Abdul Aziz, Prof Ibrahim and Mufti Kafaitullah to represent Taliban. In the first meeting in NW, the TTP put forward demands of withdrawal of Army troops from SW and release of non-combatant prisoners. Despite the launching of peace prong the militants continued attacking civil and military targets.
In response to killing of 13 police commandos and injury to 57 in Karachi on February 14, 2014, followed by gruesome beheading of 23 FC captive soldiers in NW on February 27 and an attack on a FC convoy in Bannu, on Gen Raheel Sharif’s request, six surgical air attacks on militant hideouts in NW, SW, Tirah and Khyber Agency were carried out in last week of February 2014, which caused over 70 militants and some important commanders were killed. The losses together with killing of member of TTP central Shura Asmatullah Shaheen on February 24 compelled the militants to declare unilateral ceasefire for one month starting March 1, 2014. Suicide-cum-gun attack on Islamabad district courts on March 3 was disowned by TTP but was claimed by an unknown group calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind.
During the lull period of ceasefire, peace process was speeded up. Few more attacks were also disowned by TTP which indicated sharp division within rank and file of TTP. Seven hours long meeting of TTP nominated committee with members of TTP Shura at a village in Orakzai Agency on March 26 under cordial atmosphere raised hopes and light could be seen at the end of the tunnel. However, high hopes dashed when the TTP refused to extend ceasefire after March 31 on the plea that the government was not responding to its requests concerning release of non-combatant prisoners and withdrawal of Army from SW, allowing the TTP a safe zone to hold talks freely. In the meanwhile, fight between two Mehsud groups in SW, one led by Sajna and the other by hardliner Shehryar (a close associate of Fazlullah), started in April which is continuing. Infighting has caused heavy casualties to both sides. Sajna group is from Deobandi school of thought and Shehryar group from Deobandi offshoot Panj Peer, which is averse to shrine worship.
When all efforts made by TTP Shura as well as Mullah Omar failed to patch them up, Sajna dissociated himself from TTP and he was nominated head of his own faction in SW in last week of May 2014. Azam Tariq associating himself with Sajna stated that elements within TTP were foreign funded and involved in un-Islamic practices like extortion, kidnapping for ransom and attacks on mosques/shrines/churches. He added that TTP harbored killers. Hafiz Gul Bahadur group in NW revoked the peace accord with the government on May 30 in reaction to alleged civilian casualties in surgical air strikes and announced to attack civil and military targets. In anticipation of a military operation, about 900 families in NW have migrated to Khost and about 800 families to Bannu and Lakki Marwat. In the process some good Taliban have turned bad and some bad as good.
In reaction, Fazlullah launched over 200 militants from Kunar and attacked a military border post in Bajaur on May 31 killing one soldier and injuring some. Retaliatory attack by artillery guns and gunship helicopters killed 16 terrorists. Two terrorist cross border attacks were mounted on June 4 on border posts in Bajaur killing four soldiers. In addition, a suicide attack along Fatehjang-Pindi road martyred two Lt Cols and two soldiers that day. On June 5, a top expert in training suicide bombers, Ashiqullah Mehsud, a close associate of late ill-famed Qari Hussain, was killed in NW. His death has further weakened Shehryar group. An ultimatum has been given by the Army to the elders/Maliks in NW to shunt foreign militants (Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens and Tajiks) in next 15 days, that is, by 20 June 2014.
In desperation, a high profile terror attack was carried out on Jinnah airport Karachi at 1130 pm on 9 June by well-trained ten militants (mostly foreigners aged between 20-25 years) laced with mostly Indian origin deadly array of weapons. A quick and efficient response by law enforcing agencies (LEAs) defeated the dangerous objectives of the attackers and killed all of them. In the process 19 persons embraced martyrdom. TTP claimed responsibility saying it was in reaction to bombardment in NW. For the first time Pak media acted responsibly and eulogized the spirited fight back of LEAs. The nation as a whole as well as all political/religious leaders condemned the dastardly attack and paid glowing tributes to the LEAs.
Implications of War
The war has halted investments and economic activity has almost come to a grinding halt due to energy crisis and disturbed law and order situation.
Human losses have risen several times higher than the collective losses suffered by coalition forces in Afghanistan while social traumas are incalculable.
War has made Pakistan more dependent upon USA, forcing our rulers to continue clinging to the aprons of USA despite its biased behavior.
Infighting among the Muslims suits the US designs; hence it would like the war to continue.
While the US caught up in a blind alley in Afghanistan is clueless how to exit safely, Pakistan too had no strategy to end the futile war till the start of talks with TTP.
Eleven-year war has not only given tremendous experience of fighting guerrilla war to both Pak Army and militants but also has removed inhibitions and fears of each other. Militants fear air power and drones only.
The militants could not have continued fighting for so long without external support and safe sanctuaries across the border. They are more dangerous in cities where they operate as faceless enemies with the support provided by sleeping cells.
Once NATO exits from Afghanistan, TTP will be left with no justifiable cause to continue spilling blood of Muslim brethren. Drying up of external support will wane their vigor rapidly and sooner than later they will give up fighting.
The other view is that TTP may become stronger if Taliban government get re-installed in Kabul after 2014 and may then disagree to ceasefire unless all their demands are accepted unconditionally.
Civilians living within the war zone have suffered the most in the crossfire of the security forces and the militants as well as the drones.
The low intensity conflict has caused substantial wear and tear to military’s weapons & equipment. It has also fatigued the troops living away from families and peacetime stations and living amid hazardous environment where life has become cheap.
Situation will further worsen in coming years since militancy has spread to every nook and corner of the country.
Civil administration and law courts have not established rule of law in any of the areas recaptured by the Army thereby putting added burden on the Army to hold ground, provide security and carryout rehabilitation/development works.
Opinions on war on terror whether it is our war or someone else’s war, and whether talks should be held with militants or not are sharply divided. This division in perceptions is to the advantage of militants and disfavors security forces embattled with militants.
Likewise, division in TTP has weakened the outfit considerably. Its problems get accentuated because of absence of Fazlullah, who is a pawn in the hands of Afghan NDS and RAW.
Sajna’s dissociation from TTP has strengthened the hands of security forces as well as bargaining position of the government. However, this advantage to an extent has been diluted in the wake of revocation of peace agreement by Gul Bahadur. Another advantage the TTP has is safe base of operation in Kunar-Nuristan and forward base in NW.
Taking advantage of the safe base within Mehsud belt of SW under Sajna, a military operation against the lone forward base NW preceded by increased surgical strikes may be in the offing. It will inflict further pains to the people of NW. To prevent an operation, tribal peace Jirga met Governor KP and sought move forward in peace talks.
With so many grave internal and external threats, most of which were invented and thrust upon Pakistan by foreign powers and duly exacerbated by meek and self-serving political leadership, Army’s plate remain full.
War on terror poses a three dimensional threat when viewed in context with twin threat posed by India under Modi and Afghanistan under probable Dr Abdullah.
In case of an Indo-Pakistan war, our current force structure is insufficient and ill-suited to confront three dimensional threats.
Challenges faced by Incumbent Government
Pakistan was socially, politically and economically ruined during the five year rule of PPP led regime. People voted PML-N to power so that it could put the country back on the rail. The government is faced with empty national kitty, over $70 billion external debt, energy crisis, gas and electricity load shedding, frozen foreign investment due to disturbed law and order, skyrocketing inflation and price spiral, GDP at 2.7%, unemployment, polarized political parties and society, hostile India and unfriendly Afghanistan and USA and not so friendly Iran, and Pakistan having earned the reputation of most dangerous country in the world.
Unlike the last regime, this regime although far from ideal, has relatively better will to tide over the knotty problems and has already taken some good initiatives. The only bottleneck in its way is the ongoing war on terror which is eating into the vitals of the country and has eaten up $102 billion (Rs 8.26 trillion).
Opposing Views on Peace Talks with TTP
It is making hue and cry as to why the government is insisting to hold talks with the TTP when the hands of its new leader Fazlullah are dripping in blood of people of Swat and surroundings and is a captive of Afghan government. They argue that it is pointless to hold talks with Fazlullah who has a history of breaking deals and had terrorized Swat. Those suggesting dialogue with slaughterers are termed as insane.
They say that TTP instead of reciprocating government’s goodwill gesture of unconditional talks, martyred Maj Gen Sanaullah, attacked a church in Peshawar, killed police commandoes in Karachi, slaughtered 23 FC soldiers in NW, attacked military and civilian targets including district courts Islamabad to disrupt talks. They argue that military power must be demonstrated to the adversary so that it begs for talks. They are pressing the government to deliver the hammer with full force to make them surrender and then hold talks from a position of strength.
Anti-Taliban group complain that peddlers of hate and destruction have striven to impose Shariah upon others using coercive, cruel and violent methods. Instead of reforming the society by endearing to influence the wayward and weak Muslims and guiding them to become practicing Muslims through preaching and demonstrating strength of character, honesty, tolerance, amiability, generosity and humility, the militants have been resorting to cruelty and terrorism to terrorize the people and force them to accept their brand of Islam, which they project is the real Islam.
Pro-fight elements consider drone a useful weapon to kill terrorists hiding in far off places and go to the extent of claiming that residents of FATA love drones and view drones as a good deterrent against terrorists.
Those favoring talks counter their arguments by saying that the security forces have been fighting the militants for over a decade without achieving any results and in the process, civilians, Army, police have suffered well over 40,000 fatalities and Pakistan has lost over $80 billion. They say, other than Sri Lankan and Colombian insurgencies, no insurgency could be resolved anywhere in the world through force and ultimately had to rely on dialogue to end the conflict. They quote the example of US led ISAF having used excessive force for over 13 years has finally decided to quit and is seeking dialogue with the Taliban to arrive at a political settlement.
Pro-peace groups see drone as the biggest obstruction in the way of peace and say that people of FATA, particularly women, children and elderly people have contracted mental diseases because of hovering drones. They feel that the US purposely uses this weapon to trigger terrorism and scuttle peace process. They quote examples of Nek Muhammad killed by a drone soon after he signed a peace deal, Bajaur seminary struck by a missile in October 2006 when peace deal was about to be inked, pro-talks TTP leader Waliur Rahman droned on May 30, 2013, Hakeemullah killed by a drone on November 1, 2013 when he had consented to take part in peace talks. They say, third hand helped by anti-talks lobby is hell-bent to fail the talks.
Stance of Politico-Religious Leaders/Scholars.They sympathize with the cause of militants since they too yearn for Shariah. This was evident from the lunatic statement of former JI chief Munawar Hassan terming militants as Shaheeds and denying shahadat status to soldiers. However, religious leaders, like the political leaders, are divided.
They argue that despite the fact that it is clearly enshrined in the constitution that Islamic Republic of Pakistan will be run in accordance with Quran and Sunnah, the seculars who have ruled the country for the last 66 years, have governed the country on the basis of Westminster model of democracy and Anglo-Saxon form of judicial system. Recommendations of Islamic Council of Ideology made each year have never been debated in the Parliament, what to talk of implementing them. They say, if the seculars have the right to flout the constitution, why the Islamists should be censured for demanding Islamic system of governance and judiciary?
They suspect that God forbid if Pakistan is invaded and conquered by USA, our liberal class will become collaborators and welcome the invaders with open arms and garland them as liberators having saved them from the clutches of savages bent upon imposing their will by imposing horrific Shariah. They say that it is these hateful militants who would eventually stand up and fight the aggressors to liberate their homeland as they have done in Afghanistan and Iraq and forced them to quit.
- They condone their aggressive acts under the cover of religion, saying they have a noble agenda of establishing Shariah in the country for the betterment of the poor. Misusing the name of Islam, they exploit the poverty of the youth hailing from the deprived class and mislead them to become militants and suicide bombers and kill Muslims.
The great majority which comprises of the deprived class, groaning under the weight of poverty, illiteracy and insecurity and fed up of arrogance of proud pursed elites, is conservative and Islam loving. They hate the elite class and consider our rulers as American collaborators slavishly playing US game. Talibanisation in their view is a backlash to the American centric policies pursued by our rulers to protect their interests rather than safeguard Pakistan interests. They fear that Islamic Republic of Pakistan is being turned into an American satellite.
Those driven by ignorance, or half-baked knowledge of Islam, or fear, believe that the extremist groups have taken up militancy in order to get rid of anti-poor western systems of governance and justice, and to usher in real Islam in Pakistan for the betterment of the downtrodden. While doing so, they ignore the fact that the whole social fabric has been severely traumatized.
Over a period of time, great majority has begun to realize that Islam preach peace, tolerance, brotherhood, fraternity and shun violence, bigotry and bloodshed as espoused by Taliban. They want Shariah but not the one advocated by Taliban.
Role of Wafaqul Madaras
The Ulema belonging to Wafaqul Madaras as well as other religious leaders are now unanimous in declaring suicide attacks as un-Islamic. They do not subscribe to violence and say that Quran clearly spells out that murder of one innocent human being is equivalent to murder of entire humanity. Saudi Arabia’s grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh stated that killing oneself is a grave sin and those who kill themselves with explosives are criminals and are moving fast to hell. 300 Ulema belonging to Deoband have also declared suicide attacks as haram.
Their categorical verdict should impel TTP leaders to ponder over whether it was right to train teenage boys as suicide bombers and deceivingly making them believe that no sooner they will blow themselves up, they will be welcomed by Hoors and taken to paradise. The verdict must have embarrassed TTP whose spokesman Azam Tariq is on record having stated that ‘Our Ulema have termed suicide attacks as an elite form of Jihad, which has made the Mujahideen invincible’. Misusing the name of Islam, the trainers have been exploiting the poverty of the boys hailing from downtrodden class and misleading them to kill Muslims.
Role of Tribesmen
We must not overlook the fact of history that when Maharaja Hari Singh Dogra forces augmented by Patiala forces and RSS were massacring Muslim Kashmiris in Kashmir in 1947 wanting to integrate with Pakistan and the then British C-in-C Gen. Gracey refused to dispatch Pak troops as demanded by Quaid-e-Azam, the tribesmen from FATA and NWFP formed a lashkar at their own and captured Muzaffarabad and area right up to Baramula. Had they not wasted time in Baramula, they could have easily captured Srinagar on October 27, 1947 before the arrival of Indian troops. Notwithstanding the heroics of Pak Army and Azad forces, tribesmen had played a key role in retaining one-thirds of Kashmir. Large numbers of graves of the tribesmen in various towns of Azad Kashmir bear testimony to their sense of sacrifice and valor.
I reckon, it was because of their laudable role in the 1948 Kashmir war and their solemn pledge to remain loyal and faithful to Pakistan and to defend the western border against foreign aggression at all cost that Quaid-e-Azam during his address to tribal Jirga at Peshawar on April 17, 1948 agreed to the demands of the tribesmen to be governed by British contrived flawed FCR instead of laws of Pakistan and to retain their Rawaj which is close to Shariah and to keep FC troops only along with forts, and to continue with Khasadari system. MA Jinnah promised that the government will extend all possible help in building the tribal belt and in removing socio-economic and educational deficiencies. Lord Curzon was ordered to withdraw regular troops from Waziristan within 48 hours. Article 247 provides details of the agreement.
Pakistan went to war with India in 1965 and in 1971 in addition to several skirmishes and military standoffs. Each time, Pak Army was able to pullout 7 and 9 Divisions from Peshawar and Kohat for its offensive options. People of FATA took care of the western border. In the war against Soviet forces, FATA became the base of operation and training ground for local and international Jihadis which led to the miraculous victory against next door super power. One of the reasons of this classical victory was that national psyche matched with national policy. During 2008/09 military standoff with India, Baitullah Mehsud announced that in case of Indian aggression, TTP fighters would fight along with Pak Army and provide thousands of suicide bombers. His announcement deterred India. While the tribesmen fulfilled their pledges, Pakistan government didn’t and kept FATA under developed and neglected.
1948 Declaration.It was honored by all the civilian and military rulers which helped in keeping the people of tribal belt in the loop. Gen Musharraf’s u turn on Afghanistan was against the national policy and in conflict with national psyche. He broke the 1948 agreement without taking the elders of FATA into confidence and not only inducted Army in Waziristan but also launched series of operations to target foreign militants and their sympathizers at the behest of USA. These actions were viewed by the tribesmen as breach of trust and betrayal and they decided to confront the State forces.
Majority is Peace Loving.Except for the minority of misled militants in FATA, majority are peace loving and loyal to Pakistan. Each tribal agency has peace lashkar fighting the Taliban. Ahmadzai Wazirs in SW and Othmanzai Wazirs in NW are the largest tribes and are pro-Pakistan.
Opportunity Seized. A window of opportunity has been opened to win back the loyalties of the misled. Should we seize it or let it go. Did we not grant general amnesty to Bengali rebels based in India, to Baloch rebels taking refuge in Afghanistan and are we not soft on Baloch separatists? Weren’t Al-Zulfiqar terrorists pardoned? Didn’t NRO condone all criminals?
Why are we so Averse to Taliban?If we are dying to befriend India and are ready to bed with untrustworthy USA, why are we so averse to Taliban who just want Shariah and have in principle accepted Pakistan’s constitution and democratic order? Have we not tolerated the terrorism of MQM since 1984, turned a blind eye to white-collar crime and loot and plunder by the elites?
Why we are so afraid of Shariah?As Muslims why are we so afraid of Shariah, particularly when western democracy and Anglo-Saxon Law have failed to deliver? Why don’t we tailor the constitution, the electoral and parliamentary system in conformity with Islamic principles?
In order to preserve arms and to keep the Army battle worthy to be able to confront the real enemy across the borders, there is a definite need to plan its de-induction from restive areas and to hand over counter terrorism responsibility to a separate counter terrorism force under a separate HQ or Interior Ministry.
In 2007, there were active plans to handover frontline security duties to FC and Frontier Constabulary duly trained by the Army and US trainers. The US and British trainers had been imparting training to FC men in Warsak and some other locations from 2005 till November 2011. Not only several FC wings were raised to make additional battalions, their scale of weapons and equipment was also enhanced to add to their firepower and to enlarge their scope to carryout defensive and offensive tasks independently. By now, the FC has been sufficiently trained and enriched with considerable experience to tackle militant threat along the border regions independently. However, except for Balochistan, so far the FC has not taken over frontline duties in northwestern regions and relieved the Army. It should be expedited.
In the wake of our defence structure’s incapacity to effectively meet three dimensional threat faced by Pakistan, it will be worthwhile to consider three million ex-servicemen from three services and paramilitary forces currently being managed by Lt Gen Hamid Gul, President PESS and his chain of command extended up to district levels across the country as a readymade force for 2nd line defence. MO Directorate should work out a contingency plan how best this force can be utilized for the defence of Pakistan in peace and war.
It will be incorrect to assume that both external and internal intelligence shields are to be provided entirely by ISI. The ISI’s primary responsibility is to act as a first line defence against external threats. The IB, Special Police, FIA and CID all under Ministry of Interior are principally responsible for internal security but have somehow taken up a backseat and left everything to the ISI and MI. Notwithstanding the urgent need to bring greater harmony between 26 agencies and to harness all intelligence resources and bringing them under one roof of National Security Directorate for national level coordination as envisaged in new national security policy, there is a need to define areas of responsibility and scope of each agency to avoid duplication of work and self-centeredness.
The US devised an effective homeland security system which helped in thwarting 9/11 type recurrence. In 11 years, no terrorist incident has occurred in USA. Likewise, Europe has also put in place modern techniques to prevent terrorism. Other than bombings in Madrid and London, no major terror incident has taken place in any European country. Even India has improved its security system. On the contrary, Pakistan which is the worst victim of terrorism has yet to devise a credible homeland security system to foil acts of terror. Planned ‘Rapid Response Force’ at federal and provincial levels backed by efficient intelligence should be activated to deal with urban terrorism. PPO must be enforced despite opposition.
India must not forget that religious extremist groups imbued with religious fervor and having been persecuted for over three decades cannot be convinced to do away with Jihad and join the mainstream of secular culture which has failed to deliver justice to have-nots. Kashmir will keep Jihadism alive. If India wants terrorism to end, it will have to make urgent and sincere efforts to resolve this chronic problem of Kashmir. Cosmetics of CBMs, trade and people-to-people contacts will not work.
Pakistan has remained deficient of a genuine leader for 66 years. Leaders living in regal style are out of sync with the people and have no moral authority to censure Islamists that their way of life is wrong and their demand for Shariah is illegal. The leaders will first have to become role models in their personal conduct, ensure good governance and ensure equitable social justice and only then will they be able reach out to the downtrodden and say that they have something better to offer.
Education which is confined to the privileged class must be opened to all classes and uniformity achieved. Primary education and possibly up to matriculation for those who cannot afford to send their children to schools and buy textbooks should be made free.
The unparalleled enthusiasm shown by the people in casting their votes despite the terrorist attacks must have brought a sobering effect on the hardliners within TTP’s rank and file. They must be mindful of the hard reality that after 2014, their cause to fight the security forces will become weak and recruitment may slow down and eventually dry up.
TTP must be reminded of its history of backtracking and breaking peace deals and told not to repeat its past practice. It cannot have the pudding and eat it too. Gory practice of suicide attacks and all forms of terrorism and that too against own brethren must end now.
TTP had by design not halted terror attacks after APC on September 9 so as to sit on the negotiating table from position of strength. It declared ceasefire from 01 to March 31, 2014 by design to buy time. TTP must understand that the Army’s resolve to fight terrorism is as strong as ever. It can launch another successful operation in NW if required.
A segment of people of FATA have been bought over and turned from assets into liabilities for Pakistan. They need to be once again brought in line by winning them over and bringing them back into the mainstream through inducements and motivation.
The US should be asked to fulfill its decade old promise of establishing ROZs in FATA to uplift the backward region.
Like Aghaz-e-Haqooq Balochistan, a similar or even better package can be offered for development of FATA on a crash program.
Besides addressing FATA’s socio-economic grievances as promised by Quaid-e-Azam, their longstanding demand of introducing Nizam-e-Adal in FATA could be given serious consideration just the way TNSM’s demand was accepted while signing peace deal in Swat in February 2009.
Deterrence should be maintained and anti-Pakistan elements abetted/aided by foreign agencies dealt with an iron hand. Foreign militant groups must be flushed out.
Army will have to be co-opted in peace talks because without its active participation, no worthwhile deal can be brokered. Current policy of talk with reconcilable and fight with irreconcilable seems fit.
The British during its 97 years rule had made Afghanistan into a buffer State to contain Communism and safeguard British Raj in India. The US now wants Pakistan to strengthen the western border to safeguard India from the gushing Islamic lava ready to burst once occupation forces depart. Those who would try to block rather than assimilate would drown in it.
The situation today represents a critical moment of our national life. Every Pakistani wants an end to the spectre of unending violence. But decade old antagonism will take time to tone down and transform into conciliation and brotherhood. All stakeholders must be taken on board and collective efforts made to restore peace. While deterrence is necessary, it must not be forgotten that force can hardly provide a permanent solution to such a multidimensional and complex conflict. The dialogue process must be focused, with a logical end in view. Indirect approach should now be replaced with direct contact between the government and the TTP Shura. Role of tribal jirga and tribal elders will prove beneficial. Socio-economic development must go hand-in-hand with dialogue process to increase space for pro-dialogue/peace militants and selective but targeted punitive action should also continue to narrow space for those unwilling to negotiate.
The writer is a retired Brig. defence analyst, columnist, author of several books, member Executive Committee PESS, senior research fellow and Director MEASAC Research Centre. email@example.com