Tone and tenor of US leaders is getting threatening
Currently North Waziristan (NW) is the major battleground for the US where Haqqani Network (HN) is based and has sanctuaries wherefrom it supposedly conducts cross border attacks on ISAF. For Pakistan, NW is not the only battleground to contend with, but there are several other regions more hotter than NW. Of all the battlegrounds, South Waziristan (SW) followed by Swat were the toughest since these places apart from terrain frictions, had tens of long secret tunnels laden with arms, ammunition, explosives, mines, first aid kit etc. Even suicide jacket and IED manufacturing factories were in operation in some of the tunnels. Wireless communication sets were superior to the ones in use of Army units. Camouflaged tunnels and caves, wholly safe from aerial and ground fire including heavy artillery, also acted as resting areas for the militants as well as training areas for the young recruits.
The townships were converted into strongholds and hills around them were occupied. In Swat, the fighters were supported by hundreds of suicide bombers to blast off approaching tanks, APCs and gun towers. IEDS were lavishly spread around strongholds and approaches. Each region had escape and reinforcement routes to/from Afghanistan. Non-fighting locals of the area acted as human shields as well as informers for the militants who held the local population in their iron grip because of policy of terrorization. With bags full of dollars, their morale and motivation level was high. They had been fighting security forces since 2003 and had gained sufficient proficiency in fighting guerrilla war.
Swat and SW had been fortified with the massive assistance and guidance of foreign agencies with a view to pin down and then destroy sizeable portion of attacking forces and thus forcing GHQ to shift additional troops from eastern border at the cost of losing strategic balance against India. Militants under Maulvi Faqir in Bajaur had also been well equipped and promised continued manpower reinforcement from Kunar in case the going got rough. These three regions as well as Baitullah and his Shura members, his successor Hakimullah and his Shura, Fazlullah and Maulana Sufi and Shura, Faqir and his Shura were never declared dangerous. Baitullah was the only one killed by a drone in August 2009 when he started giving anti-American statements and took responsibility of a terrorist attack in New York and also didn’t send his suicide bombers in support of beleaguered Fazlullah. No drone was ever fired on any prominent member of TTP. Fazlullah and Faqir are now operating from Kunar with full support provided by Afghanistan after their bases were uprooted from Swat and Bajaur.
The three strongest regions as well as Buner, Dir and Shangla were captured with such lightening speed and efficiency that it astounded all and sundry. Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijat operations virtually broke the back of the TTP that had become a dreaded force and had gained an upper edge over the security forces and was gradually gaining more and more space. Involvement of foreign hands was established after finding training syllabus and hundreds of Indian, American and Israeli made weapons, tons of ammunition, mines, explosives and other war materials. These included M1, M4 and telescopic sniper rifles with 1.5 km range. Dozens of uncircumcised Hindu RAW agents pretending as Muslim Taliban and Masjid Imams were arrested.
The momentum gained was kept up to keep the militants disarrayed and on the run. Smaller operations were also launched in other troubled agencies of FATA to disallow TTP to re-establish its base elsewhere. Orakzai, Kurram and Mehmand Agencies offered stiff resistance and even now Mamozai subdivision of Orakzai where Hakimullah and his Shura are probably hiding is under siege of security forces.
All these successes might not have been achieved if Gen Kayani had not made some revolutionary changes in training tactics soon after taking over. As commander 10 Corps and DG ISI during Gen Musharraf’s stint, he had gained experience of the dynamics of low intensity war and had grasped lessons of history. He wisely did away with normal training cycles and introduced low intensity warfare training suiting operational environment throughout the Army. He astutely promoted and posted senior officers to war zones based on their field expertise and leadership qualities. Grant of extra ordinary welfare package to lower ranks and to families of Shuhada and his frequent visits to most troubled sites boosted the morale of all ranks. These and many more changes helped in turning the tide. His image shot up internationally after his insightful presentation to the US-NATO commanders at Brussels in 2010. He however did not get carried away by the applause he received abroad but kept national and Army’s interests uppermost.
Cold-blooded Fazlullah, famous for his FM radio talks, which couldn’t be jammed because of high tech transmitter provided by Israel, is now operating from Kunar and Nuristan, which have become the biggest sanctuaries for runaway terrorists from Pakistan. They are fully patronized by Afghan intelligence and RAW. They have been provided houses, funds and equipment as well as training facilities and are regularly launched since early 2011 to recreate unrest in Mehmand, Bajaur and Dir and also to disturb the peace of Chitral. Notorious FM radio has become functional in Bajaur. The Army had to dispatch additional troops to beef up Frontier Constabulary and Levies and put an end to cross border terrorism. It was as a result of effective counter measures to block the main infiltration route from Kunar into Mehmand Agency that the US military launched an unprovoked helicopter attack on two border posts at Salala on 26 November 2011 killing 24 soldiers including two officers and injuring 13.
Salala attack was the consequence of pent up rage of the US military that was building up like a lava since the launch of three outstanding operations by Pak military in 2009 under highly adverse conditions which put to shame the US military and NATO boasting to be unbeatable. The ISAF had been facing repeated reversals on all fronts in Afghanistan even after two troop surges of 30,000 US troops and expansion of Afghan National Army (ANA). The Taliban had wrested the initiative and perforce, the ISAF had to withdraw most of its forward border posts and took up a rearward posture in southern and eastern Afghanistan by the end of 2009.
Finding no explanation to offer for their dismal performance despite enjoying all the strategic and technical advantages, the US military started portraying NW as the biggest den of terrorists where in their perception whole lot of al-Qaeda leadership including Osama as well as Haqqanis – extension of Taliban, were based and wherefrom cross border attacks were launched against ISAF inside Afghanistan. Instead of learning from history and putting their own house in order and introducing some innovative training concepts matching the challenges faced as had been done by Gen Kayani, Gen McChrystal followed by Gen Petraeus and Gen John Allen kept fighting guerrilla war on conventional lines.
The US military is undoubtedly the strongest in the world and no country matches its conventional military power and technological superiority. Its CIA excels in covert war to achieve strategic, political and economic objectives without firing a bullet. What it lacks is its capacity to fight counter guerrilla war. After its debacle in Vietnam, the US should have prepared a separate anti-guerrilla force to save itself from another humiliation. It didn’t and remained arrogantly obsessed that it’s military as well as NATO were invincible. Its superiority complex deepened after it became sole super power. Rather than making corrections at its end, egoist Pentagon and CIA made Pakistan a scapegoat and stepped up the mantra of ‘do more’ and blamed it for all their faults.
Pakistan was consistently pressed to launch another major operation in NW from early 2010 onwards despite Pakistan repeatedly expressing its difficulties that the Army had already stretched to its limits, was suffering from serious resource constraints, was neck deep engaged in consolidating its gains in captured areas, was striving to rebuild war torn regions and then transferring to civil administration. Shaky Gen Petraeus insisted that unless NW was cleared, he couldn’t undertake an offensive in Kandahar, nor could he make any progress in Afghanistan. Pakistan was asked to shift bulk of its troops from eastern border to western border since in Washington’s cockeyed perception India didn’t pose any threat to Pakistan’s security.
While ISAF under Gen Petraeus resorted to policy of brutal force against Afghan Pakhtuns to breakdown the resistance of insurgents, Pak Army under Gen Kayani opted to win hearts and minds of tribal areas. He decided to take over the next phase of rehabilitation of war torn regions when he saw that civil administration was reluctant to come forward. The picturesque Swat town has regained its past glory in a very short time and in many ways gives a more modern look. Business and tourism are thriving, schools and colleges are functional and fruit orchards are bearing fruits. Bajaur has also been rebuilt to quite an extent.
Satisfied with Army’s performance in Swat and surrounding regions, Kayani has now diverted his attention towards SW. Newly appointed DG ISPR Maj Gen Saleem Bajwa who till recent was commanding an infantry division in Tank, next door to Jandola, was mandated to carryout development work in SW. I must complement him for the good work done in a short span of time. To start with, three major roads were built, one leading from Jandola-Srarogha to Makeen-Razmak, the other from Tanai-Wana to Angoor Adda, and the third one from Tank-Gomal to Wana. Network of roads is being laid to make the area serve as third transit link for trade with Afghanistan.
Once the area was opened up, small markets were built on selected points along these roads and locals were handed over shops on a nominal rent of Rupees 20 per month. Poultry farms were established and locals trained in this field. After letting them handle two flocks of birds free of cost, they are charged nominal amount in running the poultry farm independently. In addition, cattle breeding have started in a big way. For the women, cottage industry has been promoted. Healthcare units have also been established. Other than Gomal dam, small dams and water supply schemes are under construction and electricity provided. Besides providing business opportunities, lot of emphasis is on education.
High quality schools and colleges along with two cadet colleges at Wana and Spinkai are functioning with facilities as good, if not better than other recognized cadet colleges in the country. Gen Kayani on his visit to that area on 18 June did the ground breaking ceremony of the Road Tank-Gomal-Wana, and also inaugurated Spinkai Cadet College. One has to visit this war torn area and see for himself the revolutionary change that has come and the enthusiasm with which the locals are taking part in day to day activities. If the US had fulfilled its promise of ROZs, extremism and terrorism would have got curtailed by now.
Pakistan’s reluctance to initiate another operation at the cost of losing balance became a sour point and it was amid building tensions that incident of Raymond Davis took place in January 2011 which further strained Pak-US relations. The entire leadership of USA including Obama lied to get Davis freed on the false pretext that he was a diplomat. Even when Davis was let off without interrogation, the US never forgave Pakistan. It got worked up when the ISI started taking precautionary measures in the wake of information that large number of CIA agents under different guises had sneaked into Pakistan.
CIA was not willing to wind up its network since by then it had smelt the hideout of OBL in Abbottabad with the help of its agent Dr Shakil Afridi through his infamous polio vaccination campaign. Initial intelligence about OBL had been provided by ISI in September 2010. Pak Army’s defiance and space squeezing by ISI outraged Leon Panetta and it was decided to discredit both the Army and ISI, give a shot in the arm of depressed US military and also to catapult political fortunes of Obama by killing OBL through a stealth operation.
In continuation of its policy of defamation, the US berated Pak Army and ISI through a sustained media campaign but when it failed to achieve desired results, it decided to play up memogate scandal with the help of Mansoor Ijaz to strain civil-military relations and stir up clash between Executive and Army. Admiral Mike Mullen kept the memo forwarded by Pakistan’s Ambassador Hussein Haqqani through Mansoor and Jim Jones in May 2011 for use at an appropriate time. Haqqani had suggested that a new security team of Pak Army/ISI under him would enable the US to fulfill all its objectives against Pakistan. When all these bullying tactics failed to cow down Army/ISI, myopic US military leadership in sheer desperation and anger struck Salala thinking that this act would for sure frighten Pakistan. It proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back.
Pakistan’s reaction was swift and firm. It took far bold decisions to give a loud and clear message that enough is enough. Shamsi airbase from where drones were launched was closed and so were the two NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. Parliamentary Committee for national security was asked to pen down fresh terms of engagement with USA, NATO and ISAF and to scrutinize all the agreements. Of all the steps taken closure of supply routes is hurting USA the most and it is applying variety of coercive tactics to force Pakistan to terminate the embargo without seeking an apology and end to drone strikes. These included cutting 58% US aid, suspending CSF, threatening to block rest of the aid if supply routes were not reopened, initiating a bill in support of independence of Balochistan, announcing $10 million award money for Hafiz Saeed, calling Pakistan black hole and a failing state, threatening to launch another unilateral military action, prompting India to stand up as the major power in Asia-Pacific, and to takeover security duties in Afghanistan post 2014, stirring up Karachi, rural Sindh, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, and making some regions in FATA restive that were made peaceful, inviting President Zardari to Chicago Summit and then cold shouldering him. .
Efforts to denigrate the Army, FC and ISI on the issue of missing persons in Balochistan with the help of local media, human rights activists, Baloch nationalists, Asma Jahangir, Najam Sethi and their types has continued. Likewise, efforts are in hand to discredit higher judiciary and chief justice and in this regard, business tycoon Malik Riaz has been launched. The US has renewed pressure to eliminate safe havens of HN in NW, particularly because of no let up in attacks by Taliban in all parts of Afghanistan. Last attack by Taliban on Spozhmai Hotel outside Kabul on 22 June in which 20 people got killed was again linked with HN. Finding themselves in a tight corner, tone and tenor of US leaders is getting more and more threatening with every passing day. Mutual distrust is conspicuous and warmth has been replaced by coldness and romance by bitterness and acrimony. It is unlikely that this trend will reverse even if we reopen supply lines and ignore drone attacks and haughtiness of US leaders.