November 19, 2007

PAKISTAN: New Strategy Against Jihadis

Source: SAAG

By B. Raman

According to reliable ex-military sources in Pakistan, which still play a role in policy-making, President General Pervez Musharraf and Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the new Vice Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS), who is expected to take over as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) from Musharraf shortly, have agreed on a division of responsibility between the two. Under this division, while Musharraf will focus on the political management of the problems facing the country, Kiyani will devote his attention to the operational management of the fight against the jihadi terrorists, who have set up a de facto state in South and North Waziristan and in the Swat Valley. Musharraf has given a free hand to Kiyani in the counter-jihadi terrorism operations.

2. Kiyani has been known to be of the view that the deterioration of the situation in the tribal belt was partly due to frequent air strikes on madrasas and other suspected training camps of the terrorists on the basis of intelligence provided by the US, which often proved to be incorrect. He, therefore, wants greater care in the evaluation of the intelligence provided by the US and in taking follow-up action on the basis of the US intelligence.

3. While he is against the use of air strikes against suspected hide-outs and training camps, he is in favour of a more frequent use of helicopter gunships and long-range artillery against the known positions held by the terrorists in order to inflict increasing casualties on them. He feels that the Government should not lose its cool over the terrorists establishing territorial control over large areas in the two Waziristans and in the Swat Valley and should avoid premature actions for retrieving the control of these areas from the terrorists.

4. In his assessment, the security forces face two problems--- insurgency in the tribal areas and an upsurge in suicide terrorism in the non-tribal areas. He is reportedly of the view that while the Army should be in the forefront of the counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas, assisted by the para-military forces such as the Frontier Constabulary and the Frontier Corps, the Police should be encouraged to be more active in counter-terrorism in the non-tribal areas, with back-up support from the army and the para-military forces such as the Rangers.

5. For the counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas, he wants the infliction of continuing attrition on the jihadis should be the primary objective and not recovery of territorial control, which can wait. In his view, the over-emphasis on the recovery of territorial control from the Mehsuds in South Waziristan led to unwise involvement of the para-military forces in ground operations in an area where the jihadis knew the terrain better than the security forces. This led to embarrassing instances where the para-military forces walked into jihadi ambushes, resulting in many of their personnel surrendering to the jihadis.

6. Kiyani is already trying out his new strategy in the Swat Valley, large parts of which are under the control of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of Maulana Fazlullah. The Army, which has taken over the leadership for the counter-insurgency operations in the Valley, has been avoiding ground operations for recovering territory from the control of the jihadis. Instead, it has been focussing on inflicting heavy casualties on the jihadis through the effective use of helicopter gunships and long-range artillery against positions controlled by the jihadis. Kiyani is hoping that this strategy, by making the jihadi insurgents bleed more and more, will ultimately force them to vacate the territory.

7. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will work, but, to be fair to him, one has to note that the infliction of heavy casualties on the Mehsuds and the Uzbeks from helicopter gunships in the two Waziristans last month seems to have contributed, at least temporarily, to a lessening of their operations in these areas.

8. According to the same sources, Musharraf has not been unduly concerned over the strong reactions in the US and other Western countries over his proclaiming the Emergency and suspending the Constitution. He feels confident that if Kiyani can produce results on the ground, these Western protests will get muted.

9. But, will Kiyani's new strategy succeed?

10. If Musharraf and Kiyani arrest Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Neo Taliban, and his associates operating from Pakistani territory and hand them over to the Americans, the West might forgive all the transgressions of Musharraf. They are not yet prepared to do so due to a fear that this could create anger and resentment at the junior levels of the Armed Forces.

11. This may please be read in continuation of my earlier paper of November 15, 2007, titled "The State of Jihadi Terrorism in Pakistan" at http://www.saag.org/papers25/paper2459.html

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:seventyone2@gmail.com)

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