March 21, 2009

Taking The Predators To Balochistan

By B. Raman

The need for a regional counter-terrorism strategy to be spear-headed by India and the US for eradicating all terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistani territory has been one of the themes of my writings and lectures in the last two years. Extracts from two of the articles written by me on this subject on October 11, 2008, and January 1, 2009, are annexed.

2. It has been my belief that unless and until the US takes the initiative for such a strategy focused on eradicating all terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistani territory India will continue to bleed at the hands of jihadi terrorists spawned in Pakistan and the US will meet the same fate in Afghanistan as the erstwhile USSR did in the 1980s.

3. President Barack Obama’s strategy for the Af-Pak region is still unfolding in bits and pieces. A surge of 16,000 troops to start with and intensified Predator strikes on terrorist hide-outs and training camps in Pakistani territory are two components of this strategy, which are already under implementation. His administration has also been expanding the geographic and target spread of the Predator strikes. From North and South Waziristan and the Bajaur Agency in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the geographic area of the strikes has been extended to the Kurram Agency in the FATA. The Bannu area in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which was already targeted once by the Bush Administration, has been receiving more attention from the advisers of Obama.

4. The targets are also expanding. The initial targeting under the Bush Administration was mainly against the hide-outs and training camps of Al Qaeda and its associates such as the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union, which is also an Uzbeck group with many Europeans in it. Under Obama, the targets have been expanded to cover the hide-outs and training camps of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in all these areas and of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar’s Hizbe-Islami in the Kurram Agency.

5. A report carried by “the New York Times” and reproduced by the “Times of India” of March 19, 2009, indicates that the Obama Administration is also examining the advisability of hitting at the hide-outs and training camps of the Afghan Taliban in Quetta and some other areas of Balochistan adjoining the border with Afghanistan. Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Neo Taliban, and his advisers are operating from sanctuaries in these areas.

6. In order to weaken the movement for Baloch independence , the late Gen. Zia-ul-Haq had got settled a large number of Afghan Pashtun refugees in these areas and given them Pakistani citizenship. It is in the midst of these pockets of citizens or residents of Afghan origin that the command and control of the Neo Taliban is located. Unless and until this command and control is targeted and eliminated, the US and other NATO troops will not be able to win the war against terrorism in the Af-Pak region.

7. Predator strikes on the sanctuaries of the Neo Taliban in the areas of Balochistan adjoining the Afghan border will be more difficult and tricky than the strikes now being carried out in the FATA. The targeted Balochistan areas may not be as sparsely populated as the targeted FATA areas. Unless there is precise intelligence, the dangers of civilian killings will be more. Human intelligence collection in the FATA area has already improved, indicating new capabilities now available to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in this region. US intelligence officials must be confident of similar precise intelligence in respect of Balochistan too. Otherwise, recommendations would not have been made to Obama to expand the attacks to cover sanctuaries in Balochistan.

8. It is important that Obama gives his clearance to this recommendation as quickly as possible before the Neo Taliban launches its summer offensive in Afghanistan from its sanctuaries in the Balochistan area.

9. The policy already being followed by Obama and the change now recommended cover only attacks on the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and its associates, the Neo Taliban, the TTP and the Hizb-e-Islami. They do not cover the group of five organizations----the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ)---- which are commonly referred to in Pakistan as the Punjabi Taliban.

10. The JEM has been helping the TTP in the Swat Valley of the NWFP. The LET has been helping the Neo Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami in the Kabul area. It was involved in the explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in the first week of July last year. The HUM, the HUJI and the LEJ have been active in the tribal belt since the 1990s.

11. These organizations, except the LEJ, have been behind most acts of jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory. Unless the new US counter-terrorism strategy covers the terrorist infrastructure of the Punjabi Taliban too, the results will not be satisfactory.

12. It is here that the question of Indo-US operational co-operation comes in. The counter-terrorism co-operation between the intelligence agencies of India and the US has till now been confined to intelligence-sharing, mutual legal assistance in investigation of terrorist incidents and training for capacity building. Joint operations are practically nil.

13. The time has come for considering joint operations in the form of some of the Predators operating from bases in Indian territory and joint covert actions against the Punjabi Taliban. Such joint operations will be in the mutual interests of the two countries.

( 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)



ANNEXURE

Extract from my article dated October 11, 2008 and titled “Seven Years of OP Enduring Freedom: No Light Yet” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers29/paper2877.html

The US and other NATO forces may want a political face-saving because they are not doing well in the fighting, but why should the Taliban Commanders want one when they think they are winning? The same is the situation on the Pakistan side of the border. The TTP thinks it is doing well against the Pakistani security forces. Why should it agree to a compromise without achieving its objective?

Gen. David Petraeus, who was till recently the Commander of the US forces in Iraq, is shortly taking over as the Commander of the US Central Command (has since taken over). In that capacity, he will be responsible for the strategy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. In Iraq, he successfully drove a wedge between the secular Iraqi resistance fighters and the Wahabised Arab terrorists of Al Qaeda. There is a talk that he might try a similar approach in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region by driving a wedge between the Taliban on both sides of the border and the Al Qaeda remnants. He succeeded in Iraq because the former Baathists of Saddam Hussein's Army, who constituted the resistance fighters, were secular and did not like the Wahabised Al Qaeda. But, in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Wahabism provides the binding ties which strongly unite the Talibans with Al Qaeda. They all feel that the future of Islam is going to be decided in the fight against the US-led NATO forces. They have two common objectives--- the defeat and withdrawal of the NATO forces and the proclamation of an Islamic sharia-based rule in the entire region. So long as these objectives unite them, the Talibans are unlikely to agree to separate peace with the NATO forces. Media reports of a split between the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda have not been substantiated.

Unless and until the US is able to hunt down and kill at least bin Laden, Zawahiri and Mulla Omar, there is unlikely to be a change in the ground situation. Instead of nursing illusions of engineering a split between Al Qaeda and the Taliban and negotiating a separate peace with the Taliban, the US should focus on eliminating the Al Qaeda leadership. That was the main objective of Op Enduring Freedom and that should continue to be its main objective.

Extract from my article dated January 1, 2009, and titled “Jihadi Terrorism--- 2008 & 2009: Part II & Last” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers30/paper2998.html

The success of the new policy will depend upon the neutralisation of the sanctuaries in Pakistani territory which keep the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighting against the US. The neutralisation of the sanctuaries of the Taliban is necessary for the success of the US-led forces and the ANA (Afghan National Army) in Afghanistan. Without the neutralisation of the Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, the US cannot be free of fears of another 9/11 in the US homeland. Military and intelligence officers of the US realise that the US objectives vis-a-vis Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be met unless these sanctuaries are wiped out and the surviving leadership of Al Qaeda is neutralised. They also realise that missile and Predator strikes alone (over 30 during 2008 as compared to 10 during the previous two years) cannot achieve their objective unless combined with clandestine strikes by land-based stealth forces. They did attempt one such strike in September in South Waziristan. It was not successful and the furore in Pakistan over it led to their abandoning any more land-based strikes in Pakistani territory.

The US finds itself in the same position as the USSR found itself in Afghanistan before it decided to quit in 1988. The Soviet troops avoided land-based action against the sanctuaries of the Afghan Mujahideen in Pakistani territory. They confined their retaliatory strikes to Scud missiles fired at the suspected hide-outs of the Mujahideen in Pakistani territory. The civilian deaths caused by the Scuds added to the anger among the Afghan refugees and strengthened their determination to step up their attacks on the Soviet troops in Afghan territory and on Soviet convoys taking logistics supplies to the far-flung Soviet posts. The Mujahideen's success in disrupting the logistics supplies was one of the factors, which contributed to the Soviet decision to quit.

The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, advised by retired officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) such as Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, are following against the US-led forces the same strategy which the Mujahideen had followed against the Soviet troops-----keeping them bleeding and trying to starve them of essential supplies. In addition to keeping up a high level of suicide and other terrorism in Afghan territory to disrupt road movements of troops and supplies and weaken the control of the ANA in towns, they have stepped up their attacks on road movement of supplies for the NATO forces from Karachi. The US is trying to work out alternate routes through Russia, Georgia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). It remains to be seen how satisfactory the proposed new supply routes will be.

When Obama's advisers talk of a regional strategy, they mean being responsive to Pakistan's perceived unhappiness and concerns. If they do it, they can exercise more pressure on the Pakistan Army to deal with the sanctuaries and if and when Pakistan does it, it will benefit not only the US, but also India. So their argument goes. This is pure wishful thinking and betrays a failure to comprehend the Pakistani mind-set. Pakistan looks upon the various terrorist groups operating from its territory ----whether against India or Afghanistan or the US---- as strategic assets to limit the power of India and its influence in Afghanistan and the CARs. It is not going to voluntarily give up these perceived assets, unless forced to do so.

The inaction or inability or both of successive Pakistan Governments has enabled Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-India terrorist organisations, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Group ( (IJG) and radicalised members of the Pakistani diaspora in Europe and North America acquire a strategic depth in the tribal belt of Pakistan from where they can operate wherever they want all over the world----whether against India or Afghanistan or the West or Russia or even against Pakistan if it co-operates too closely with the US.

What the Obama administration would need is a regional strategy to eliminate the terrorirst sanctuaries in Pakistani territory and to deprive the jihadi terrorists of the world of the strategic depth which they presently enjoy in Pakistani territory. This is a strategy on which the US and India can closely collaborate as and when Obama and his advisers come out of their present mode of wishful thinking.

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