Pakistan military’s Swat offensive
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Issue Vol 24.3 Jul-Sep2009 | Date : 01 Oct , 2011

Mr. Yusuf  Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the President Mr. Zardari promise that the fight will be till the end. General Kiyani, the Chief of Army staff (COAS) declared that the Army would not rest till it eliminates the Taliban. But how long will be the fight? No one knows. Will the army be able to defeat the Talibans? “No,” says S M Naseem, a renowned Pakistani defence analyst, in his article in The Dawn of May 13 2009.  Here is an excerpt from his article – “Can Taliban be defeated?”:

 If the Pakistan Army fails, the country will unravel. India cannot relax on Kashmir, nor can it lower its guard.

“ – However, the Pakistan Army, having tasted power and pelf for 20 of the last 30 years, has become a bit rusty in the exercise of its professional duties, especially since there is a sense of reliance on atomic weapons against the only enemy it has ever considered as a mortal foe. Its experience in fighting internal insurgency has been minimal. The two territories where it has tried to put down insurgencies, East Pakistan and Balochistan, have resulted in the separation of one and a sense of near-complete alienation in the other.

Its hubris as an elite western-style fighting force – with a built-in polarized hierarchy of the underprivileged soldier (with little education and reliance on faith rather than logic) and an elitist officer class – has not prepared it for facing the quick-footed tactics of the insurgents who have enjoyed local loyalty and hospitality. Indeed, an added danger in the present case is that many of the jawans, along with some of the officers, may still retain latent sympathies for the insurgents.”

According to information available so far, in the two weeks of military operations some seven lakhs residents of Swat and FATA have become IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). According to the Chief of the UN refugee agency, the figure, as on May 15, 2009, touched 8,34,000 which is quite alarming.  Add to it a figure of another 500,000 which include the people displaced from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) during army operations in 2008, and the IDP population goes upto 1.3 million, who are vulnerable and easy recruits for the call of the religion – the Jihad. There is, therefore, a long way for the Pakistan Army in its fight against its own protégé – the Good Taliban. The UN report on Pak IDPs published in The Dawn on May 15, 2009, records:-

“ – Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said that 835,226 people had now registered since May 2. They join another 500,000 people who fled bouts of fighting in the northwest last year, where extremist Taliban militants have been fighting to gain control and impose their brand of Islamic law. With more than 1.3 million people displaced, Human Rights Watch has warned that Pakistan is facing its biggest movement of people since the partition of India in 1947, which led to the migration of millions.”

Whatever the number of refugees, the fact remains that there will be no return to their homes in the near future. The refugee camps will be the breeding centers of future Talibans. There are fears that the fight might turn into a stalemate because of the Sledge Hammer operations being conducted by the army. The dislocation of the population and the unwanted civilian casualties due to artillery shelling, air raids or helicopter gunships would leave deep scars on the minds of the 1.3 million IDPs. They will not cooperate with the security forces. Unless the local populace joins the fight against the Taliban, there will be no actionable intelligence and no isolation of militants. And till that happens, there will be no home-coming for the troops.

If the Pak Army had ever calculated this, it would not have been found so grossly out of tune with counter insurgency/militancy operations. It knows how to create militants and terrorists but does not know how to handle them.

I strongly feel that lack of experience of the Pakistan, Army for such kind of operations is forcing it to ‘crack the nut’ with a Sledge Hammer, i.e. using excessive force to deal with the problem. In the bargain, it is having to taste the real bitterness of its own product. If it had ever calculated this, it would not have been found so grossly out of tune with counter insurgency/militancy operations. It knows how to create militants and terrorists but does not know how to handle them. One is reminded of the statement by the erstwhile Chief of General Staff of Pakistan Army, Lieutenant General Aziz, who in 1999, at the beginning of the Kargil crisis had openly boasted to General Pervez Musharraf, the then COAS of Pakistan Army,: “Their (Kargil intruders) Gichi (neck) is in our hands. We can twist it when we want.” The transcripts were revealed in Indian newspapers on 12/13 June 1999. I wonder, what he would say now. Whose neck is in whose hands?

No expert of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism will approve of this kind of operations. Having served in counter-insurgency and counter terrorism environments for the most part of my army life, some 20 years, I definitely disapprove this American style. This is why the US Army never succeeds – be it in Vietnam or Kampuchea or more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. Guns, helicopters and war planes can never defeat an insurgency – which sustains itself on deeply regimented human minds (RHM). It needs soldiers going into the strongholds of the region and battling with the minds of militants.

According to Che Guevera the biggest vanity of a militant/terrorist/insurgent is : “When he thinks no ends of himself due to his unprecedented successes against the security forces, initially because of the lack of intelligence with them. This state of mind throws him out of his hole and he comes out into the open, thus losing the very advantage of Non-Identification and Initiative. If he does it, security forces would deliver the crippling blow. This must be the aim of all anti-militancy/insurgency operations.”

One of the cardinal thumb rules of successful tackling of counter terrorism and counter- insurgency : Never be in a hurry to produce results. Be patient. Beat back pressure for immediate results. If you succumb to it, counter-insurgency operations would undoubtedly fail.

The second thumb rule : Diamond cuts diamond. Use terrorist’s tactics and strategy. Plan your operations meticulously as do the terrorists.

Diamond cuts diamond. Use terrorist’s tactics and strategy.

The third thumb rule : No weapon can defeat the human mind. All your guns and tanks are useless unless you make efforts to tackle the “regimented human minds” (RHM).  To fight the ‘RHM’ you need to have highly motivated ‘soldiers’.

The fourth thumb rule : Avoid ‘human vanity’ of laurels, publicity and awards. This leads to change of focus and disorientation of ‘protracted operations’.

The fifth thumb rule : You command human beings. Mistakes will occur. Condone them unless they are grave.

The sixth thumb rule : A set of ten Golden Principles as under:

  • Counter-Insurgency/Militancy is more a battle of wits than weapons. Militancy/terrorism springs up due to general frustration of the people with the administration. Therefore, there will be local support and sympathy. Your aim must be to isolate militants/insurgents from local support. Deny them the access to local resources by driving a wedge.
  • Use of Intelligence is more rewarding than warplanes and guns. Half your problems will be resolved if your intelligence system is honed. Do not treat everyone as a terrorist/militant. Lay emphasis on accurate and actionable intelligence. Create ‘moles’ and protect their identity and actions at all costs. Militants don’t move with their headbands. It is very important to identify them.
  • Remember, there are no quick fix solutions. Don’t be in a hurry to wind up militancy; it will bounce back as soon as you have claimed that it is over. Do not play the number game to earn appreciations from your bosses.
  • Carry out target based operations and avoid large scale display of military strength. Define targets accurately in terms of militant leaders and cadres in the area. Assign these time bound targets at the lower levels. Keep shifting priorities and strategies to procure intelligence on the targets. Do not carry out conventional operations. Be unorthodox.
  • Go for the leaders and neutralize them, the rank file will automatically disappear. Leaders are the glue. Disconnect them and remove them, the problem will be minimized.
  • If the campaign is going to be protracted, which is normally the case, a grid of counter-insurgency with definite areas (sectors and sub sectors) of responsibilities must be assigned

Guns, helicopters and war planes can never defeat an insurgency – which sustains itself on deeply regimented human minds (RHM). It needs soldiers going into the strongholds of the region and battling with the minds of militants.

  • Decentralize execution to the lowest level but centralize control. Operations must be conducted at section/platoon and company levels.
  • Total coordination with civil administration must be achieved. Encourage and give credit to police for all operations. The very first signs of militancy/insurgency is the ineffectiveness of civil administration and the parallel authority which is created by the perpetrators of violence. The first act is to make civil administration stand on their feet.
  • The nature of militancy and its intensity will vary from region to region and people to people. Its gravity will be dictated by the physical characteristics of the people along with economic development, type of geography and the climate of the region. It is, therefore, very important for the troops to understand the local culture and customs of the people to get to know its gravity.
  • Media management and denying publicity to insurgents/terrorists which is the oxygen for the survival of insurgency and terrorism. If publicity is denied, terrorism will undoubtedly die. They flourish because media projects them as larger than life images.

I don’t know how the future unfolds and how quickly the Pakistan Army learns its lessons, but I reckon, it has entered a long dark tunnel and if it wants to emerge successful it has to severe its emotional links with the Taliban. It must not be a half-hearted effort. The fight must be to the finish. If the Pakistan Army fails, the country will unravel. India cannot relax on Kashmir, nor can it lower its guard. ISI will continue to pinprick India through its links with Salahudins and his kind. The ISI will have to soon realize whether it wants Kashmir or save Pakistan. Of what good will be Kashmir, if Pakistan disappears.

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One thought on “Pakistan military’s Swat offensive

  1. My dear Col i need not to comment on your article now. No proof is required as Pakistan Army has already won the battle in SWAT with complete success. You must be very disappointed because the Pakistani Taliban fueled and funded by other foreign countries and specially RAW has planned in the same way. My advice is please keep on trying, it helps us keeping united and once we are all together we will deal with u tooo :). Take care till that time.

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