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"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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User Name: AttaRasool
Full Name: Atta Rasool Malik
User since: 5/Jul/2010
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Pakistan Army’s Role in FATA

 

Soon after terrorist attacks of 9/11 the Government of Pakistani was served a seven-point demand list. Pakistan was asked to end all support for Osama bin Laden; to allow the US blanket over-flight and landing facilities; access to Pakistan naval bases, air bases and borders; immediate intelligence and immigration information; and to break diplomatic relations with Taliban government. While yielding to the US pressure, Pakistan got few concessions from the US. Sanctions imposed on Pakistan in the aftermath of May 1998 nuclear tests were lifted; Pakistan was allowed relief in respect of debt it owed to the US, and it was promised more than $1 billion in aid by the US and its friends. However, Pakistan was disappointed in respect of its demand regarding help in resolution of Kashmir dispute with India.  Subsequent to above understanding, three air bases—Jacobabad, Pasni and Dalbandin—were placed at the disposal of America.

Pakistan Army sealed its border with Afghanistan, by massive deployment all along Durand line, preventing the flow of men and materials in support of Taliban. This was a big risk taken by the Pakistan’s military because supply routes to forward posts were in control of sympathizers of Taliban, Al-Qaida and other militants. But Musharaf’s Regime and later to come, stuck to the decision of siding with the US. While the Musharraf’s government, reluctantly or more precisely under pressure had joined the coalition, it did not want to completely antagonize the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan had to turn blind eye to supply of arms, oil and other essential commodities to Taliban in Afghanistan for some time.

As already visualized by many including politico-religious parties and even some junior army officers, Pakistan Army was forced to fight own people that influenced the public opinion. Soon Taliban in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province got united under a single banner, and a single leader, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan -- the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan -- and appointed powerful South Waziristan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud its leader.

            Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has forced Pak army to fight, a three-front "war": against TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in South Waziristan; against the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in Darra Adam Khel- Kohat area of Khyber Pakhtun Khaw and the Shia-dominated Kurram Agency of FATA; and, against the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), headed by Maulana Fazlullah, and Sufi Mohammad in the Swat Valley of the Khyber Pakhtun Khaw. Pakistan army has only succeeded in defeating militants in Swat valley. The Taliban led insurgency in the Khyber Pukhtunkhaw and the FATA is getting out of control as the militants are steadily holding out against a force that is much superior in both number and firepower.

Pakistan has deployed more than 160,000 soldiers on western border, and till now has lost around 3000 soldiers. This figure does not include those battle casualties where soldiers lost their vital limbs. Casualties in Operation Al Mizan in Waziristans were particularly high. Special Forces units of the Pakistan army, the elite SSG, are also directly engaged in fighting the militants. The paramilitary force, which is highly conversant with the area, the Frontier Corps, has been employed extensively in direct fighting in the Waziristan agencies. However, it has failed to cope with the well armed and better motivated Taliban militants. The army’s convoys have been repeatedly ambushed; it has faced numerous terrorist strikes in the shape of suicide attacks and bombings. Most of the areas supposedly cleared are once again littered with terrorists and criminals in almost all the agencies.

On the other hand, the TTP’s cadre base is not more than 10,000 fighters including Hakeemullah Mahsood’s tribe men approximately 5,000 fighters. Mangal Bagh, leads Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), a militant group with 3 to 4 hundred men, that has refrained from joining the TTP and is independently active up to the outskirts of Peshawar and few consider it pro Govt.

At operational risk, the Pak army has moved its forces facing India across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and Indo –Pak border, besides troops from the two western Corps at Peshawar and Quetta. Sizable numbers of troops have been moved from Gujranwala and Bahawalpur Corps. The strike corps, the reserves of Pakistan Army have not been spared and a major portion has been re-located to the West. However, this massive re-deployment at the risk of depleting combat strength on the eastern border with India has not really fetched the desired dividends. On the contrary, these formations are getting sucked deeper into a worsening quagmire on the western border.

Pakistan Army and Air force employed massive firepower to stem the rot. Fighter air crafts, Helicopter gun ships, and heavy artillery are freely used to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts. This heavy handed firepower based approach failed to dislodge the militants but caused large-scale collateral damage and served to alienate the tribal population even further. Old British policy i.e. divide and rule, MQM against 'Jeeay Sind', MQM against MQM Haqeeqi, Kalpars against Bugtis and now  "Tribal Lashkars",  have also been tried [in fact sowing the seeds of enmity between tribes] but all in vain.

The Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have an experience of nearly three decades of fighting insurgencies in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, Jammu and Kashmir in 90s and anti dacoit operation in Sind and combating counter insurgency in Balochistan. But, its recent operations in FATA areas particularly highlight that either it has yet not mastered the art of counter insurgency, (difficult to believe) or its inefficiency is attributed to half hearted support to United States. In both cases, not only the innocent and patriotic families of tribal areas are suffering but very bond of FATA with Pakistan is at stake in days to come.

            Where lay the fault? Why an experienced and professional army with such huge resources is unable to defeat openly defying few thousand insurgents? Why the operation in South Waziristan has not brought peace in the agency and people are still displaced in DI khan and Taank? The answer is bitter but simple; Military strategy of Pakistan Army to crush insurgency in FATA is faulty. A realistic assessment of the Pakistan army’s overall strategy to counter the threat of insurgency and the efficacy of its operational tactics reveals the many weaknesses in its strategy and tactics. Bulk of Pakistan Army is deployed on Durand line in support of NATO. It has around 1200 posts, ensuring no one crosses to Afghanistan to fight USA. However, its own supply routes are vulnerable. Neither systematic clearance of areas is resorted to nor local population protected. The army’s intelligence network is virtually non-existent as local population in some area is sympathetic and at few places afraid of militants. Young officers of Pakistan Army who have earned great respect by colliding head-on with Taliban with unprecedented bravery and audacity are driven by family honor, patriotism, revenge and regimental pride but without enduring success.

The senior leadership of the Pakistan Army needs to understand that artillery, tanks, helicopters and air force bombings of civilian villages and towns are inherently counterproductive. Success will only come when the Present Regime and Pak army supported by all the political parties, both at national and local level, undertakes a mass mobilization campaign, address the genuine aspiration of the affected people to win their hearts and minds. Instead using brutal force, the military leadership should evolve an indirect strategic approach to fight insurgency. If the civilians affected by the insurgency are convinced and develop faith in the army operations, they would willingly support Pakistan Army. Creation of such favorable environment will enable the civil administration to execute development projects, run schools and hospitals. And army or para-military columns can be physically deployed to ensure rear area security and keep the arteries open for supplies and reinforcements.

There can never be a purely military or a purely political solution to an insurgency. A successful counter- insurgency strategy is a dynamic but balanced mix of aggressive offensive operations conducted with a human touch and socio-economic development. Political negotiations to address the core issues of alienation of the population, economic/social sector development and political demands must be conducted with the local leadership simultaneously.                   

As Ayaz Mir rightly observes, from 1979 on, our Afghan policy has been completely security driven and thus a disaster. Because of this policy we have managed to turn our country into a battlefield. We need to change and change radically but unfortunately, we have only one well organized institution and that  most powerful institution, the army,  instead of having a reformist and progressive influence on the nation, is suffering from misperceptions and self doubts.

The tribal culture prevailing in the FATA, with its strong ethnic loyalties and its diffused leadership, makes the task of the army and the government more difficult. At present the Pakistan army is a long way away from bringing semblance of peace to the FATA.

Author is student of M Phil International Relations at NDU Islamabad and hails from semi tribal areas of Pakistan.

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