By Salman Tarik Kureshi
12 Dec 2014
Last week, before announcing his alphabetic plans, PTI Chairman Imran Khan remarked that if he had been in power, the Pakistani military would not have entered FATA. This was an astonishing remark since the Tribal Areas are, at least technically, a part of Pakistan and the Pakistan armed forces may surely go where the government of the day wills within our national borders. Addressing his sit-in, Mr Khan went on to say that, if (when?) he is elected Prime Minister, he will “not allow” the army to enter FATA, instead the “tribal people are our army”.
Now, there is clearly a (conscious or unconscious) misapprehension here. The Army is not there to fight Mr Khan’s “tribal people”, some of whom can and do recruit into Pakistan’s armed forces. They are there to help recover Pakistan’s sovereignty over the national territory occupied by bands of rebel insurgents who have, over time, seized these territories and unleashed violent shock waves of terror down onto our cities and into some other countries.
The Army’s present action in North Waziristan and elsewhere, and the fact that it appears finally to be a no-holds-barred, across-the-board campaign against the insurgents, is in fact by far the most important event in this country’s recent history. That the media hoopla over the recent activities of Mr Khan and his cohorts drowns out public attention, and therefore support, to this campaign is at least unfortunate.
Somehow, Mr Khan, like some other segments of Pakistani opinion, remains influenced by the fiction that the insurgents are waging some kind of Jihad for the defence of Islamic values against a perceived anti-Muslim Crusade by the Western powers. This construction serves to confuse not only the right-wing champions of political Islam, but also many with patriotic, anti-imperialist opinions, as well as a number of liberals, leftists and the ideational leftovers from the Vietnam War generation.
The first realisation is (or should be) that, irrespective of the ‘Islamic’ or non-Islamic content of their ostensible cause, what is undeniable is that these militants are waging a full-scale war against the state of Pakistan. And this war has gained force and strength continuously over the years. The vacillations, duplicity, or sheer ineptitude, of successive governments has contributed in great measure to the success of this insurgency.
The second, parallel realisation is that the systematic neglect of the FATA belt over the years — a neglect in which all our past governments have been culpable — has permitted the growth of a band of lawlessness in these regions. This band of lawlessness, amenable neither to the writ of the Pakistan state nor of any other, has provided operational base camps for this insurgency, and for its attendant campaign of urban terror, as well as safe havens for the Afghan Taliban and international terrorists.
The third realisation relates to the nature of FATA and other territories held by the insurgents. Within these, the insurgents have not been simple partisans, who lived off the land and took shelter in the safe houses of a sympathetic peasantry. Whole sheaves of evidence too voluminous to recount here point to the fact that, in the areas under their control, the insurgents have effectively been in quasi-governmental control. Their armed bravos provided police patrols within these areas; their informal courts administered quick, crude justice; their armed bands collected taxes; they enacted rough-and-ready legislation and maintained and operated a simple administration and a highly effective army. This, in the language of counter-insurgency, adds up to running a Counter-State.
Having said this much about the insurgency, it is also necessary to speak of counter-insurgency (the military term is COIN). Counter-insurgency is normally conducted as a combination of conventional military operations with other means, such as propaganda, what the military calls ‘psy-ops’, and even selective assassinations. Counter-insurgency operations include many different facets: military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken to defeat insurgency.
As anyone trained in COIN procedures will tell you, they do not include weak-kneed ‘negotiations’ (ie give-and-take) of the kind conducted by the present government or the surrender talk of those such as Mr Khan.
There are three primary tactical approaches that have evolved over the years. The first of these, and the most difficult to administer, is what is referred to as ‘Population Control’. This was most effectively used by the British in then Malaya during the Huk rebellion, and later in Northern Ireland. This can involve such population-control measures as vehicle and personnel checkpoints and national identity cards. In Malaya, the requirement to carry an ID card with a photo and thumbprint forced the communists to abandon their original three-phase political-military strategy and caused divisive infighting among their leaders over how to respond to this effective population-control measure.
A second tactic is the ‘Oil Spot’ approach. This is a descriptive term for the concentration of Counter-Insurgent forces into an expanding, secured zone, such as in the Strategic Hamlets Programme during the Vietnam War. It has also been somewhat spottily attempted by US-led forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The third tactic is what is referred to as “drain the water” or “drain the swamp”. The name is taken from Mao Zedong’s advice to his rebels to “move through the people like a fish moves through water”. The relocation of the population (“water”) leaves the insurgents (“fish”) exposed to the Counter-Insurgency forces. Such relocation deprives the insurgents of the resources of the local population and reduces collateral damage. It is something of this sort that the Pakistan forces have employed, with notable success, in Bajaur, Mohmand Agency, South Waziristan, and now in North Waziristan.
Whichever combination of military COIN tactics is selected and applied, we need to bear in mind that, at bottom, the problem is a political one. As I suggested in an earlier essay in these pages, there are no quick fixes. A sophisticated approach is needed — a holistic process, comprising a mix of political, administrative, judicial, and ideological initiatives. And these are not military issues at all. There is an immense amount of work to be done, the very first task of which is to examine and agree upon what the future status of FATA is to be and what kind of legal framework is required. Let it be noted that not even any preliminary discussions on such issues have been initiated, whether in the corridors of the bureaucracy, in the chambers of Parliament, within Parties, or on the Media.
The military, it seems, is almost acting on its own initiative, doing its JOB (as it sees it be) despite the otiose inaction of governmental and political leaderships…and sometimes in the face of dangerous obfuscation and even outright obstruction.
As anyone trained in COIN procedures will tell you, they do not include weak-kneed ‘negotiations’ (i.e. give-and-take) of the kind conducted by the present government or the surrender talk of those such as Mr Khan.