Pakistan Presses On

The military operations in Malakand against the Taliban continue, with a critical stage, the occupation of Mingora, likely to take place in the next few days, as reported after the briefing of parliamentarians from Pakistan's leading parties on Friday:


The leaders were briefed in camera by the COAS and the Director General of Operations, Maj-Gen Javed Iqbal, at PM's House and reassured that special care was being taken to avoid collateral damage and that a decisive advance had been made in Mingora and its suburbs.

The army officers said the city had been encircled from all sides and it would be cleared of militants very soon. The leaders were informed that militants were on the run after army's penetration into areas where troops had no access earlier.

They were also told that Fazlullah, believed to be the head of militant Taliban, was not in control of all the groups fighting in Malakand and that the militant groups were receiving money and arms through Waziristan and Afghanistan.  

Ahmad Hassan - `Mingora besieged, to be secured soon' Dawn Media 16 May 09

As far as military strategies go it would appear that this is a sound one, given the numeric superiority but unwieldy nature of the army.  Occupying the surrounding countryside before descending on Mingora is effective and a significant departure from the half-hearted efforts of years past.

But as we know the real challenge of 'complex wars' is political, not military, and in that respect the Pakistani civilian government seems to be achieving some success, both in uniting political factions behind this operation, at least for now, and mobilising public opinion against the Taliban as a matter of national sovereignty and security:


COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's in-camera briefing to the parliamentarians on the situation in Swat elicited a unanimous stand in favour of the military operation. This unity among the leadership on an issue of such great importance augurs well for the federation. The Taliban were using Swat as a base to spread their network to other parts of the country and carry out suicide attacks across the country. They were also advocating a way of life that was neither in accordance with the spirit of Islam nor the vision of the founding fathers of the country. The government's attempts to hammer out a negotiated settlement of the conflict had met with little success because the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan could not reconcile itself to the idea of accepting the writ of the state.

Editorial - In both camps The Nation (Pakistan) 16 May 09

It seems pretty clear that the task of wresting control of the NWFP and FATA from the Taliban is going to be a long and difficult one for Pakistan and any expectations of a sudden and dramatic improvement there is likely to be disappointed, especially considering that in Bajaur, apparently, the Taliban have reasserted their presence shortly after the winding down of the operations of the Frontier Corps in February.  According to a disputed BBC analysis only 38% of this region is under the control of the Pakistani government and the very nature of the Taliban insurgency makes it difficult for the unwieldy Pakistani Army to effectively bring them to a decisive action, a tactical reality understood by British colonial generals well over a century ago.  

However public opinion seems to be hardening against the Taliban's excesses in recent months and the military continues to loyally discharge it's constitutional role.  Politically, everything hinges on the All-Parties Conference of the National Assembly, scheduled to be held in Islamabad on Monday.  If the coalition factions, at least, remain united behind their leadership, such as it is, the recent geopolitical gamble by the Obama administration should perhaps be seen as a qualified success in response to a very difficult situation.

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Shifting the 'Complex War' in Pakistan

The general perception that our investment in Pakistan has not produced results, that the military/intelligence community there is intransigent and ambivalent to our objectives and that their leadership has consistently been unable to deliver on promises made in exchange for large sums of US taxpayer money is grounded in reality, but it is the reality of decades of wishful thinking and inattention on the part of previous US administrations who were unwilling to press their case or distracted by events elsewhere.

And the notion that the Pakistani Army is unwieldy, suited to the overanticipated conventional war with India but incapable of fighting a 'complex' counterinsurgency conflict is also a 'given' of our current perception and the news from Pakistan is disquieting, as the Pakistani military response to our insistence on taking aggressive action against the Taliban, at first glance, seems a counter-productive humanitarian disaster:


Pakistan's government signed a peace agreement with the Swat Taleban in February, allowing Sharia law there, a move sharply criticised by Washington.

The militants then moved towards the capital, Islamabad, causing further alarm.

Up to 15,000 troops have now been deployed in the Swat valley and neighbouring areas to take on up to 5,000 militants. The military has said it intends to "eliminate" the Taleban fighters.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Saturday called the conflict "a guerrilla war".

"This is our own war. This is war for the survival of the country," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

The fighting has already displaced some 200,000 people, while a further 300,000 are estimated to be on the move or poised to flee, the UN says.

On Saturday the government said that refugee camps would be set up in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, and to the north-east in Naushara.

Flight from Swat as Curfew Lifted BBC 10 May 09

And it's hardly surprising that the Pakistani army seems to be a sledge-hammer where a scalpel is wanted, though they are doing exactly what we promoted and have responded to the insurgent threat with considerable energy, including rotating six brigades from the Indian border to support this operation.  But there are also signs that the military can learn the lessons of counterinsurgency, at least in regard to operations by the paramilitary Frontier Corps late last year which may be worth considering, at least in part:


At first, the Pakistani military's response to the Islamists had been disastrous. Caught off guard by their onslaught, the Army had responded with brute force, trying, in the words of one officer, to "out-terrorize the terrorist." Such heavy-handed tactics had alienated locals, even while the intelligence services played a double game, trying to crack down on local Taliban while supporting them in Afghanistan so as to counter Indian influence there.

On arrival, General Khan realized he needed a new approach, one that emphasized holding and building areas after freeing them of Taliban gunmen. He began eating and bunking with his men to improve morale, and seeking the counsel of his officers--not a common practice in the hierarchical Pakistani military--on how best to engage the enemy and attract local support. In August 2008 he launched Operation Shirdil ("lion heart"), similar to the U.S. "surge" strategy in Iraq. Khan encouraged his troops to work with local tribes, shrewdly dividing pro-Taliban from pro-government elements, and, to gain legitimacy, backed tribal militias and sought the acquiescence of local jirgas (tribal councils).

Haider Ali Hussein Mullick - Where Pakistan is Winning Newsweek 2 May 2009

While this may have been an isolated success within the context of traditional military thinking in Pakistan it does suggest that there is at least some field experience of modern 'complex' warfighting to leverage for this and future operations.  

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Schools reopen in Swat

Peace does have some dividends.  

All boys, and some girls schools reopened in the Swat valley in Pakistan yesterday.  I am highlighting this because there had been (and probably still is) widespread fears that girls would be prevented from going to school as a result of the recent peace deal between the local "Taliban" outfit and the Pakistani government.  In reality, the peace deal has made it possible for a large number of boys and girls to go back to school.

The situation is far from ideal, obviously.  With respect to girls schools, only private schools, and government run primary schools (upto the 4th grade) are open.  And the girls must come with a "Purdah" (although, oddly enough, I have seen some pictures of girls going to school without the Purdah in place).

The situation is far from ideal, but it represents an improvement over the situation that existed before the peace deal.

The peace deal is quite fragile, with extreme mistrust between the militants and the Pakistani armed forces.  Obviously, small incidents can unravel deals struck under these circumstances. But,

If the political administration now acts sensibly and promptly, Fazlullah's marauding men will no longer be able to raid music shops, harass women or burn down schools.

We need to keep hope alive !!

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The Sharia deal in Swat- Zameeni haqeeqat

Zameeni haqeeat alag hain. Swat ke log to aman aane se bahut khush hai!

"The ground realties are different. The people of Swat valley are very happy to have peace!" So says Rahimullah Yousufzai, the Peshawar based editor of The News (a leading Pakistani daily).  That is Zameenia Haqeeqat (the ground reality)

There are quite a few misconceptions about the deal reportedly struck between the Pakistani government, and the "Taliban".  Let us consider them

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The Sharia law in SWAT, and it's implications

There have been many diaries (such as this one by Tarheel74, and this one by kosnomore ), and various other articles, on the imposition of the "Sharia law" in the SWAT valley in Pakistan.  Most commentators are of the opinion that is is an unmitigated tragedy, and a complete surrender to the Taliban.

I am here to argue otherwise.

First, I would like to present some background information (you may call this the section where I attempt to interpret history to suit the conclusions I am about to make).  I will not bore you with the prehistoric history of SWAT (an excellent summary can be found here [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swat(Pakistan) _ apologies, html tag did not work].  However, it is important to note that Sharia law used to be in place in the SWAT valley, as recently as 1969

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Diaries

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