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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The Pakistanization of the Afghan War

The Los Angeles Times is reporting in a marked shift for US policy towards Pakistan that the US military has begun flying armed Predator drones inside Pakistan in partnership with the Pakistani military. Furthermore, under this new joint operation Pakistani officers have significant control over targets, flight routes and decisions to launch attacks.

For the U.S. military, the missions represent a broad new role in searching for Islamic militants in Pakistan. For years, that task has been the domain of the CIA, which has flown its own fleet of Predators over the South Asian nation.

Under the new partnership, U.S. military drones will be allowed for the first time to venture beyond the borders of Afghanistan under the direction of Pakistani military officials, who are working with American counterparts at a command center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said the program was aimed at getting Pakistan -- which has frequently protested airstrikes in its territory as a violation of sovereignty -- more directly and deeply engaged in the Predator program.

"This is about building trust," said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the program has not been publicly acknowledged. "This is about giving them capabilities they do not currently have to help them defeat this radical extreme element that is in their country."

The Pakistanis, however, have yet to use the drones to shoot at suspected militants and are grappling with a cumbersome military chain of command as well as ambivalence over using U.S. equipment to fire on their own people.

The program marks a significant departure from how the war against Taliban insurgents has been fought for most of the last seven years. The heavy U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been largely powerless to pursue militants who routinely escape across the border into Pakistan.

But the initiative carries serious risks for Pakistan, which is struggling to balance a desire for more control over the drones with a deep reluctance to become complicit in U.S.-operated Predator strikes on its own people.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, on a visit to Washington last week, reiterated his nation's request for its own fleet of Predators. U.S. officials have all but ruled that out, and they described the new, jointly operated flights as an effective compromise.

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A State of Denial, An Absence of State

This evening, I read a column by Murtaza Razvi in Dawn of Pakistan touching on how Pakistanis, and the Pakistani government in particular, have been living in a state of denial on many issues confronting the country for far too long now. The wholly article is worth reading and indicative of the thinking of a segment of Pakistani elites who recognize the problems that Pakistan faces. Its leader are in a state of denial and the real problem is an absence of the state in critical areas.

Firstly, one must note the withering away of the state's writ, not only in Fata, Swat and Balochistan but all around. Like everything else that is so rotten and bad with us now, this trend could also be blamed on Gen Musharraf's eight long years in power, and perhaps justifiably so. In the big cities crime is rampant and terrorists strike at will. The flaring up of ethnic tensions in Karachi which left a number of people dead recently, and terrorist assaults on the Sri Lankan cricket team and a police training school in Lahore in March as well as the recent bombings in Peshawar are but obvious examples.

Lastly, it is the absence of governance which dogs the current dispensation. Living in denial of the many differences the coalition partners have on national and on inter-party issues has delayed the task of effective governance. One lesson that the PPP must learn from its experience of falling out with the PML-N is that reneging on promises will not win it or the country any respect. It's time to fulfill rather than delay delivering what it promised the people, which is decentralisation of executive and fiscal powers, leading to provincial autonomy.

I read this and as a Colombian I can relate. In Colombia for too long we too were in a state of denial and it took some time before we realized that answers to our problems were extending the state to areas where it was noticeably absent. Let me first dispense with the fiction that Plan Colombia has been a success.  If the goal was to reduce drug trafficking, then Plan Colombia has been a resounding failure. What saved Colombia was the 1991 Constitution.

We went from being a country where Bogotá decided everything to being a country where political power was diffused and dispersed. Decentralization saved Colombia. It's likely part of the solution for Pakistan.

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Cooperative Security Locations, Not Permanent Just Enduring

The US military has a number of terms that it uses to describe its various kinds of military installations. One of these terms is a Cooperative Security Location. According to Global Security, a Cooperative Security Location (CSL) is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US presence. CSLs will require periodic service, contractor and/or host nation support. CSLs provide contingency access and are a focal point for security cooperation activities. They may contain propositioned equipment. CSLs are: rapidly scalable and located for tactical use, expandable to become a Forward Operating Site (FOS), forward and expeditionary.

The Department of Defense has released a FY 2010 Budget Request Summary Justification (pdf.) presentation outlining its proposed expenditures. Some are curious, a few are disconcerting.

The FY 2010 Base budget includes $46 million for a cooperative security location at Palanquero Air Base in Colombia.

This is news to Colombians. Though Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos broached the subject of stationing a base in Colombia back in February, that trial balloon did not float. Colombians remain opposed to any US military presence in the country.

Significant investment at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, a forward operating site for which responsibility has been moved from CENTCOM to AFRICOM.

It looks like AFRICOM, which remains homeless or perhaps better put awaiting a home in temporary quarters in Stuggart, Germany, is going to get rammed down hapless Djibouti.

The Department's objective is to develop a network of Forward Operating Sites (FOSs) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) to support current and future operations in the Gulf and Central Asia. The Department plans significant investments at the following enduring locations:

* Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and Al Mussanah Air Base, Oman,
both of which are Cooperative Security Locations, and
* Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, a Forward Operating Site

Enduring? Just what does the DoD mean by that?

These notions of a far-flung empire are killing this Republic. Never mind the cost. Military adventurism undermines democracy at home.

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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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