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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