Americans now need to watch quietly from the sidelines. With their blundering
jaunts into Iraq and Afghanistan, America has lost a lot of face ... but that doesn't mean that Washington should stop covertly propping up Pakistan's armed muscle."
Finally, the battle was first
promised in June against our one-time protégés begins. For the past four months,
troops have been gathering on the horizon of Waziristan. The delay not only
enabled the militants to overcome the reversals they suffered in Malakand during the summer, but to hit back with added
venom at the government. Hastened by the bewildering tempo of attacks by the
"god-men" over recent weeks across the country - the battle has begun.
It's a given that this battle
is a strange mix. While it's unconventional for not being a standard face-off
between regular armies, it's conventional in that it's the same old war with
each side trying to impose its will. But conventional or not, there's no
running away from it. Now is the time to fight.
While everyone hurries to battle
stations in the weeks and months ahead, here are a few fundamental dos and
don'ts that need to be stuck to like glue.
1) Hijack the 'god-men's' cause.
History is replete with
examples of insurgencies that have degenerated into out-and-out criminality. This
one is no different. The government should use all means at its disposal, such
as media, clerics, political leaders, etc., to highlight the fact that these
are no "god-men."
Masquerading as god-men, these
are common thugs involved in the drug trade, kidnapping and contract killing, to
name a few of their activities. Take away their golden shoe and use it to beat
them back. Not only will this infuriate the "god-men" into a blind
rage and accompanying stumbles, it will discredit them, which is a much easier
way of cutting off and starving the insurgency than having to kill every
last one. Victory will be won only when the "god-men" are permanently
isolated by and with the active help of the population.
2) Tell Americans to stay away this time.
While thinking Pakistanis know
that the bombing of barber shops, girls' schools and the lashing of women has nothing to do
with Pakistan being "the closest of America's allies" and everything to do with the dark
dogma of the "god-men," the Americans now need to watch quietly from the
sidelines. With their blundering jaunts into Iraq and Afghanistan and wanton
killing in those two unfortunate countries, America has lost a lot of face. They
need to stand aside and refrain from adding weight to the Taliban's golden shoe. That
doesn't mean that Washington should stop covertly propping up Pakistan's armed
muscle - which is quite addicted to the steroid of American weapon and financial
support. And of course, the Americans know that they've had a great hand in the
genesis of the problem and can't simply wish themselves away.
3) Maintain the momentum.
Once gained, the Pakistan
Army has to guard against losing momentum. They've allowed this in the past and
the results proved disastrous. The tempo and timing of operations will be vital
to success in this conflict. The insurgents have been allowed time to plan, so when
the war begins - whatever the official spin - the militants may appear to
control the situation. Given their limited resources, however, control over the
pace of events and scope of activities will soon shift to the Pakistan Army. Patience
is the name of the game.
4) Don't talk of winding it up in days or weeks.
By its very nature, insurgencies
are protracted affairs. Even after several months, Malakand
continues to remain on a low boil. Moreover, given South Waziristan's terrain and the
nature of the foe, the strategy of the militants will be to encourage the Army
to penetrate deeper into the region i.e. farther into the mountains, and then tie
soldiers down with hit-and-run tactics. That would likely keep the troops bogged
down over the winter in long, drawn-out operations on unfriendly terrain. This
is why it wouldn’t be prudent to offer false hope of a quick end to the
population, whose support is critical. A negative shift in fickle public opinion
would be disastrous.
5) Be believable.
It must be understood this
war is being watched by multiple audiences. The military mustn't permit the truth
to be the first casualty - which is usually the case. Either credible
information must be released or none at all. Killing 2,000 insurgents in a
village of 200 families is hyperbole of the unnecessary kind. The military must
make certain that their deeds match their words. Any perceived contradiction will
destroy its credibility and undermine the counterinsurgency. Shortly into the
conflict, one side will gain credibility and the other will lose it - much to
the sorrow of the loser.
6) Learn and adjust.
Militant tactics will constantly
evolve. The military will have to respond by observing, drawing lessons, applying
them, assessing the results and quickly adjusting again. This learning cycle
will have to be maintained to that the Army adapts more quickly than the enemy.
Here we can draw some solace from the recent Malakand
operation, which may have hardened our troops for this type of conflict.
Above all, what we need to remember
is that although there's no doubt that the Army will eventually prevail - insurgencies
aren't defeated by simply killing every insurgent. Through reform, the root
causes of discontent, i.e.: the lack of education and reconstruction, will soon
have to be addressed. General Chang Ting-chen of Mao Zedong’s Central Committee once said that revolutionary war
was 80 percent political action and only 20 percent military. The same applies
to counterinsurgencies. Therefore, one desperately hopes that along with this
much needed military operation, the other 80 percent - action - is also being
Note how your humble scribe
has written an whole article without using the word "religion."
That is because, as Dave Barry once said, "The problem with writing about religion is that you
run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after
you with machetes."
A machete is a large knife
with a broad blade used as an implement for cutting "things."
*AnwaarHussain is a former Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter
pilot. With a Masters in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam
University in Islamaba, he now resides in United Arab
Emirates. He has published a series of articles in Defense Journal, South Asia
Tribune and a host of other web portals. Other than international affairs, AnwaarHussain has written
extensively on the religious and political issues that plague Pakistan.
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