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Need for a counterinsurgency strategy

The difficulties faced by Pakistan at a bilateral level with the United States and other allies about the conduct of the 9/11 war, including the recent US attack in Mohmand  Agency, demands a national counterinsurgency strategy. The absence of a strategy is the cause of many problems at the strategic, tactical and human rights level.

The army entered the tribal areas in 2003-04 and has been involved in active operations there ever since. The rest of the country has witnessed a wave of retaliatory suicide bombing by militants, which has resulted in an ever increasing number of deaths and collateral damage. US drone attacks are regularly conducted inside Pakistani territory from across the border in Afghanistan, raising the issue of Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistani intelligence operations have led to the arrest of many wanted militants, said to be more than 700. The rendition of many of them without judicial process and the related troublesome issue of missing persons have played a key role in the creation of the Pakistani judicial crisis, which is now derailing national attempts to get to grips with the insurgency.

Since the state denies that it is fighting a serious insurgency it does not have a comprehensive set of transformation policies in place. As national policy remains unfocused it has led to the creation of many anomalies and difficulties. For instance, although Pakistan has committed more than 200,000 security personnel this war, including about 90,000 members of the military, it is accused by the US and others that it is not doing enough. Is it not enough that Pakistan has deployed more forces against the militants than the combined US, NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan? Is it not true that the major successes in the war have been scored by Pakistani forces?

It is possible that a majority of these problems have arisen because we don’t have a counterinsurgency strategy even after years of fighting. Its presence would have indicated the limits of Pakistani involvement and its compulsions, thus reducing external demands for it “to do more.”

Recently, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani made moves that have not been well received in the West. The first is the redeployment of the military from Pakistan’s western border to its border with India. Second, Gen Kiyani told his US and NATO counterparts that he would not wish to equip or retrain the military in the counterinsurgency war on Pakistan’s western borders. This is a very significant statement because it carries two assumptions at the strategic level. First, that Pakistan’s security establishment still feels that the main threat to Pakistan is from India. Second, the rise of militancy on the western border is not serious enough to demand the attention of the military and can be handled by the police.

If these assumptions are correct, then we are at the cusp of a major redirection of Pakistani efforts which will not necessarily please the West. In that case we should be ready to see changes in the coming months on the economic, political and military horizons. These will mostly be in the form of arm-twisting against Pakistani decision-makers to persuade them to revert to Musharraf’s way of dealing with the results of the 9/11 war.

What were the principles followed by President Musharraf in his conduct of the war? In the absence of a national policy it is not possible to point to any written document enunciating it. However, the outline of a policy can be reconstructed from its conduct. The first feature of Musharraf’s approach was its dependence upon the preferences of the allies regarding what Pakistan should do. Insiders say that in matter of war Pakistan’s response was often the result of personal decisions reached by Gen Musharraf after consulting an inner cabal of military and security officials.

When Pakistan demurred, Western or friendly Muslim leader’s used their influence to direct its response into the desired direction. President Bush himself interceded on many occasions in the last five years in case of stalemate. In short, it was a personal rather than national conduct of policy. The reason for Gen Musharraf’s conflict with national sentiment regarding the war was the result of this personalised approach.

The current political agitation in Pakistan is a direct consequence of Gen Musharraf’s personalised conduct of the war. Among the many problems the war has created is the alienation of the people. A coherent strategy for the conduct of the war required a comprehensive review and articulation of a balanced counterinsurgency strategy based on national consultations. Second, Pakistani problems, including the decline of state institutions, which is a by-product of any counterinsurgency operation, should have been included in any calculation about compensation.

Pakistan’s allies say that they provided $10.5 billion to it in the last five years, but what were the payments for? Even if it is presumed that they were made for defence-related services. who was paying for the dead and injured and for the loss of property suffered by the ordinary citizens? What action was taken to strengthen Pakistani civilian institutions which suffered loss of capacity as a result of a military approach to insurgency?

It is clear that if and when we design a counterinsurgency policy we can learn from India’s strategy. It states, “low-intensity conflict is armed conflict for political purposes short of combat between regularly organised forces.” It goes on to say in Section 5.1, that such operations are aimed at management rather than conflict resolution. Secondly, such operations are directed at a qualitative improvement of the situation, rather providing a solution.

However, the pith of the Indian counterinsurgency strategy lies in the code of conduct for the military. It states: “Remember that the people you are dealing with are your own countrymen; your behaviour must be dictated by this consideration. Violation of human rights, therefore, must be avoided under all circumstances, even at the cost of operational success.”

It further states: “Accounting and disposal of apprehended persons…..must also be conducted scrupulously.” Such persons must be dealt under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it says. If such a doctrine was applicable in Pakistan, we would have avoided the President’s confrontation with the judiciary arising out of the missing persons’ issue.

We must quickly frame a nationally accepted counterinsurgency strategy. It will help us negotiate better and protect us from many internal and external pressures in the conduct of this war.

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