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Pakistan needs a counter insurgency strategy

The recent difficulties faced by Pakistan at a bi-lateral level with the U.S and other allies about the conduct of the 9/11 war including the recent US lethal attack in Mohmand agency demands a national COIN strategy. Its absence is the cause of many problems both at the strategic, tactical and human rights level. It is quite exceptional that Pakistan does not have such a strategy even after many years of fighting a low intensity war which began after the invasion ofAfghanistan in October 2001.

In 2003-04, the Pakistan army entered the tribal areas and has been involved in active operations ever since. The rest of the country has witnessed a wave of suicide bombing by the militants in retaliation, and an ever increasing number of deaths caused by collateral damage, both by the military and the militants. Drone attacks are regularly conducted on Pakistani territory from across the border in Afghanistan; it has raised issues of sovereignty. Pakistani military, security, police and civil society have had hundreds killed or injured in a war which is fought mainly in the NWFP and the tribal areas; regions inhabited mostly by the Pashtun.

Pakistani intelligence operations have led to the arrest of many wanted militants, said to total 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 de-railing national attempts to get to grips with the insurgency. One major and unfortunate aspect of this national  head  in – sand attitude has been the almost total alienation of the people of Pakistan from their political leadership.

Since the state denies that it is fighting a serious insurgency it does not have a comprehensive set of transformation policies in place as remedy. 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 including about 90,000 military fighting this war, yet Pakistan is accused by U.S and others that it is not doing enough! Is it not enough that Pakistan has deployed more forces against the militants than the combined U.S, NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, where the latter is the cause of many of these tribulations? Is it not true that the major successes in the war have been scored by Pakistani forces? If all this is correct, then why is Pakistan condemned?

It is conjectured that a majority of these problems have arisen because we don’t have a written COIN strategy even after years of fighting. Its presence would have indicated the limits of Pakistani involvement and its compulsions thus reducing astronomical demands to do more.  

Recently, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani has made moves that are not been well received by the West. First is the re-deployment of the military from Pakistan’s western to its eastern border with India.  Second, Gen. Kiyani has told his U.S and NATO counterparts that he would not wish to equip or re-train the military in counter insurgency war, which is being fought on the western borders. It is a huge statement because at the strategic level it carries two assumptions. First, that Pakistan’s security establishment still feels that the main threat to Pakistan is from India. Second that 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 re-direction of Pakistani efforts which will not necessarily please the West. If this be the case then 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 of Pakistani decision makers to revert to the previous Musharrafian way of dealing with the 9/11 war! The allies were more comfortable with that mode. But it is not good for Pakistan.

What were the principles followed by President Musharraf in his conduct of war? In the absence of a national policy it is not possible to point to any written document enunciating Pakistan’s policy. 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, then Western or other friendly Muslim leader’s used their influence to direct Pakistani response into the desired direction. President Bush himself interceded on many occasions in the last five years often when there was a stalemate. In short, it was a personal rather than a national conduct of policy. The reason for Gen. Musharraf’s conflict with national sentiment regarding the war was the result of this personalized approach. Had Pakistani political and judicial institutions been involved in policy formulation the subsequent back-lash against Gen. Musharraf would have been reduced.

The results of the February election and the current political agitation in Pakistan are a direct consequence of Gen. Musharraf’s personalized conduct of the war. The war has created many problems including the alienation of the people. First there was an absence of a coherent strategy for the conduct of war which required a comprehensive review and articulation of a balanced COIN strategy, based on national consultations and a buy-in from all political and institutional stakeholders. Second, Pakistani problems including the decline of state institutions, which is a by- product of any COIN operation, should have been included in any calculation about compensation.

Although Pakistani allies often repeat that they provided $ 10.5 billion in the last five years but no one has shown what the payment was for? Presumably they were made for defense related services. But who was paying for the dead, injured and loss of property suffered by the ordinary citizen as a result of suicide attacks or from collateral damage? 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 COIN policy for Pakistan we can learn from India’s strategy.  It states, Low-intensity conflict is armed conflict for political purposes short of combat between regularly organized 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 COIN lies in the code of conduct for the military. It states, Remember that the people you are dealing with are your own country men; your behavior must be dictated by this single most 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.  It further says that such persons must be dealt under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure.   If such a doctrine was applicable in Pakistan, then we would have avoided the President’s confrontation with the judiciary arising out of the missing persons issue! 

It is clear that for more than one reason, we must quickly frame a nationally accepted COIN strategy. It will help us negotiate better and also protect us from many internal and external pressures in the conduct of this war.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan needs a counter insurgency strategy”

  1. Khalid Aziz, This is an amazing paper on the war on terror. it gives a complete understanding of what is going on. I have quoted you in my research work. Your articles show that you really a keen understanding and have done a thorough research on this subject. EXCELLENT JOB! What does COIN stand for

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