Kayani’s optimism

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, while addressing a passing out ceremony in Kakul, has claimed that the Pakistan army has broken the back of militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban and the country will soon prevail over this menace. In recent days, the COAS has been publicly vocal in defending the campaign of the military against criticism by the US that it is not doing enough to fight militancy and has no clear plan to overcome the terrorist insurgency. This speech could be read as part of the same voicing of both resentment and a defence of the military. There is no gainsaying the sacrifices of the military, security forces and the people of the country in the struggle against terrorism. However, that does not deal with disquiet about the situation.

Even making allowances for the occasion, which enjoins a morale-boosting address for the new officers about to embark on their military careers, it must be said that the statement of the COAS is highly optimistic and perhaps premature. Despite successes in the initial military offensives in Swat, South Waziristan and other Agencies in FATA, at best what can be conceded is that the terrorists have been pushed onto the back foot. That is not an inconsiderable achievement when one reflects how the jihadis were full of bluster and intimidating people in Swat and FATA. But it is in the nature of guerrilla and asymmetrical warfare that obvious gains do not always tell the whole story. In the face of the superior firepower and determination of the military to root out the terrorists from their strongholds, it was on the cards that the insurgents would, after some holding operations to allow the main body of their fighters to move away and avoid annihilation, melt away and live to fight another day. One major flaw in the counter-insurgency strategy has been the lack of follow up plans and their implementation on the ground after a particular area has been cleared of insurgents.

Swat, for example, is still crying for the re-establishment of an effective civilian administration, the revival of representative politics, and the development tasks required to ensure the well being of the populace and wean any recalcitrants from under the spell of the jihadis. South Waziristan is relatively quiet since the military operation, but that may be due more to the fact that the guerrillas are believed to have scattered to neighbouring Agencies. Proof of this argument is provided by the fact that the Khyber, Mohmand, Orakzai and other Agencies are still restive, requiring periodic clearing operations on ground once cleared already. Kurram Agency’s situation is complicated because of the strategic location of that area, the attempts to stoke sectarian differences, and the continuing effort of the Taliban to intimidate and cow down the tribes that have been resisting their presence. North Waziristan of course is so far untouched, a fact that rankles with the US because of their certainty that the Haqqani network, linked to al Qaeda, is based there. The Pakistani security establishment is therefore accused of not touching North Waziristan because the Haqqanis are still strategic assets in Afghanistan’s endgame.

The most alarming development of late has been the big attack from across the Afghan border in Dir by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which yielded some 40 casualties in total on both sides. This action implies the TTP has access to safe havens across the border. This promises trouble since such havens may be beyond the reach of the Pakistani military and could serve to prolong the very campaign the COAS optimistically thinks will not be long in ending.The intensity of terrorist actions does go through ups and downs, but each lull before fresh storms should not make us complacent or persuade us to slacken and let our guard down. We confront a very motivated and determined enemy in the TTP and other groups of similar ilk, not to mention the continued presence of al Qaeda on our soil in the tribal areas.Much as one would like wholeheartedly to welcome the rosy prognosis of the COAS, judgement needs to be suspended in the face of the restless tribal areas, the presence of jihadi groups all over the country, and the still looming threat of asymmetrical bombings and strikes in relatively easier places when pressure is mounted in one or the other theatre. This is still going to be a long war. No complacency can be afforded in the life and death struggle against the evil of terrorism. – Dailytimes