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Pakistan’s Domestic Agenda: Battling Terrorism

October 13, 2009

Pakistani forces are in full offensive mode today, bombing northern areas of South Waziristan. Although planned months in advance, this comes immediately following a siege at military headquarters, and a number of suicide attacks for which Taliban have claimed responsibility. Simultaneously, the Kerry-Lugar Bill elicits concern that contingencies on funding potentially violate sovereignty, US controlled drone attacks continue and the economy has yet to pick up. Needless to say, the War on Terror have been tough times for Pakistan, and I hope the military succeeds in securing northern areas swiftly.

But an interesting perspective that is perhaps overshadowed by statistics, strategies, and tangible costs/benefits of our engagement in Operation Enduring Freedom, are the multifaceted issues of Pakistan’s agenda, which should describe handling security breaches at the forefront of their interests.

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece  entitled Pakistan Taliban Bombing Spree Could spur Backlashreporting on today’s military offensive, but the thrust is that the Taliban siege at military headquarters “spurs” Pakistani forces to fight harder, and stronger against the Taliban. By attributing an increased fight to the  “backlash” of this weekends attacks, the article rests on an implied assumption that Pakistan would otherwise have made suboptimal efforts at obliterating terrorists. At the end of the article an alternative view is offered by a security analyst at the INternational Institute for Strategic Studies in London explaining:

“I don’t think any serious military is baited in that way. It will certainly annoy the military intensely and strengthen resolve, but the South Waziristan operation – which will inevitably occur at some point – isn’t going to be accelerated just because of this.”

But this is an external analysts view and the article is preceded by a statement from a Pakistani professor:

“By launching these attacks on the very citadel and symbol of the Pakistani Army they have just crossed a red line, and there is no turning back as far as the Pakistani Army is concerned. I think they will be made to pay for it.”

Certainly, a brazen attack on military headquarters will rile a staunch response. But the articles title still suggests that the siege fuels the military offensive rather than an inherent interest in combatting terrorism.

This idea is an extension of what is now a widespread misperception that Pakistan is not entirely interested in combating terrorism, when on the contrary, this weeks offensive reaffirms Pakistan’s struggle for security. And I wonder if the skeptical lens with which reports question Pakistan’s effort stem from a stage set for discourse back in 2001 when former President George Bush decided countries were simply “either with us, or against us”.

The effectiveness of that strategy is debatable, but 8 years later it doesn’t offer sufficient explanations for allies like Pakistan who work “with us”, yet face persistent accusations of not doing enough. Because this weekend’s siege on military headquarters indicates Pakistan’s inherent interest in uprooting terrorism, but without a comprehensive reading into the situation it’s easy to have only a “with or against us” understanding. The northern areas where Afghani militants have spilled over is an autonomous region, historically beyond the realm of federal authority. Yet its inhabitants share with greater Pakistan a similar culture, ascribe to the same religion (although interpretations vary), and even share a physical resemblance making it a very sensitive area where any state would use force only as a final resort. Militarily obliterating such an area is unpalatable to the general Pakistani public and therefore a difficult issue to deal with for policymakers. In addition, Pakistan’s forces are only 60+ years old and trained predominantly in conventional warfare to face a potential Indian threat.

Thus, there are extremely sensitive considerations and multiple dimensions in the Pakistani approach to dealing with terrorism that since 2001, is an increasingly domestic battle. Just militarily obliterating this kind of demographic is not only potentially destabilizing for Pakistan, but is impractical without additional funding, training, and intelligence sharing with our forces. So Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States is not a black or white, “with us or against us” situation. The Obama administration understands this as if applies General McChrystal’s recommendations to differentiate Taliban from Al Qaeda as targets in the War on Terror. Such practicality takes into considerations long term realities and sensitivities of the region as cooperation in our War on Terror looks increasingly domestic for Pakistan.

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6 comments

  1. In my opinion, the problem is very complex and cannot be resolved by one strategy or the other, but by a well planned concoction of measures to and there is no guarantee that it will work.
    I think the measures should include the establishing a legit afghan government, control opium production, train afghan police and army, setup afghan infrastructure(utilities), educate the population and get rid of Mr. 10% and his corrupt officials. Furthermore, The Pakistan Army is definitely corrupt and is infiltrated with Taliban moles they know when and where and when the army is going to mobilize. So something needs to be done internally as well.

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  2. The idea that Pakistan’s establishment is not serious about uprooting terrorism and its proponents is not entirely unfounded, keeping in mind our history. The roots of the Swat Taliban movement, against whom a full scale military offensive was launched a few months ago, were lain by Maulana Fazlulah and his infamous (and unauthorized) FM transmissions about 5 years ago. The seemingly benign transmissions culminated into a full scale movement, while the establishment offered excuses such as the impossibility of locating the FM transmittors, etc.
    Secondly, the current taliban havebeen spawned by the jihadi groups who are alleged to have had the support of the Pak Govt to fight a proxy war in Kashmir, and to be used as a reserve force of sorts in case of an India offensive. Though difficult to ascertain such claims agaisnt the governement, it is widely believed that not so long ago, these jihadi camps enjoyed covert state patronage.
    Therefore, the scepticism of the independent analysts regarding the seriousness of the Pak Govt to combat terrorism is justified to an extent.

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  3. tumki paari paari eyes dekhnay k baad samajh nahi aati k un pe comment kerun ik paara sa compliment dun ya post pe ROSHNI daalun 😦 .. delete ker b do agar isko to plz mujhay yaad rakhna.

    Haris
    TX

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  4. I am concerned about one more thing the US-led Nato forces vacated more than half a dozen key security check posts on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border just ahead of the major Pakistan Army ground offensive (code named: Rahe Nijaat) against Taliban-led militants in the volatile tribal area of South Waziristan.

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  5. […] on the Kerry Lugar Bill marred relations on the Pakistani side. And for the United States, the lingering concern that Pakistan should be doing more in the War on Terror and appreciate our patience with their efforts have made both states cynical […]

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  6. […] on the Kerry Lugar Bill marred relations on the Pakistani side. And for the United States, the lingering concern that Pakistan should be doing more in the War on Terror and appreciate our patience with their efforts have made both states cynical […]

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