Pakistan Presses On
by Shaun Appleby, Sat May 16, 2009 at 05:15:00 PM EDT
The military operations in Malakand against the Taliban continue, with a critical stage, the occupation of Mingora, likely to take place in the next few days, as reported after the briefing of parliamentarians from Pakistan's leading parties on Friday:
The leaders were briefed in camera by the COAS and the Director General of Operations, Maj-Gen Javed Iqbal, at PM's House and reassured that special care was being taken to avoid collateral damage and that a decisive advance had been made in Mingora and its suburbs.
The army officers said the city had been encircled from all sides and it would be cleared of militants very soon. The leaders were informed that militants were on the run after army's penetration into areas where troops had no access earlier.
They were also told that Fazlullah, believed to be the head of militant Taliban, was not in control of all the groups fighting in Malakand and that the militant groups were receiving money and arms through Waziristan and Afghanistan.
Ahmad Hassan - `Mingora besieged, to be secured soon' Dawn Media 16 May 09
As far as military strategies go it would appear that this is a sound one, given the numeric superiority but unwieldy nature of the army. Occupying the surrounding countryside before descending on Mingora is effective and a significant departure from the half-hearted efforts of years past.
But as we know the real challenge of 'complex wars' is political, not military, and in that respect the Pakistani civilian government seems to be achieving some success, both in uniting political factions behind this operation, at least for now, and mobilising public opinion against the Taliban as a matter of national sovereignty and security:
COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's in-camera briefing to the parliamentarians on the situation in Swat elicited a unanimous stand in favour of the military operation. This unity among the leadership on an issue of such great importance augurs well for the federation. The Taliban were using Swat as a base to spread their network to other parts of the country and carry out suicide attacks across the country. They were also advocating a way of life that was neither in accordance with the spirit of Islam nor the vision of the founding fathers of the country. The government's attempts to hammer out a negotiated settlement of the conflict had met with little success because the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan could not reconcile itself to the idea of accepting the writ of the state.
Editorial - In both camps The Nation (Pakistan) 16 May 09
It seems pretty clear that the task of wresting control of the NWFP and FATA from the Taliban is going to be a long and difficult one for Pakistan and any expectations of a sudden and dramatic improvement there is likely to be disappointed, especially considering that in Bajaur, apparently, the Taliban have reasserted their presence shortly after the winding down of the operations of the Frontier Corps in February. According to a disputed BBC analysis only 38% of this region is under the control of the Pakistani government and the very nature of the Taliban insurgency makes it difficult for the unwieldy Pakistani Army to effectively bring them to a decisive action, a tactical reality understood by British colonial generals well over a century ago.
However public opinion seems to be hardening against the Taliban's excesses in recent months and the military continues to loyally discharge it's constitutional role. Politically, everything hinges on the All-Parties Conference of the National Assembly, scheduled to be held in Islamabad on Monday. If the coalition factions, at least, remain united behind their leadership, such as it is, the recent geopolitical gamble by the Obama administration should perhaps be seen as a qualified success in response to a very difficult situation.
Having said that, about the only 'accomplishment' so far has been to persuade the civilian government to direct their undivided attention to the threat posed to Pakistani sovereignty by the Taliban and see them mobilise significant resources to counter it. This seems a promising development with the coalition parties voicing support for this shift in emphasis, more or less, and public opinion awakening to the importance of reasserting the secular 'writ of government' rather than letting events take their course. Even the military seems content to let the government stake it's reputation on a successful outcome, with apparent confidence:
GUJRAT: Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar has said that the ongoing operation in parts of Malakand division will be completed in 8 weeks.
Talking to media here on Saturday, the Defence Minister said no high-value target has so far been hit in the operation.
"The Swat operation will continue till the achievement of the desired objectives and it could take 6 to 8 weeks," he said.
Swat operation to be completed in 6 to 8 weeks: Defence Minister The News (Pakistan) 16 May 09
The handling of the refugee crisis is a critical component of the ability of the government to manage this dramatic shift in policy and the sheer magnitude of the displaced is daunting, the largest since Pakistan's founding in 1947, with estimates reaching as high as two milion:
ISLAMABAD: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned of a humanitarian crisis if the international community does not come up with a massive and speedy assistance to the affected people of troubled areas in Pakistan.
'Since May 2 until yesterday we have registered 1.171682 million refugees who have come down from Sawat, Buner and Lower Dir after military launched operation against militants in these areas,' António Guterres said at a press conference on Saturday.
'Of these 1.171682 million refugees, 1.30 million are living in camps and rest of 1.04 million is still without camps,' he said, adding, 'majority of uprooted people were living with families in adjoining areas and rented buildings''. He said the commission did not have information on the number of people who were still trapped in troubled areas.
Khawar Ghumman - UNHCR warns of humanitarian crisis Dawn Media 16 May 09
Criticism from political opponents is focused on this aspect of the government's actions, and Pakistan is desperately seeking international aid to deal with the crisis, though there is evidence that a small trickle of refugees are returning to their homes as military operations are completed in some areas:
During last couple of days the number of previously registered IDPs in camps have reduced from 91,017 individuals to 71,957 as large number of IDPs from Bajaur have left the camps in Lower Dir and returned back to their respective areas.
Waseem Ahmad Shah - Off-camp IDPs cross one million Dawn Media 16 May 09
BUNER: Curfew remained relaxed in Buner from 11 am to 6 pm as many families began returning to their homes.
A number of buildings were damaged in Buner during operation against militants by the security forces. Many shops and petrol pumps were also destroyed.
People who migrated from Ambela, a village of Buner, have started coming back to their homes.
Curfew relaxed in Buner; families returning home The News (Pakistan) 16 May 09
Indications of broad 'support' for the governemnt, or more accurately impatience with their previous inaction regarding the rising influence of the Taliban, are encouraging. This report, on a national convention of Pakistan's ulema, Muslim clergy, is an example of the surrealistic context of public opinion reported daily in the Pakistani media:
Addressing the convention, the speakers said the current situation in the country was created by anti-Pakistan elements. They said the US, India and Israel were funding the Taliban and providing them with arms and ammunition, something that had been proven through tangible evidence.
They said, on the one hand, the US was condemning terrorism and fighting a war on terror across the globe while, on the other hand, it was funding and facilitating terrorists to create unrest in the world so that it could achieve its political and economic goals.
The speakers termed the Taliban misguided extremists, who had been trained in more than 50 training camps set up by India and America in Afghanistan just for the purpose of destroying the economy of Pakistan, its international image and stability. They alleged that Sufi Mohammad was a pseudo Maulana and did not deserve to hold the title as he was misleading the people through his self-created philosophies and dogmas. They said the nation did not need radicals like Sufi Mohammad rather it needed people like Hazrat Ali Hajveri, Sultan Bahu, and Bulleh Shah, who preached the religion through peace and love.
The Mashaikh condemned the demolition of 10 mausoleums of the Ulema-e-Deen in the NWFP, saying the terrorists would not succeed in their evil designs as the will of God could never be with brutes and killers. They termed the Taliban traitors of Islam, violators of the Constitution and enemies of humanity.
Ulema resolve to resist Taliban The News (Pakistan) 17 May 09
Good news or an indication of the mind-numbing obstacles we face in Pakistan? A little bit of both, it seems. And the challenges will continue, there is every indication that the government is still capable of hedging it's bets on negotiations with the Taliban, that Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party is preparing to play 'ducks and drakes' before supporting the Malakand operation and that anti-US opinion is going to be with us for some time to come. But assuming that civilian government successfully prosecutes these operations and navigates the difficult political landscape, there are some signs of other opportunities:
TANK: The government is mulling over a plan to establish camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the wake of looming military operation against militants in troubled spots of the North and South Waziristan agencies, while the media reports about possible army offensive have scared the local residents.
Sources told `The News' Thursday the unusual movement of army and paramilitary troops in the militancy-infested areas of the both agencies strengthened the tribesmen's view about the possible military assault on militants.
A large number of people from the Mahsud-dominated areas, including Chagmalai, Mundana, Spinkai, Aghzai and several other places, had started migration to safer areas. Official sources said local administration had initiated work on a plan to establish temporary camps on a piece of 625 acres of land at Dabara area, some 10 kilometres away from Tank city, to accommodate impending IDPs.
Looming operation in Waziristan The News (Pakistan) 16 May 09
These are the regions which we have long known al-Qaeda has used to conduct operations in Afghanistan and worldwide. If the Pakistanis are capable of winkling them out of there it may have some significant impact on the 'stalemate' we are facing in Afghanistan. Note the proximity to Kabul and one can well understand the necessity of having our policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan aligned.
The prospective cost to the US of continuing to support Pakistan is enormous and it is sobering to note that the Pakistani claim, in response to our vexation over the presumed misuse of the $10B of counter-terrorism funding spent there in the past decade, is that the actual cost to Pakistan has been $35B in the same period. As potential black holes go it's a stunner. The House recently approved an additional $900M to Pakistan and the Kerry-Lugar bill, backed by the administration, proposes $7.5B over the next five years. Whether this is money well spent or should come with 'strings attached' is a matter of some heated debate in Congress. It seems clear that we need to make some expedient choices in the dynamic situation emerging in Pakistan.
As for our policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan the resolution of these conflicts will be slow and incremental requiring a continued military presence in Afghanistan and continued funding of Pakistan until political and developmental improvements take hold. Whether we have a strategy for success or not remains to be seen, though there is every evidence we are attempting, at least in Afghanistan, the infrastructure-oriented approach which has been lacking. In the meantime we are at a crossroads. Public opinion will expect significant signs of improvement, and soon. In many respects our financial resources are limited, if not nearly exhausted. And the outcome of many of our global diplomatic initiatives may depend on successfully negotiating this difficult transition in Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Asia generally.
Looking at this through the domestic prism, however, one thing seems clear, to abdicate this challenge in Afghanistan and Pakistan would do the one thing Republicans seem incapable of themselves; unite them around an issue which could very well bring them electoral success on grounds of national security and responsible management of US foreign policy.