Eroding insurgency from the inside —Ejaz Haider

No strategy is going to work miracles. Neatness is not the order of the day here. Political cost will go up, at least in the initial phases; collateral damage will occur; people will face hardships

Unlike war among people, inter-state wars have clear battle lines, the enemy is identifiable, its assets a kosher target. Inter-state wars, for the most part, are easy to sell to the public; state narrative and the process of “othering” come in handy in demonising the adversary. Obliterating the enemy becomes legitimate.

Inter-state war is also governed by a number of international law treaties and conventions, the four-treaty Geneva Conventions and their three Protocols being a prime example. Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) have become an extensive legal domain and take cognisance of both jus ad bellum (Justice to War — whether war is just and therefore justified) and jus in bello (Justice in War — the conduct of war itself). The LOAC is perched on the Just War theory which began with St Augustine and has been thought about and debated to wit.

Not so when armed conflict takes place among people. There is no clear enemy to advance to contact, the enemy does not wear uniform, remains amorphous, couples itself with populations (soft targets), the zones of combat and peace merge and can become interchangeable, and, as is happening in FATA, the people being fought off may belong to the same state.

In such a case, it is difficult to justify the use of force; the process of “othering” becomes impossible, the political cost of the conflict goes up, and when religion comes in and the war is perceived to be someone else’s, another state’s, the killing of one’s own becomes intolerable. The degree of difficulty for the soldier is increased manifold and the insurgent uses these handicaps to his full advantage.

Pakistan’s effort in the Tribal Areas is linked to the Security Council resolutions. But since the war is led by the United States and the latter is viewed as an imperial Christian nation bent on subjugating Muslims, the insurgent’s ruthlessness is diluted and can be justified as Holy War. Students of warfare know that a weaker adversary can only have an asymmetric advantage over a stronger adversary when the former breaks the norms of war that advantage the latter.

Diffusing the zones of combat and peace and denying the adversary an identifiable target are the two most important ingredients of such a conflict. Add to that the fact that in such a milieu one cannot separate the insurgent’s sanctuary from his preparation and operational areas in space-time terms and one can understand the frustration of the soldier (Ejaz Haider, “RMA RIP;” Daily Times, May 6).

All the advantages of the insurgent are the soldier’s disadvantages. He is visible and identifiable; he is loathed and suspected; he remains decoupled and isolated from the population in physical and kinship terms; his retaliation, in most cases, ends up taking out soft targets (even if the targets are not soft the insurgents can present them as such); action raises political costs; the war, for the most part, cannot be justified to the public and so on.

How can the state then use effective force or the threat of its use?

There is no rule of thumb and different situations would demand different strategies. Nonetheless, some factors should be obvious.

First, a state may not expose the military to such a conflict directly. Military is generally the last line of defence and irregular conflicts serve to dent its reputation and demoralise soldiers; it must lurk in the background. It is important for the state to use the threat of its use as a menace to make dialogue work but its actual use must remain focused, sharp and limited.

The implication of this leads to the second point and relates to a triangular requirement: effective policing; highly trained paramilitary forces and, yes, effective intelligence at multiple levels. This means reconfiguring and retraining personnel deployed to such areas.

The role of intelligence cannot be overemphasised in such conflicts. Without intelligence capabilities, security forces can neither identify a target nor take it out by decoupling it from the population.

Third, force cannot be used haphazardly or on on-again, off-again basis. Neither is such a conflict a function of bulling in and letting the chips fall where they may. Force has to be used discriminately but when employed, ruthlessly and effectively. Without eyes, that is not possible.

Fourth, intelligence work in such situations is not simply about embedding assets and providing information on possible targets and their activities. It also means turning the insurgents around and using various means to create resistance to the insurgents from within the population. Even smaller, highly trained groups of security personnel will always be visible and identifiable. They can be used for raids and extraction operations but any effective effort must incrementally begin to diminish reliance on security forces and prop up challenges to insurgents from within the populations that sustain them.

Without this steady inside job — the effort to erode the support base of the insurgency — no amount of force can leash the insurgent. It is the only way of decoupling him from the population. Decoupling raises the cost for him and denies him his sanctuaries and freedom of operation by making his lines of communication insecure.

Fifth, no insurgency can be sustained without funds. It is essential to identify the sources of funding and to make efforts to strike at them. Similarly, insurgencies tend to develop their own economies, networks that sustain individuals, families and tribes. A combination of incentives and crack down on such networks is important to raise the cost for those who are making a killing from the killing fields.

Much of this work needs to be done from the inside. This is one reason why merely deploying troops to an area is unlikely to work. Mobilisation and show of force may be important in deterring state actors but work to the state’s disadvantage against an elusive adversary.

Finally, all these steps have to be taken simultaneously; it is not a sequential affair. At the same time it must be remembered that no strategy is going to work miracles. Neatness is not the order of the day here. Political cost will go up, at least in the initial phases; collateral damage will occur; people will face hardships. But since the state has to choose between relinquishing its writ and regaining it — presuming it will opt for the latter course — it will have to rise to the challenge and not act squeamishly.

The state will also have to use the media effectively; give the population at large a sense of the looming threat and the consequences of inaction (people can take a lot of ruination in the short term if they are convinced that acting stoically is to their long-term benefit); convince itself that it has to act and that half-measures will only complicate an already impossible situation.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at This concludes the two-part series. The first article appeared yesterday

Source: Daily Times, 28/6/2008

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