Operation Fiasco — Shaukat Qadir

Anybody with a common understanding of military operations knows that the preparation and launch of such an operation must be the closest guarded secret in the country, until it is well underway

It seems like yesterday that the nation was looking hopeful and the future seemed bright. Musharraf and his supporters had been routed in the elections and the coalition government at the centre included the two mainstream political parties, the PPP and the PMLN, both seemingly determined to work together and succeed.

Both seemed determined to swiftly get past the restoration of judges, shed the deadweight of Musharraf and begin to address the real problems of the nation: terrorism, spiralling prices, unemployment etc.

Today, not only is the coalition fraying at the seams, we are still mired by the same issues, with Musharraf’s tenuous position improving by the day, and no redress for the poor.

But the developments relating to dealing with terrorists are, currently, the most alarming. A few days ago the PPP-led government announced that the COAS, Ashfaq Kayani, has been given carte blanche to deal with the threat of terrorism in the NWFP.

He will decide when and how to negotiate; when to take recourse to the use of force and against whom; and on the magnitude of the force that is to be applied. For this purpose all security forces have been placed under his command.

A more brazen demonstration of political cowardice I have yet to witness. In one go, the PPP-led political government has absolved itself of all responsibility relating to this imminent threat; which is of paramount interest to the international community as well as each citizen of Pakistan and, in the process, has found a scapegoat in the event that things go wrong — which might well have been the purpose of this voluntary sharing of political power with a COAS who seems to be a determined democrat.

However, in the process they have not only exposed their inability and weakness in dealing with the paramount threat to Pakistan’s security, they have also opened the door for the military to enter the political arena. I am reminded of Ayub Khan’s concurrent appointment as defence minister in 1954 while he was the sitting C-in-C of the army!

Then, having given carte blanche to the COAS, the central government, with great fanfare, sanctions the launch of Operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem by the FC in NWFP, which does not bear the stamp of the COAS’ approval.

We have now been informed by the information minister that the operation was undertaken upon the request of the NWFP governor and CM. It is interesting to note that the NWFP government asked the central government to launch this operation employing the FC, which is a provincial security force!

Perhaps, since the central government had placed all security forces under the COAS, the provincial government felt that only the central government could order their employment; that seems to be the only logical explanation.

However has been planned the farcical tragedy that this operation is destined to be, it certainly does not merit the name of a military operation. What is more, it has been planned and is being carried out by individuals who seem to have absolutely no idea of conducting operations against guerrilla warriors or terrorists.

To the uninitiated, the sight of tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers, and heavy weapons marching into the tribal areas and destroying vacant buildings might seem impressive, when shown by the electronic media. But in real terms the operation is far from being the Sirat-e-Mustaqeem that it has been titled.

If the show was being put on for the benefit of our worthy visitor from the US, Richard Boucher, I doubt he was fooled.

However, whether this operation was launched with a tacit understanding reached with the militant leaders residing in this area or not; it is a fiasco that can only add to our problems. Anybody with a common understanding of military operations knows that the preparation and launch of such an operation must be the closest guarded secret in the country, until it is well underway.

Furthermore, the operation must be preceded by well-armed infiltrators in small groups who target the leaders and the training camps of the terrorists minutes ahead of the attack by the main force, preferably at the crack of dawn. If they cannot eliminate all, the infiltrators must keep them pinned down until the main force arrives to destroy more than just empty buildings.

Not only did Mangal Bagh and Maulvi Omer depart for safer havens well before the operation was launched, if my information is correct, armed supporters of both are boldly visible in the proximity of areas under FC control, often within a few hundred yards of posts occupied by FC personnel.

Ejaz Haider is absolutely on the dot when he suggests that this operation had become a necessity and that ‘counter insurgency is a murky business’, not for the squeamish (‘FATA is not about eating Muesli’, Daily Times, July 3), but such blatant demonstrations of ineptitude are far worse, even for the squeamish, since they can only serve to embolden the terrorists and compound the difficulties for the future, whether for military operations or negotiations.

For somebody like this author, familiar with both sides of the picture, I can only conclude by adding that this operation demonstrates why our intelligence agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to find collaborators like Haji Namdar, even though the vast majority of Mehsuds and Wazirs do not support the growth of Taliban. Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur, if they are collaborating, are doing so because there has been a growing distrust amongst the Wazirs of the Mehsud tribe under Baitullah.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

Source: Daily Times, 5/7/2008


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