7 years, 11 months ago
One month ago at the beginning of the Pakistan offensive against the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province, the Pakistan Army claimed that the offensive would take approximately one week. We responded that the Pakistan Army, regardless of whether they had the will to conduct counterinsurgency operations, didn’t understand how to, adding that:
The Taliban would simply melt away, wait for the Pakistan Army to leave, and then re-enter the area and kill anyone who cooperated with the Army. Or if they stand and fight, the history of the Pakistan Army indicates that they will simply pull back and sign a new peace deal.
No concept of clear, hold and build. No concept of staying in the area and providing security. No concept of intelligence driven raids, learning the population and enabling them to resist the Taliban, no concept at all of modern counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures.
As a matter of fact, the Tehrik-i-Taliban have slipped away.
The Pakistani military warned today that the house-to-house combat its troops are fighting in the Swat Valley’s capital would not be a decisive battle against the Taliban insurgency in the area, saying militants had slipped out of the city to fight another day.
The army has secured more than 50 percent of Mingora, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the military’s chief spokesman, told ABC News, but he said fighters are “withdrawing from the city.” “The fighting is not as stiff as it could be. It appears that the last ditch battle will not be there,” Abbas said.
Pakistani officials say the fighting in Swat and across three districts in the volatile northwest is for Pakistan’s very “existence.” The military has failed to finish this same battle twice before, and there is a widespread sense that if it fails again, and if the administration fails to fill the governance vacuums that helped the Taliban spread, they will never again enjoy the level of popular support that this operation has.
But that support will be tested in the next few weeks and months as more than 2 million internally displaced Pakistanis from the northwest begin to get anxious to return to their homes, aid workers say.
The fighting has created the largest population exodus since Rwanda in 1994, and with the vast majority of the displaced living in friends’ or families’ homes, aid workers warn that their patience will begin to fade. Many of them are already losing their only source of income: crops, which are supposed to be harvested this month and are rotting as the fighting prevents many people from returning to their farms.
“People are really getting frustrated. The support they’re getting is not what they should be getting,” says Amjad Jamal, who works with the World Food Program in Islamabad.
Another aid worker, who declined to be identified, said too much of the relief was going to camps and not enough was going to homes where the displaced are often straining already cramped quarters and pinched pocketbooks.
“The villages outside of the camps have received almost zero aid from anyone,” the aid worker said. “Some people are saying they’re going to throw strikes in the street.”
So if the Pakistan Army never intended to stay and conduct stability operations and provide security from the Taliban for the population in Swat, based on the ill feelings from the rotting of the crops, the displacement of two million residents, and loss of income, it would have been better had the operation never been conducted.
But if the Pakistan Army can snap out of its neurotic preoccupation with India to see the real threat and stay to conduct counterinsurgency in Swat, something may still be gained out of this campaign after all. Time will tell, but the answer will depend upon the will of the Army and administration to do what needs to be done.