In retrospect, the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940 is seen as a turning point in the Second World War, signalling as it did, the marshalling of British spirit in the war effort. At the time, though it was used for propaganda purposes to revive flagging British spirits, the retreat could be seen as nothing but an admission of German superiority. As Winston Churchill remarked at the time, when asked about the Dunkirk victory, “We can’t afford many more victories like this”.
With its long lens, history has a way of turning defeats into victory. Just a couple of years after the Dunkirk retreat, the British had held off the Germans in the Battle of Britain and the trajectory of the war had forever changed. Never has the hoary phrase of losing battles but winning the war been more apt than in the case of Dunkirk.
This is a lesson that we would do well to absorb. Even as we continue to celebrate battles that have been won, the wider war still rages and could end up being lost if we remain nostalgic for past victories without adapting to new realities.
Take the example of Maulana Fazlullah and his band of marauders. In 2009, he was successfully expelled from Swat and had to flee the country, seeking refuge in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Swat is a legitimate success story for the military. An area that had been overrun by militants was brought back into the fold of the state.
But the fight against militancy is not solely about Swat; the ultimate aim should be the total defeat of the assorted groups that form the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Clearing and holding Swat was a considerable achievement but it is now time to shift the spotlight to Dir.
The recent attack on a checkpost in Dir, which originated in Afghanistan from a safe haven of the TTP is only the latest example of how the battlegrounds have shifted in the war and how our tactics must change along with that. Fazlullah has been focusing on Dir ever since he was forced to flee Pakistan and even managed to reduce the influence of the local TTP commander in the area, Hafizullah, thanks to his own lieutenant. In addition to the Taliban of Swat and the TTP, the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad also maintains significant influence in Dir, which is the home of the group’s founder Maulana Sufi Muhammad.
At first blush, the obvious solution to the Dir problem would seem to be a massive military operation. The logistics of an operation aside, that would simply mean fighting a new battle with old tactics. In April 2009, the military announced an operation in Dir and a year later declared it a resounding success. Doing the same thing again would be futile since it does not take into account Fazlullah’s presence in Afghanistan.
Rather, Pakistan could throw an Afghan tactic back at Hamid Karzai by loudly demanding at every world forum that his government stop sheltering terrorists who are hell-bent on waging war against us. Pakistan has ceded too much space in the propaganda war, allowing justified complaints about our inaction against the Haqqani Network drown out our equally justified beef against the Afghan government for not particularly caring about the presence of Pakistani Taliban on their soil.
Maybe we can even reach a deal with Afghanistan. Whatever action they take against Pakistani Taliban could be reciprocated by equal action against the Haqqani Network. Giving up whatever influence we would like to have in a post-US Afghanistan would be worth the price if it meant defeating militants who have decided to regroup in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2012.
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