Army operation in Karachi: Some pointers

Letter August 28, 2011
The militants in urban warfare are formidable opponents and they could pose a challenge to the army.

KARACHI: The army may eventually be called in as a last resort to save Karachi — and thus save Pakistan. But if it does that, will it have a plan? Those familiar with the way the military works know quite well that nothing that the army does is sudden and instant. There are contingency plans for all eventualities and threats, especially where the security and survival of the state is at stake. The deteriorating situation in Karachi is one such threat.

Operating in the streets of Karachi for the maintenance of law and order is not new to the army, in that it has done this before. Going by how it operated in the same city in the early 1990s, it is safe to assume that it will not commit the mistakes of the past. We should not forget that the “enemies of the state”(and there are many) want the military to be operationally deployed in the streets of Karachi, where they would bleed and defeat the army using such urban warfare advantages like surprise, mobility, stealth, knowledge of terrain(entry/exit routes) and hit-and-run tactics.

The militants in urban warfare are formidable opponents and they could pose a challenge to the army. However, the latter can convert these challenges into opportunities if it employs the appropriate military doctrine to meet this challenge. It is in this context that a large-scale deployment of army personnel becomes unnecessary. Discreet deployment and surprise operations with result-oriented engagements are the way forward to beat back the growing militancy in the streets of Karachi.

“Let’s hit them before they hit us”, “let’s do it to them before they do it to us”, can be the guiding principles on which the military should base its operational strategy to fight against militants in Karachi. Squads of highly trained men Special Services Group (SSG) commandos will have to be discreetly posted in or near all the troubled areas in Karachi. Acting on receiving confirmed intelligence they should move in to conduct operations. The police, army and rangers should provide cover and help them in their extrication, if needed. Of course, this presumes reliable and authentic information — to be done by the intelligence agencies — an element of surprise and immediate execution of operations using such information.

Similarly, the deployment of SSG along with police commandos — in plain clothes — in the streets of Karachi is also essential to take on the armed thugs riding motorcycles and spreading fear and terror amongst the population. This way the forced closure of shops by the armed gangs will at least be challenged and public confidence could be restored to some extent.

Any army operation built around widely dispersed deployment of regular troops in the streets of Karachi will be very difficult to execute.

Lt-col (retd) Muhammad Ali Ehsan

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th,  2011.