Kamra attack — so who is our real enemy?

Letter August 16, 2012
This attack is a reminder that this war is very much our own and we will not win it unless we don’t fight it

KARACHI: This is with reference to the attack by militants on the PAF Kamra airbase. The air force did well to fight the militants and stop them from causing any major damage to the base. The fact that the militants could not penetrate the defence and were defeated sends a good message to the planners and executers of these attacks: that ‘we are prepared no matter when and with what force you come’.

Can we now as a nation decide who our real enemy is? Is it not time that we decided that this is our war and not a war thrust on us by the Americans? Unfortunately, the military strategy adopted by our armed forces has been too open-ended. For the last ten years the army has set no realistic goals or time limits for meeting the targets which could translate into comprehensive victory or defeat. All that the army can claim is that it has managed to disrupt the Taliban, which in military terms means degrading their capacity to launch organised attacks. Even this is not true, as the current attack on Kamra indicates: disrupting the Taliban has, at best, only caused them to scatter. Now they have hideouts/ cells/networks all over the country and can plan and execute attacks at will.

If we have to succeed in the war against terror the army has to review its military strategy to fight the Taliban. And it must include in its mission statement the following: “Dismantle and destroy the Taliban as a force.” The state and the government must also support and provide the political will and legitimacy to our armed forces to redirect its strategy to combat the militancy being proliferated by the Taliban. The army cannot afford to allow the war on terror to amble along aimlessly and without a clear-cut purpose because the militants will not stop targeting its interests. Besides, with every attack and even partial success, fingers will be raised on the army’s professional abilities and competence, this it cannot afford.

Furthermore, the initiation of army operations in North Waziristan may not necessarily guarantee victory in the war on terror but the inability and unwillingness of the army to do this is surely a guarantee of failure/defeat. Destroying safe heavens in Fata is central to the military making any headway in the war on terror. The Swat operation cost the army $2.5 billion while the war in Afghanistan is costing America at least $50 billion a year. With all this money spent, the results on ground are not as encouraging as military planners both in the US and Pakistan would like them to be.

The Pakistan army also needs to seriously plan a counter-terrorism effort, and for this the Americans need to support our army and ensure that it is not under-resourced as it goes ahead to implement its plan. Nothing will work unless the border is controlled.  For this US will have to come forward with an actionable plan on the Afghan side of the border that supports the Pakistan army’s effort.

Attacks like the one on Kamra are only a reminder to the armed forces, the public and their elected representatives that this war is very much our own and we will not win it unless we don’t fight it.

Lt-Col. (retd) Muhammad Ali Ehsan

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.