A COIN strategy for Pakistan

People are again demanding a settlement, despite the TTP killing innocent civilians and targeting the military.

Shaukat Qadir July 07, 2011
A COIN strategy for Pakistan

Counter-insurgency, or COIN, is a comprehensive strategy and not really a military one. An insurgency takes birth if people have one or more socio-politico-economic complaints. COIN, therefore, must seek to address these complaints. If the preceding statement is accepted, far from winning the COIN war, the military cannot even win battles. It can merely help create a favourable situation for COIN to succeed. To use the term coined by a wiser man than I, insurgents have to be ‘out-governed’ for COIN to succeed.

Two occasions come to mind when the use of force was skilfully manipulated to further the cause of a successful COIN strategy. 1) In the 1980s, even as covert negotiations with the Irish Republic Army (IRA) had been initiated, the IRA was bombing the streets of London. In fact, in 1984, the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher almost got killed. Over some years, the IRA was penetrated by Special Air Service elements and, in 1986, they successfully began to target and kill mid to mid-high level IRA leaders. The IRA leadership went underground and immediately thereafter, overt negotiations began.

IRA leaders, with a million pounds on their heads, sat across the table with the prime minister to negotiate Ireland’s future!

2) In 2009, the Uighur tribe in Urumqi, China, revolted. The revolt was suppressed violently, killing 150-odd, and wounding as many more. The international community decried the violation of human rights to no avail. However, the provincial political leadership met the elders of the Uighur tribe within days of this occurrence to obtain a list of their grievances, which were immediately addressed. In 2010, when I visited Urumqi again, it was as if there had never been a revolt.

In both the examples above, the significant aspect is that those individuals with whom negotiations were initiated were genuine representatives of the people; the IRA of the Irish, and the Uighur elders of their tribe.

In our case, when there is an outcry for negotiations, who is the government of Pakistan supposed to negotiate with? The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are terrorists who are attempting to obtain political space through the use of violence. They do not represent the aspirations of any people, not even a tribe! And yet, it would be pointless to deny that, just as in the case of Swat in 2008, the public is again beginning to demand a negotiated settlement and, despite the fact that the TTP is ruthlessly killing innocent civilians as well as targeting military installations, there is a slow but steady increase in the support for extremists! Why?

The answer is obvious; a complete disillusionment with the current political leadership across the board; a total lack of governance. From the public point of view, the government is totally subservient to the evil designs of the US and indifferent to the needs of the people. The spiralling cost of living, loadshedding, water shortage — just about everything is multiplying the miseries of the common man.

An increasing number of analysts are predicting a revolution in Pakistan. In my view, that is not very likely. Our tolerance for injustice is considerably higher than that of the Middle East. However, were it to occur, the essential difference between the genuine revolts in Arab countries in search of a representative government and the revolt in Pakistan, in my assessment, is that the one in Pakistan might well throw up Islamic extremists, unlike what happened in the Arab world.

It is for this reason that a comprehensive COIN strategy is becoming an imperative. Our military successes in Swat and South Waziristan Agency are meaningless if the vacuum of governance is not swiftly filled, and it continues to remain at a standstill to date!

If this remains incomprehensible to the central government, it is to be hoped that the provincial government(s) can respond to this most urgent requirement.

There should be no doubt that we are at war with the TTP and that the TTP must be defeated militarily. However, this cannot happen unless the reason for increasing support for extremism ends, which is achievable only through improved governance in all respects.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2011.


R S JOHAR | 13 years ago | Reply

A good article by the writer. I have emphasised in my several comments on ET that Pak Army has not so far employed COINS strategy which is essential to win war against deadly terrorist outfit like TTP and this tactical term is well understood by the military forces. The military could not really achieve its aim since it did not achieve the most important tactics in COINS ie surprise by announcing the commencement of the operations in 2009 and then allowing the militants a safe haven rather than sealing their escape routes and eliminating them using hammer and anvil strategy. I agree with the writer that TTP must be defeated but dont undermine the friendly assets who may change tack and join their brothers in arms one day to persue their mission of ruling this country.

Nazir Habib | 13 years ago | Reply

COIN is absolutely neccessary for Pakistan and is as essential as water to drink and survive. To quote the late founder of the ex-BCCI; Mr. Agha Hassan Abedi:

"A clear perception and a clean instinct."

To quote the ex-President of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela:

"A strong mind and a strong heart make a formidable combination."

Unless we don't recognize and possess these two faculties that can be simply translated as "NIYAT," we are in for the long haul of instability. Please accept my Salams.

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