New people, old stories, same lament

We know them well. We know how it is done. We have the resources to do what must begin forthwith

Shahzad Chaudhry February 03, 2023
The writer is a political, security and defence analyst. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at [email protected]

By 2006, when I retired from the PAF, Pakistan had begun to be slowly sucked into the brewing inferno in Afghanistan. Till then we were only a logistic pathway for forces of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Limited operational activity restricted to ensuring outflows from Afghanistan — Al Qaeda and the Taliban — remained geographically confined. The TTP grew later when the hosts turned symapthisers turned militants from the tribal regions of Pakistan became active participants in the Afghan war. Ethnic and familial bonding helped as did the religious similarity. Their common purpose slowly evolved to target Pakistani state frequently for being a purported ally in Afghans’ war with the US. Militancy and terror as a phenomenon made a subtle entry into Pakistan’s social fabric.

In 2006 I moved to Sri Lanka where another war was brewing. I spent my tenure in Colombo under the shadow of Sri Lanka’s first full-fledged war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). My predecessor in Colombo had been targeted by the LTTE and was lucky to survive the ambush; his ambassadorial car gutted. Saner elements from the regular specialist stream of the Foreign Office forego the posting for it to fall into military’s lap. The war is long over and sociopolitical and economic environment far changed for it to now revert to specialist care, but tradition prevails. By the end of 2008 when I returned, the bell had finally and comprehensively tolled for the world’s fiercest and deadliest terror group, the LTTE.

Back home, my passion for doing something more (I was only 56 then) included dallying in academic pursuits had me writing, speaking and teaching. Private electronic Media was relatively new and hungry for voices. The 2008 Mumbai attack and the 2009 attack on the touring Sri Lankan Cricket team provided a backdrop for a security focus which was intensely and frequently debated in the Media. Relations with India, where Composite Dialogue process had stalled, were critical to the future of the region and found frequent mention. The 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan team was an effort to isolate Pakistan from international Cricket. We bayed and bawled adding to the clamour with befitting anger even as we mourned our losses with overt angst. 2011 was bad year for Pakistan. Osama-bin-Laden was found and taken out in May. An IMU-Afghan Combo terror group attacked Navy’s Mehran Air Base in Karachi. The US attack on Salala in November, whatever it grew out of, was even more heinous when it massacred regular Pakistani troops in what the US termed was a Turkey shoot. There was a lot to do on the media as terror and a war found root.

The attack on Kamra Base in 2012 had RAW written all over it as had been at Mehran. The IMU-Afghan Combo knew what to hit as an assigned task — likely at a rewarding price. What they selectively targeted was only of concern to India with no role, whatsoever, in counter-terror operations. It beat the trend of typical terror attacks, customized to a client’s needs. These were meant to dwindle Pakistan’s warfighting potential. It also widened the front of Pakistan’s internal engagement in the war against a home-made insurgency.

The 2008 operation in Swat grew out of inspired efforts to carve a Sharia-based Islamic Republic and expand the boundaries of havens enjoyed by the fugitive groups from Afghanistan. If indeed they could force the government of a nuclear-powered Pakistan to submit under the threat of terror it could exponentially boost their prospects in their war against the infidel. This expedition of the rebels in Swat had to be put down at any cost. It was crushed. That they mutated from mere hosts to Taliban groups to something greatly more insidious meant that war within Pakistan was now fully rooted. It led to a wider operation in the next phase called Rah-e-Raast (The straight and narrow) — we believed some could still be turned around if pushed sufficiently. It also constrained the base of the Afghan Taliban from the wider FATA Agency into a sliver in North Waziristan with arguable success.

2014 brought home the need to shed an inherent, reactionary passiveness pervading most in the political government who had outsourced the war to its military. Two attacks changed that disposition. First, the same IMU-Taliban Combo which had tested Pakistan earlier attacked Karachi airport and announced to the world the reach and depth of its ugliness. The military, at this point, wanted an all-of-the-nation approach to fight out the menace with a common will. Instead, PM Nawaz Sharif dithered and succumbed to the notion of appeasing the angry sentiment of those he felt had gone astray. In November though, when the TTP massacred our children at the APS the die was cast.

It may already have been too late given the scale and the nature of the loss but Zarb-e-Azb was launched. Over a sustained period of the war the lands of Pakistan were cleansed of the menace that had haunted the minds and moods of the people. In symbolic terms the war was won. The terror outfits regrouped across the border and for some time were restrained to gradually assimilate in Afghan Taliban’s own war against the US. August 2021 brought the Afghan Taliban their due return while the TTP was left pondering its own prospects.

Peshawar was thus an announcement of their arrival if many smaller attacks across KP weren’t already sufficient evidence of their nasty presence. They seemed to have rebuilt and reactivated older alliances and nexuses which now haunts our collectively amnesiac memory. They are back to franchising services to patrons and clients and have relentlessly attacked the Chinese to desist them from their presence in Pakistan, and slow if not halt CPEC. They may already have been partially successful. We have dithered in the meanwhile whether to appease and rehabilitate those who ‘look and seem good’. Some were freed from the prisons and some given a passage back. All at a great cost. It is a losing battle as Peshawar informs. Pakistan needs to be cleaned out again.

We know them well. We know how it is done. We have the resources to do what must begin forthwith. Policy, structures and operational infrastructure needs to be reinstituted. APEX Committees are a key and must be immediately and functionally restored. An NCOC type operational headquarters in the affected provinces is a good way to optimally use the effort and ensure each side did its bit. There is no time to cry and wail. It is time to get to work. Again. And just to remind, General Patton famously said, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his”. Action more than words will count.


Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2023.

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