Defeating Fazlullah

Published: November 1, 2012
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The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

Ever since the horrific attack on Malala Yousufzai in Swat, we have been told that this inhumane attempted murder may represent a turning point in the war against militancy. This is usually a prelude to a plea for the military to launch a massive operation in North Waziristan. The attack on Malala may indeed be a watershed but one that forces us to look beyond our own borders. The government has finally, about two years too late, realised that Maulana Fazlullah, the head of the Swati Taliban, is still a threat that needs to be eliminated and that his presence in Afghanistan is a slap in the face to those who thought the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had been routed in Swat.

Our response has been to demand that the Afghanistan government and Isaf take care of our Fazlullah problem. As welcome as that would be, relying on the benevolence of foreign powers who may not share the same security concerns as us is problematic. Just as we refuse to go after the Haqqani network, using the reason that they do not pose as much of a threat to us as the TTP, so Afghanistan and the US have pressing problems of their own, which do not include the man who earned the moniker of Mullah Radio.

Instead, it would be wiser if the military took matters into its own hands and tried to choke off Fazlullah and his men. Around the same time as the operation in Swat, the military was fighting in Dir and, in 2010, declared the area free of militants and withdrew most of its forces. This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes we made in the war.

Fazlullah used the military withdrawal as an opportunity to start attacking targets in Dir, including politicians and the police. His targets included the ANP Senator Zahid Khan, whose brother was injured in an attack. Dir was strategically vital for Fazlullah and other Taliban leaders since it borders Swat, most of the tribal agencies and Afghanistan. Being able to move freely through Dir, allowed Fazlullah to continue inserting himself into Swat.

Now, the military needs to take back and secure Dir so that the Swati Taliban are not allowed to carry out such audacious attacks again. The fight against militancy cannot simply be restricted to one area until it is cleared, with the next target being chosen after. Any battle plan has to account for all these areas simultaneously. This was the chief problem with the original Swat operation. Partly out of concern for civilian casualties, the military announced the operation in advance. This allowed civilians to flee but also provided an escape route for the intended targets. Since the areas bordering Swat were not sufficiently protected, Fazlullah and his men were able to leave the area unharmed.

The military may have been able to hold Swat but its mission has failed. Nothing short of the capture of Fazlullah and the total rout of the Taliban should have been accepted. We sacrificed tangible long-term gains for the illusion brought by short-lived peace. Now, Malala has paid the price for such thinking. If military action is indeed the way to go, then it must be carried out with a broader strategy in mind. This will require total commitment, both in the number of troops required and the resilience of military leaders. Any less and the Taliban will simply regroup elsewhere and bide their time. Allowing that to happen again will show that we are content simply to kick the can down the road and wish our troubles away.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Javed Mohmand
    Nov 1, 2012 - 9:49PM

    I think you have little idea about Swat and Dir and how the operations were conducted and where Army is presently deployed,”Now, the military needs to take back and secure Dir‘?Dir is secure,which part of Dir you want Army to secure?There is no such thing as “Swati Taliban”.Fazal ullah has been defeated that is why he is not in this country,but in Afghanistan,he ruled an area and he is no more the ruler.Amazing that this article is on op-ed page of ET.

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  • Khan Jr
    Nov 1, 2012 - 10:04PM

    Short term solutions that backfire later on has become a habit among our Kakul-trained minds

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  • Cautious
    Nov 1, 2012 - 11:16PM

    How about a simple policy — Pakistan controls all of it’s territory, gives all of it’s citizens the same rights, and sets a zero tolerance policy for militants (homegrown or otherwise).

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  • Parvez
    Nov 2, 2012 - 12:16AM

    Your article not only reads well but it appeals to one because what you say appears to be the position on the ground.

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  • Raisuddin
    Nov 2, 2012 - 8:00AM

    So simple. I love it.

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  • Patriot
    Nov 2, 2012 - 9:53AM

    The question remains whether the incomplete Swat operation was deliberately left so or is simply a matter of sheer incompetence? Either way it is frightening for Pakistan’s common man.

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  • Defence (Phase V) Analyst
    Nov 2, 2012 - 12:37PM

    Have you ever visited Dir? What is the source of your analyses? Please cite next time because its hard to take your arguments seriously otherwise.Recommend

  • Nov 2, 2012 - 1:51PM

    So the author says forget about safe havens in Afghanistan, lets only fix things on our end. Insurgencies will linger on, grow even, as long as there are safe havens.

    Take for example the Indian experience. The safe havens still exist in Pakistan, it lingers on. What did really break the back of the insurgency was the complete closure of the Borders. This worked because the insurgents were foreigners, trained by the Pakistani army, not locals.

    That is not at all the case with Pakistan.

    1) The insurgency is a local powered instrument. The Terrorists are in Pakistan and outside. Closing of the Borders is practically impossible.

    2) Safe haven will not be touched, unless Pakistan chooses to act on the Haqqanis, which it will not do.

    So whatever operation you do will just make the Terrorists go somewhere else and come back when Pakistan pulls the troops back. They can easily mix into the population because insurgents are part of the population. They are locals, unlike the Kashmiri militants who were largely Pakistanis.

    The only way out of this mess is a quid pro quo with Afghan Govt and NATO – ‘You make sure no anti- Pakistan Terrorists take refuge on areas of your control, we’ll do the same for you on our side’.

    Blood will flow, make no mistake. Either this or complete, ever-creeping Talibanization of Pakistan.

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  • observer
    Nov 2, 2012 - 6:39PM

    @BruteForce:

    Either this or complete, ever-creeping Talibanization of Pakistan.

    It is no longer ‘Creeping’. It is now galloping. Just look at the fate of the Girls school in Lahore.

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  • Enlightened
    Nov 2, 2012 - 7:48PM

    @Patriot:
    Your apprehensions are totally valid and the same questions are in the minds of all common people living in Pakistan that what did military achieve if militants are still around, striking at their own will and killing hundreds of innocent people in areas claimed to be cleared of militants by the military. The operations launched by the military were flawed right from its commencement, without keeping any long term strategy in mind. As the author has correctly pointed out the announcement was made to public to leave the areas of operation to avoid collateral damage, a offer that was also graciously accepted by the militants who melted away quietly to the safe havens as their escape routes were not sealed which is a major tactical requirement in any counter-insurgency operation. The military then marched into these areas without encountering much opposition from the militants declaring victory and went back leaving the areas to be defended by the local militias.This military clearly adopted a faulty strategy by not holding ground cleared of the militants themselves which can only be explained by the military. As only a handful militants were killed during military operation, they came back with a vengeance in areas which were declared safe and continued their killing spree. The military needs to employ a proper strategy if it is really interested in eliminating terrorism in Pakistan otherwise situation would go from bad to worse as evident from the recent attacks on the civilians by the TTP.

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