A new direction in strategy?

Published: December 26, 2013
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The writer is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Pakistan Army and is currently pursuing PhD in civil-military relations from Karachi University

The writer is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Pakistan Army and is currently pursuing PhD in civil-military relations from Karachi University

Let this be read and understood as a clear policy guideline and a military commander’s declaration of his military intent. The first policy statement on the all-important issue of the war on terror by the new army chief reflects on how the army in Fata will now fight under his leadership. Visiting the Corps Headquarters Peshawar on December 21, the army chief declared that the “military will not tolerate terror attacks and effective response will be given to the terrorists”.

A clear decision seems to have now been made about the circumstances under which the army will retaliate. With no breakthrough in the peace process and in the absence of a clear political commitment for initiation of a military operation, the deployed army in Fata cannot afford to act like a sitting duck.

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With a change in the leadership of the army, will its strategy and method to fight this irregular war also change? This was an important question that irritated many minds. The clear deterrent message by the COAS suggests that the army, which so far was fighting a war of containment, will now respond with devastating retaliation every time terrorists attack it, something it has already proven by initialling the recent military action in North Waziristan.

Over the years, military deterrence faded away as our policymakers juggled with the prospect of holding peace talks with militants. The short-sighted policymaking that has been more tilted and focused on creating an environment for holding dialogue seldom took into account the prolonged deployment and the resultant vulnerability of our army. Resultantly, more troops of the army lost lives in defending against targeted attacks and ambushes than attacking and conducting combat operations against militants.

An army that was reluctant to retaliate to the killing of its serving general officer commanding in the recent past has hit back against those who targeted and killed five of its soldiers in an attack on a military check post in North Waziristan on December 18. If this is not a sign of the changed military doctrine, courtesy its change of leadership, then what else is?

What the army failed to achieve under the combined leadership of General Musharraf and General Kayani was to consistently degrade the enemy and weaken its capabilities. The current warning and retaliatory response by the army speaks of a renewed resolve in this regard. Retaliation against militants is not an initiation of a military operation. It amounts to implementing a different military strategy in an ongoing operation.

Launching an announced military operation will, in any case, create multiple spillover effects. There will be a large-scale political backlash by the right-wing parties led by PTI Chairman Imran Khan. He is already referring to the current retaliation by the army as the initiation of an army operation and asking the government to “take control and bear responsibility for any planned military operation in North Waziristan”. Accusing the government of “abandoning the All Parties Conferences- mandated option of dialogue”, Imran Khan’s statements are a reflection of our long-held political bankruptcy on reaching a consensus and giving a thumbs-up to the army to launch a military operation. Retaliation by the army is a militarily legitimate action, unlike an announced military operation that warrants political legitimacy.

It is up to the new COAS now to live up to his words. Having spoken them at an appropriate time, he has put himself on the spot. In the coming few days, we will all be able to judge the new ‘sipah salar’. Does his action speak louder than his words? Time will tell.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • bilafond
    Dec 27, 2013 - 10:58AM

    Lets wait and see

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  • usman786
    Dec 27, 2013 - 11:21AM

    Had Tariq Khan made the COAS, thing would be different? Many people are there to just complete their tenure and do nothing as inefficency goes unchecked

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  • Lal Din Meerasi
    Dec 27, 2013 - 3:18PM

    I am sure the author understands difference between strategy, plan, and tactics. Minor alterations indicate tactical shift and it is too early to make a judgment. I am not a defense policy analyst neither do I believe in handling national matters in a ruthless manner, but enough is enough, and Pakistan needs to move beyond indecisive stage.
    Once a while, I feel like that we gave the religious zealots a little too much freedom. Had political compromises not been on the agenda, and someone would have carefully listened to civil-military bureaucrats during the early years, or carefully read the 1954 Punjab Inquiry Committee Report, things might have not gone that out of hand. Anyway time has come that we have to stand for our national survival, peel off our dogmatic views and shelve them for ever. National interest and international movements do not compliment each other rather crosscut. European experience of state formation teaches a lot.

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  • nrmr44
    Dec 27, 2013 - 10:31PM

    ” …. the army …. will now respond with devastating retaliation every time terrorists attack it”.

    Since the Army will only “respond” to an attack, and the terrorists will attack from a position of strength and then vanish, we can expect that the righteous fury of the Army will fall on the civilians in the area. That may make the American drone attacks look like missions of mercy.

    But no! Perhaps the Army will launch a proactive campaign to root out the terrorists from the countryside. May be the training manuals left behind by the Russians will come in handy.

    Just my imagination, I am sure, but did I just hear someone someone say “What goes around comes around”?

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  • Rex Minor
    Dec 29, 2013 - 3:32AM

    A straight talk in the article by the author who spent his useful life time in the military, taking orders and giving orders. One must know more about the enemy than about ones self to be able to avoid defeat, is the ancient golden rule. His article as well as rhe narrative of the newly decorated 4 star General does not indicate any awareness of the waziri tribesmen who have defeated the highly trained foreign force who ventured to use force against them. Pakistan army and those who have now retired should demonstrate maturity as the 4 star General Macchrystal demonstrated after his contact with the Afghan tribesmen. There is only one option for the Pakistan military who want to venture what the foreign forces could not is to appease or risk the rise of 60 million tribesmen causing the break down of the union of KPK with Pakistan. Have a good start in 2014!.

    Rex Minor

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