The Peshawar school attack has shaken Pakistani society to the core. It also represents one of the most horrific incidents in a brutal insurgency against the Pakistani state and civil society by the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP is a loose coalition of militant groups, mainly comprised of tribal areas of Pakistan, particularly from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the extreme northwest, who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, these groups crossed the border and started engaging Pakistani military units deployed in the Tribal Areas as part of Pakistan’s U.S. alliance obligations. After 2004, these engagements grew into a domestic insurgency, with heavy fighting and significant military losses in the Tribal Areas and the Swat Valley. The TTP coalition was formed in 2007 after red mosque incident. The Pakistani military, in response to both domestic and international pressure, recently launched large-scale multiservice offensive operations, Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber one in an effort to destroy all insurgent bases in North Waziristan and Khyber agency which are quiet effective in destroying TTP strongholds. The wide extent of militant cooperation in the tribal areas has complicated matters for the Pakistani military intelligence agency to gather information and partners. Still Pakistani security forces are doing well in the clearing operations.
The army has reacted very strongly after Peshawar attack. The Pakistani military carried out dozens of airstrikes and ground operations in a remote part of northwestern Pakistan. The Pakistani military claimed that in less than three days of the Peshawar incident, 119 militants were killed in the FATA– 62 in ground operations and 57 in air strikes. Upon pressures from the military forces, the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif has also lifted a moratorium on death penalty. It shows that Pak Army the most respected and powerful institution in the country is willing to finish out this domestic Taliban menace forever now. The army has been facing many difficulties in conducting effective counter-insurgency operations even though it has deployed more than 150,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA, and has suffered over 15,700 casualties, including over 5,000 dead since 2008. This is because of counterinsurgency campaigns of army have to overcome following challenges:-
Lack of Local Know How – Most soldiers deployed in the tribal areas know little about the demographic structures, topography, and local language, and thus are widely seen as an occupying force in the Pashtun society.
Inexperience in Fighting Guerilla War -The Pakistan army’s training and doctrine are largely informed by the country’s historical experience of fighting three wars with India in 1947, 1965, and 1971 and thus place a heavy emphasis on conventional war preparedness. This has made Islamabad largely incapable of fighting a protracted insurgency in the FATA – a tribal region where the central government has historically had minimal control, and thus delegated power to the tribal leaders.
Poor Command Structure– Pakistan army’s weak counterinsurgency campaigns are further compounded by the poor structure of its paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC). The FC soldiers are primarily drawn from the tribal areas, and thus are familiar with the local culture and terrain. This could make them an ideal counterinsurgent force. However, the FC is not a regular military force, and its training and preparedness focus on patrolling the frontiers and fighting cross-border smuggling. As a result, fighting insurgency and militancy have largely been alien to the FC personnel. When deployed for counterinsurgency purposes, along with Pakistani military forces, the FC has lacked the leadership and equipment, and demonstrated poor performance against the Taliban insurgents.
Lack of Credible Intelligence– Poor intelligence collection and coordination has added more challenges to Pakistan’s war on terrorism. Put simply, the army acquired strategic intelligence about the TTP’s possible intentions but it lacked any actionable intelligence on the potential targets. The problem of intelligence coordination is also evident in the overlapping responsibilities of the civilian-run Intelligence Bureau or the Federal Investigative Agency, and the military-controlled Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, widely known as the ISI. While each of the three agencies has some counterterrorism intelligence related tasks, there is no effective coordination among their collection and analytical efforts. The problem is further complicated as religious extremists in Pakistan operate with various names, making it hard for the agencies to monitor them.
Lack of Coordination among civil and military establishments– Another big problem in countering insurgency is Pakistan’s civil and military establishments are so divided over the issue. The politicians have a number of reasons for leaving the fight against the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) to the army alone. Privately, government ministers argue that the army’s total control of security policy means it is unreasonable for the generals to expect the civilians to take responsibility for what the army decides to do. The politicians are anyway deeply suspicious of an army that has frequently mounted coups to overthrow elected governments. The current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was kicked out of power, put in a dungeon and then exiled by the last military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Mr Sharif believes that despite his overwhelming popular mandate the army has never accepted his political comeback in 2013 and is once again plotting to remove him from power.
It would be a miracle if all political parties and the military, along with its intelligence services, end up on the same page in tackling the Taliban insurgency. All the stakeholders in Pakistan should understand that countering militancy and violent extremism will remain the country’s overriding security goal. Only concerted army operations launched with single-mindedness of purpose can stop the TTP juggernaut. Pakistan army has to rework on its strategy against Taliban in every aspect like- Intelligence gathering, finishing out the Taliban ideological base, dealing every militant outfit with the same way only then the desired results can be achieved.
The author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency www.viewsaround.com can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org