ANALYSIS: New dimensions of counter-terrorism óDr Hasan-Askari Rizvi
A major shift has taken place in the disposition of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies towards the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban in January-February 2010. Some of the well known Afghan Taliban leaders and TTP activists have been arrested in different cities, especially from Karachi
Pakistan has gone a long way in countering terrorism over the last one year. Its civilian government and the military top brass are in harmony on dealing effectively with the Taliban and other groups that are directly challenging the writ of the Pakistani state.
The army authorities have shown greater determination to deal firmly with Islamic militants despite periodic pressures generated on the security personnel by Islamic parties and orthodox Islamic clerics who question the legitimacy of these operations and accuse the Pakistani civilian and military authorities of fighting against Pakistanis at the behest of the US.
Pakistanís counter-terrorism security operations, 2009-2010, have four major features. First, the Swat/Malakand operation initiated on April 26, 2009, was the first successful attempt by the Pakistan Army, the Air Force and the paramilitary forces to dislodge the Taliban from a vast territory. The security operation in South Waziristan was launched in mid-October and by the end of December the security forces had knocked the Taliban out of most of South Waziristan. This was a major loss for the TTP that used South Waziristan as its headquarters and provided military training to its fighters as well as to the activists of some militant groups from mainland Pakistan. It had also developed elaborate facilities for training suicide bombers. As the spring season sets in, the Pakistani military will step up its activities to establish its control on the rest of South Waziristan.
Second, the army and its affiliates are now fighting the TTP activists and other militant groups that have created enclaves in other tribal agencies. The focus is on Khyber, Orakzai, Mohmand, Kurram and Bajaur Agencies. There have been pitched battles between the security forces and different militant groups in these Agencies where the militants had established vast underground security networks and training centres and collected weapons. The security forces have made considerable gains but the militant challenge continues to be formidable.
Third, the intelligence agencies have discovered strong linkages between various militant groups in Punjab and the TTP. Invariably, the former acted as facilitators for the suicide bombers in the urban areas and their activists got training in the tribal areas. Pakistanís security agencies arrested a large number of the activists of the Punjab-based militant groups in order to weaken their linkages with the TTP. This partly disrupted the terrorism chain that linked Punjab with the tribal areas.
Fourth, a major shift has taken place in the disposition of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies towards the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban in January-February 2010. Some of the well known Afghan Taliban leaders and TTP activists have been arrested in different cities, especially from Karachi. According to one source, more than half of the Quetta Shura has been arrested in February-March. The media reported the arrest of Mullah Omarís son-in-law from Karachi on March 3. This is a major revision of Pakistanís policy because until recently its security authorities denied any significant presence of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.
Pakistanís tough approach towards the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban is the product of the down-to-earth analysis of the growing Taliban threat by Pakistanís security authorities and the increased interaction between the top brass of the Pakistan Army and the US military authorities dealing with this region during the last six months. This interaction was backed up by active diplomatic interaction between the two countries.
Until 2009, the army top brass were not fully convinced that they should opt for a full-fledged and sustained security operation against the local Taliban. The civilian authorities were also divided on this. However, the army authorities were alarmed by the ability of the Taliban to control most of Swat and their refusal to moderate their ways even after the NWFP government agreed to implement the Shariah-based judicial system in Swat. The Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of Sufi Muhammad showed greater defiance and the Taliban began to expand their domain to the adjoining areas. The spectre of the Taliban advancing into mainland Pakistan emboldened the hard-line Islamic clerics and groups in the cities who began to harass women and others in the name of Islam. Furthermore, several terrorist attacks in Lahore and other cities in February-April of last year created a crisis of credibility for the government.
The fear of losing credibility in the face of the Taliban onslaught led the civilian government and the army to put their foot down vis-ŗ-vis the Taliban and other militant elements. Their counter-terrorism operations strengthened their resolve to dislodge the Taliban because they faced tough resistance from the Taliban and the army and the paramilitary forces lost over 200 personnel in Swat/Malakand and the tribal areas in 2009. They also realised that the Taliban had created a strong military infrastructure with tunnels, weapons storage and training areas in South Waziristan, Bajaur and other tribal areas. The army also discovered some evidence of foreign support to the Pakistani Taliban. Also, the Taliban-backed suicide attacks during October-December of last year, in various cities, especially in Peshawar, convinced the security authorities that the Taliban want chaos and anarchy in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies are now taking action against the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban because they found out that the Afghan Taliban were helping the Pakistani Taliban in their fight against Pakistan. The military wants to convey a clear message to the Afghan Taliban that if they help those fighting the Pakistan Army, then Pakistanís security authorities have the capacity to make their life difficult. Further, the Pakistan Army and intelligence authorities want to tell the Afghan Taliban that they cannot be allowed to threaten Pakistanís interests in the tribal areas and Afghanistan.
These arrests are also meant to help the US because Pakistan wants the current US-led NATO operation to succeed in Afghanistan. Pakistan cannot afford to let the Afghan Taliban capture power in Kabul, although it would like more effective Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, including accommodation of the Taliban that are willing to give up the military option.
Pakistanís cooperation with the current US policy in Afghanistan is based on the assumption that the US military authorities in the region recognise Pakistanís security sensitivities about Indiaís role in Afghanistan and Indiaís pressure on the eastern border. The other consideration is that the US would contribute to upgrading Pakistanís capacity to fight the Taliban in the tribal areas. If these understandings persist, Pakistan is expected to continue with the current counter-terrorism policy.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst