10
June

Crushing Terrorism - National Resolve

Written By: Dr. Maria Sultan

The objective is to counter violence beyond the ethnic, political or religious lines meaning if violence is perpetuated it will be responded back with counter action on ground with a detailed and deliberate counter force action and measures in line with Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy.

“If you have to win the battle in the offensive you must reach within the enemy lines; if you reach, the battle of the offensive shall be won and the enemy ranks will flank away and if you want to win the battle of defence then you remain entrenched and do not leave your positions; the battle of defence will eventually overrun the offence.” (Major General Amir Hamza)

Pakistan’s drive to clear its territory of the terrorist elements and other non-state actors though a normative agenda on the face of it had huge physical component in the shape of Pakistan Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. The operation was prelude to the Pakistani determination to strangulate, clear, develop and reincorporate the troubled area back into Pakistani security fold. The operation was launched in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in June 2014, without any discrimination of local or foreign terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism inside Pakistan. This was stated by the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to indicate the direction and the resolve of Pakistani state to initiate the counter terrorism drive on the basis of violence experienced throughout the country. The objective is to counter violence beyond the ethnic, political or religious lines meaning if violence is perpetuated it will be responded back with counter action on ground with a detailed and deliberate counter force action and measures in line with Pakistan’s counter terrorism strategy.

Zarb-e-Azb has led to multiple success stories as the area cleared till date is over 90 percent and has resulted in the death of almost 2700 plus terrorists with the home casualty rate of approximately 300 soldiers plus. This is the first ever story of a counter terrorism operation led by the military forces anywhere in the world over such a vast area where the in-house casualty rates have been in reverse. This is to a large extent also linked to the decision of the tribal leaders and the population to move away from the area of operations and the huge sacrifices given by the Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs) to bolster the defence of the country.

In this audacious battle, the country had seen the lethality, severity and inhuman nature of attacks on the targets such as the beheading of the 23 FC personnel, the horrible attack on the Army Public School children, attack on the Karachi Airport, and other sectarian related killings. These targets were chosen to create disruption in Pakistan over four fault lines.

First and foremost; reintroducing and intensifying the sectarian divide; two, destabilizing and entrenching conflict in the start and end point of the economic corridor – the Ismaili killings in Karachi are a prelude to entrenched conflict in the Ismaili population and Zikris in Gilgit-Balitistan and Gwadar; and, spearheading the third fault line on economic grounds through economic terrorism in Karachi; and lastly the fourth fault line for creating a civil-military divide and reduce army’s grass root connections with the population.

Zarb-e-Azb has been a unique and successful operation as the evolutionary development of the military operation has been driven by correcting and responding to these threats and challenges in a comprehensive and sustained manner.

Henceforth, the main target of Zarb-e-Azb in the FATA region was to clear the area of the stronghold of terrorists to redress the cross-border challenges and to destroy terrorist hideouts in the region. This stage was successfully managed and the area was cleared – this also involved increased liaison with the local population and the Pakistani public at large to create more support for the operation.

Meanwhile, Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs) were also carried out in adjacent areas of FATA and also in the province of Balochistan and Sindh. The successful completion of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in areas such as Mir Ali, Miran Shah, Shawa, Spinwarm, Ghulam Khan, Boya, Degan, Dosali, and Ghariom indicated that the operations are essentially linked to a hybrid strategy of war being inflicted on Pakistan had strong foreign footprint and were perhaps being engineered in the form of local terrorist groups for the foreign hostile agenda. This also paved the way for Zarb-e-Azb to expand to the remote areas of Sindh and Balochistan where the terrorist cells were active and were trying to help in creating space for new recruits and diversion for the actors in the line of fire in the north of the country and mid-west.

Lastly the most important spear of the counter violence drive has been the initiation of the Karachi operation to delink and to reduce the space of political support for terrorist activities in Karachi and other areas of economic importance.

In short, while the Zarb-e-Azb has strong kinetic side of the military thrust, it is a combined hybrid operation designed to deal with the full spectrum of the threat with the key emphasis on reducing the civil-military divide and increasing the mass acceptance and support of the use of military force to eliminate the threat of terrorism from the country.

In conclusion, Operation Zarb-e-Azb is the art of the offensive as the military operations dared to reach behind enemy lines. The enemy is on the run and it shall be a true success when people of Pakistan and the armed forces of the land will entrench the defence so that the enemy onslaught is impaired forever against the resolve of the nation to defend and uphold the sovereignty and security of the people of this great country.

The writer is the Chairperson and the Director General of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) University. She is a defence analyst and a specialist in South Asian nuclear arms control and disarmament issues. She has been published widely in academic journals, news dailies and books. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
10
June

Going Home - Zarb-e-Azb & Beyond

Written By: Jennifer McKay

The displaced families of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan are going home. The massive undertaking to facilitate the return of two million Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) has begun and will gather pace in coming months.

Since 2008, there have been frequent displacements of populations from all seven agencies of FATA. Some were fleeing threats and attacks by militants, but most were moved out for their own safety prior to military operations to free FATA and Pakistan from the grip of militants. They have made their temporary homes in camps for the displaced, with host families, or in rented accommodation, in places like Tank, DI Khan, Bannu and Peshawar. Many of those displaced prior to earlier operations have since long returned home following stabilisation of their areas, but residual caseloads remained and in 2014, the number skyrocketed. The latest wave of displacement from North Waziristan Agency (NWA) brought the total FATA-displaced-population up to an estimated 310,729 families – around 2 million people – 70 percent of whom are women and children. This is a massive caseload for any country to handle. Supporting them during displacement has required substantial funding and initiatives to ensure their shelter and other needs have been met. Their return home will be an even bigger challenge.

As they restore stability and peace in FATA, Pakistan Army is working with the government and other stakeholders to facilitate the return of the communities, and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the area. Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, has constantly stated that the top priority is the early and dignified return of the TDPs and has instructed all concerned to prepare for the phased return.

The Government of Pakistan through its various ministries and departments such as the Economic Affairs Division of the Finance Ministry, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), and the FATA Secretariat, are currently focused on finalising and funding the plans for the returns, reconstruction and rehabilitation. The humanitarian community, and multilateral and bilateral donors are also engaged in the process, coordinating regularly with government authorities to support a safe and dignified return for the TDPs.

In reality, Pak Army is the only organisation that has ever conducted a large-scale reconstruction and rehabilitation program in FATA and has the extensive capacity, local knowledge, experience and expertise to carry out many of the larger projects. Their participation in this new phase is a critical component for success.

It is no easy feat to resettle 2 million people. This is a population greater than many medium size cities around the world and spread across a large and diverse region. It requires detailed and insightful planning, political will, extensive and complex coordination and logistics, and substantial funding to support the initiatives to help families rebuild their homes, restock their livestock, plant crops, restart their livelihoods and to mend the fragile economy of this extremely disadvantaged region.

Many lessons have been learned from previous resettlement projects in places like South Waziristan Agency (SWA) and elsewhere in FATA where the Army has done an enormous amount of work not only on reconstruction but also, the rehabilitation of communities and their livelihood needs. These valuable lessons will be applied to ensure maximum success in this new phase rather than re-inventing the wheel. In reality, Pak Army is the only organisation that has ever conducted a large-scale reconstruction and rehabilitation program in FATA and has the extensive capacity, local knowledge, experience and expertise to carry out many of the larger projects. Their participation in this new phase is a critical component for success.

The phased returns of the TDPs began in March 2015 with the first groups of families returning to South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies. Each family was given Rs. 25,000 as cash assistance and Rs. 10,000 as transportation expenses to assist them on their journey. Food rations for six months and a kit containing non-food items were also to be provided for each household. Children under five years of age were administered anti-polio vaccines and all children under ten years of age received measles vaccines prior to their departure for home.

The phased returns of the TDPs began in March 2015 with the first groups of families returning to South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies. Each family was given Rs. 25,000 as cash assistance and Rs. 10,000 as transportation expenses to assist them on their journey. Food rations for six months and a kit containing non-food items were also to be provided for each household. Children under five years of age were administered anti-polio vaccines and all children under ten years of age received measles vaccines prior to their departure for home.

Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, accompanied by COAS General Raheel Sharif, visited Mir Ali in NWA earlier in May 2015 to meet the troops, review the progress of Zarb-e-Azb, and to meet with the families who had recently returned home. The Prime Minister assured them that all possible would be done to help them re-establish their lives, and also to protect them. He also thanked the troops for their courage, sacrifices and their contribution to the future peace and stability of Pakistan.

In some parts of FATA like South Waziristan, where peace has been restored, schools, colleges and vocational training institutes with good facilities, constructed by the Pakistan Army for the communities, are thriving. Attendance is high and the students are doing well. It would seem sensible to replicate what has already been successful not only in education, but many of the other reconstruction and rehabilitation projects implemented by the Army in FATA, in this next phase.

To ensure that all possible is done for the TDPs, the FATA Secretariat has taken a lead role in coordinating the efforts for the government. It has established the FATA Rehabilitation & Reconstruction Unit (RRU) as a ‘one-window’ facility to oversee and manage the process, formulate policies, strategies and guidelines, and coordinate with all stakeholders.

Since its inception, the FATA RRU has worked closely with all the key stakeholders from the various arms of government and the Army’s TDP Secretariat from Peshawar Corps (established as the ‘one-window’ Army liaison office), and the humanitarian and donor community.

Ensuring their dignified and early return is important not only for the well being of the displaced communities but for peace and stability generally. Should they be unfairly treated or the displacement drags on interminably, there is a risk of elements of militant groups attempting to lure disenchanted tribes people into joining them to replenish their dwindled numbers. This would present a dangerous scenario.

After extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the FATA Secretariat recently launched the FATA Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy, which aims to ensure the phased, dignified and sustainable return of the entire TDP population to FATA. To encourage their safe and voluntary return, this comprehensive strategy aims to establish an enabling environment in their place of origin. While there has been considerable effort in the past to organize TDP’s return to FATA, this is the first time that the FATA Secretariat has set out a comprehensive return and rehabilitation strategy for the entire region. FATA is one of the most underdeveloped and underprivileged regions of Pakistan so sustainable solutions for a stable and more prosperous future for the area and its people are a key priority.

The FATA Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy, developed with assistance from UNDP, comprises two components. The first is a $120 million plan focused on change through five key pillars of action over 24 months across the entire FATA: (i) rehabilitating physical infrastructure; (ii) strengthening law and order; (iii) expanding government service delivery; (iv) reactivating and strengthening the economy; and, (v) strengthening social cohesion and peace building. The larger part of the strategy is focused on the restoration of more than 105,000 damaged or destroyed houses, grants, conditional cash transfers, livelihoods, water and sanitation, education, health, agriculture, irrigation, and rehabilitation. This will require at least $800 million in funding.

The strategy was launched by the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan, before an audience of senior government officials, army, ambassadors of several large countries, heads of UN and international agencies, and multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors. The Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Lt Gen. (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, also attended the launch. The governor said in his speech, “the launch of the Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy for FATA is indeed a moment of satisfaction for all of us. The need for such a strategy has been evident for a long time and I am delighted that the launch of the strategy has coincided with my administration’s efforts to facilitate the return of the TDP families. I firmly believe that ‘rebuilding lives’ in FATA is the most important task at hand for my administration and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that we support the people of FATA to rebuild their lives in a befitting manner.”

There is no doubt that challenges ahead are enormous. If we look at how other countries have handled the return home of such a large displaced population, we can see that it is never easy and few countries have been able to do this rapidly. Pakistan has proven previously that it can be done.

Highlighting the key components of the strategy, FATA Secretary Planning and Development, Mr. Shakeel Qadir Khan, said “The strategy itself takes inspiration from the Post-crisis Needs Assessment strategy and focuses on trying to remedy the limited progress to date in the areas of governance, law and order, economic development and social cohesion. It also seeks to address pending infrastructure rehabilitation needs. This strategy is in line with the longer development plan presented in the FATA Sustainable Development Plan 2007-2015 and the reforms agenda being developed by the FRC to establish a roadmap for constitutional, institutional and legal reforms.”

This is not just a return to the way it was in FATA. The strategy is themed on a ‘build back better and smarter’ approach to improve the living conditions in FATA. This will be done through better and safer construction of homes, schools and health facilities, access to clean water and better sanitation, improved agricultural practices to enhance yields and incomes, kitchen gardens to improve food security and nutrition and provide a small income for the householders.

In early May, the RRU initiated the Housing Damages Survey in SWA. An orientation session for survey teams consisting of army units, political administration, tribal elders, and engineers from various departments was conducted and the process is now under way. Another survey is also under way in Khyber Agency. The surveys will take time but will not delay the returns.

The FATA Housing Program is perhaps the most important in the strategy. It is designed as a ‘household’ strategy to support, firstly, the rebuilding of houses through the provision of cash compensation based on whether a house was damaged or destroyed. Technical assistance from organisations like the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and academic institutions specialising in construction engineering, will be provided to ensure that houses are built to a better standard incorporating disaster risk reduction techniques. A public awareness campaign will be conducted to sensitise people to the importance of understanding risk and the need for better construction practices. Parts of FATA are in a seismic zone so this is important. The overall aim is also to strengthen resilience of families against future shocks through linking the housing program to livelihoods, skills development, alternative energy sources, and other initiatives to improve quality of life.

Returns will not be sustainable unless people are able to support themselves. Therefore, significant focus is being placed on restoration of livelihoods to ensure that people can earn a living either through small commercial enterprises or agriculture. Markets and shops will be established to provide outlets for agricultural and general products. Vocational training courses to enhance skills in various types of repairs and other marketable skills will be provided along with assistance to start small enterprises.

Farmers in FATA will be assisted by Agriculture, Livestock and Dairy Directorates with additional assistance from organisations like the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), to improve farming practices, better land management, and more resilient crop production. These initiatives will also increase the income of the farmers, and contribute to a higher level of food security and nutrition in the region. In addition, women will be trained in kitchen gardening – a link to the ‘household’ strategy – to provide food for the family and perhaps to contribute to family income.

Agriculture extension centres will help farmers restock lost animals, build animal shelters, and develop better feeding resources and practices to improve production. Backyard poultry raising will also be supported to benefit families without land for larger farming initiatives. Help will also be given in improving market structures and value chains.

The irrigation systems needed to support agriculture are in poor shape. FATA is an arid and semi-arid zone and receives little rain, so the water table is low. Some 40 percent of cultivated land depends on irrigation. FAO estimates that 370 irrigation schemes need to be rehabilitated and is in discussion with donors to fund this work. One of the most important irrigation restoration projects, the Bara River Canal Irrigation System in Khyber Agency, has the capacity to irrigate 44,972 acres of land. This is a top priority. Without the restoration of all these irrigation systems, the agricultural initiatives will falter and most likely fail.

Like most of Pakistan, energy is an issue in FATA with loadshedding which lasts up to 20 hours a day. Much of the energy infrastructure is in need of restoration and this is a priority activity along with access to clean water and sanitation. Alternative energy sources such as solar panels, micro-hydropower systems and biogas are also being initiated to overcome the energy issues in the region.

Despite the mistaken view of many, the people of FATA are keen to have their children educated. To date, the literacy rate is appallingly low, particularly for females, but there has been a shift in thinking in recent times, perhaps encouraged by what families have learned about the benefits of education during their time in displacement. The tribal communities want their children – boys and girls – to go to school and to higher grades and for some, beyond. At least 309 schools have been completely destroyed and 43 partially damaged in recent years. Restoring the schools, providing decent facilities and equipment, along with books and other learning materials, and most of all, good teachers, will be a challenge but imperative for a better future.

Again, there are already good examples to look to on how this can be done. In some parts of FATA like South Waziristan, where peace has been restored, schools, colleges and vocational training institutes with good facilities, constructed by the Pakistan Army for the communities, are thriving. Attendance is high and the students are doing well. It would seem sensible to replicate what has already been successful not only in education, but many of the other reconstruction and rehabilitation projects implemented by the Army in FATA, in this next phase.

The people of FATA deserve to be helped in any way possible. Let’s not forget what happened to these people and why military operations were necessary. Little has been spoken of what happened to those in the tribal areas who rejected the militants and their ‘invitations’ to join them, or to send their children to join them as 'child soldiers’. Refusal almost certainly meant death.

Hundreds of children – perhaps more – were taken and turned into mini-militants, taught to carry out terrorist attacks. Fortunately, many of these children have been captured by the army or turned themselves in and are now mostly safe in special programs to rebuild their lives, provide them with psychosocial counselling, education and vocational training, to help them turn away from their radicalized and traumatic past and start new lives. The people rarely talk about the past for fear that there may still be sympathisers amongst their community who may report them to the militants. During my own past visits to FATA, some have shared their stories with me but only when they were sure of their surroundings. Their stories are heart breaking and terrifying. Make no mistake about this: the militants killed many of their own people in FATA because they would not support their attempts to bring down the state. It is hard to imagine what it was like to live under such a state of threat and fear.

The joint military offensive, Zarb-e-Azb, launched on June 15, 2014, to clear North Waziristan from the menace of the various foreign and local militant groups operating there, had massive support not only from the government but ordinary civilians too, fed up with the failure of peace talks and the constant attacks on security forces and innocent civilians across the country. The operations have been successful and peace is gradually being restored but this has come at a cost. The lives of many soldiers have been lost, some have been terribly injured, and an entire population had to give up their homes and way of life to move to safety. Their return home will be hard with so much destroyed and lost.

Ensuring their dignified and early return is important not only for the well being of the displaced communities but for peace and stability generally. Should they be unfairly treated or the displacement drags on interminably, there is a risk of elements of militant groups attempting to lure disenchanted tribes people into joining them to replenish their dwindled numbers. This would present a dangerous scenario. It is not hard to understand the risk here. Years in camps and unpleasant surroundings with no means of income and few comforts could make anyone disenchanted when one has given up much for the peace of others. The country owes it to these people to ensure they do not have to remain away from their homes for longer than is necessary for their safety.

There is no doubt that challenges ahead are enormous. If we look at how other countries have handled the return home of such a large displaced population, we can see that it is never easy and few countries have been able to do this rapidly. Pakistan has proven previously that it can be done. Pakistan is likely to do it again. Following the 2009 Swat IDP crisis, an equally large number of people were returned to their homes in a little over six months. However, this time, the challenges are much greater and the two-year time span that has been given will not be easy to achieve unless funding is available. In a time when the economy is not vibrant, and there are competing needs within Pakistan, and donor-fatigue due to so many crises around the world, accessing approximately USD 1 billion to support this is difficult. However, the government has already allocated some of the funding and more is expected from international multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors. Negotiations are progressing well on this.

As someone who has attended many of the consultative sessions with all the stakeholders, it is clear to me that there is a genuine desire from all to implement the FATA Sustainable Return and Rehabilitation Strategy within the time frame given. The country has benefited from the sacrifice of the TDPs. It’s now time to repay their sacrifice by doing all that is possible to return the families of FATA to their homes as soon as possible so they can restart their lives.

05
July

Idea as Centre of Gravity

In ancient times, when armies, very small numbers compared to today's militaries, faced each other, one of the most coveted thrusts, among several battle tactics, was to get to the enemy's standard, the flag that symbolized the other side's fighting presence.

Losing the standard was highly demoralising for a side, not just because it was symbolic but also because the standard was always close to the commander, at the heart, and its fall meant the centre had fallen. The enemy force, away from the centre, even if largely intact, would generally retreat rather than putting up a fight.

Today's wars are more complex, non-linear affairs. Proximity has given way to remote targeting. We generally kill from a distance, sometimes across continents. The standards are gone but the concept hasn't. We now talk of Centre of Gravity (CoG) or key nodes. The war has become a multi-layered, multifaceted affair but somewhere lies that point which, when hit, will bring the war to an end. That point is the modern equivalent of the ancient standard.

For instance, nuclear targeting, in theory, purports to decapitate a state's civilian and military leadership and take out the infrastructure that would hold the state together and allow it to retaliate. Ditto for conventional aerial strikes, the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia being a case in point.

As I wrote elsewhere in 2009, “Air power theorists, in developing ideas about striking key nodes, have arrived at the concept of parallel war which is a function of simultaneous and coordinated operations against all the key nodes in the system and can only be conducted through an offensive air campaign since air power is the superior medium for prosecuting these operations.

“But the idea of parallel war must, and does, go beyond the use of air power. The vital need to hit and degrade the centre of gravity can be applied to all types of warfare, even the irregular war we are witnessing now…”.

However, irregular war posits a difficulty. Where does one find the CoG and the key nodes?

Answering this question is crucial for planners in developing a response at four levels: political, strategic, theatre and tactical.

At a time when the Pakistani military is engaged in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, this question becomes even more important because it is linked to another one: how successful were the previous operations?

In fact, the question of success throws up yet another question: can the success or failure of operations in an irregular war be defined in Clausewitzean terms?

Additionally, in this kind of war the responding forces face another problem: the high degree of operational and organisational autonomy that these groups maintain. This is not a new model. Famous Egyptian journalist Mohamed Heikal in his book, Autumn of Fury: The Assassination of Sadat, writes:

“The new groups, such as that to which [Lieutenant] Khaled [Islambouli, who killed Sadat] belonged, were known as 'anquds, the Arabic for a bunch of grapes, each 'anqud being separate and self-contained, so that if plucked from the main bunch none of the other 'anquds would suffer, nor would the removal of one grape on a bunch affect the other grapes.” (pp.253)

This flexibility, combined with the increasing ability of these groups to find new recruits, makes them protean in nature. This means that simply finishing off a group or even many groups will not put an end to this war. Put another way, no leader, or leaders, or a group's core command constitute the CoG or the key nodes. The most that can be achieved in strikes, aerial or ground, that can take out a central leader or a few leaders is to get some respite that such degradation always brings. But those who are gone will be replaced by others, often more difficult to tackle than the previous lot.

A good example is the killing and capture, in the last 13 years, of hundreds of Al Qaeda leaders, big and small, including the top man, Osama bin Laden. The world is no safer today than it was when they were alive.

Corollary 1: physical elimination of leaders in this war, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition for winning it.

Corollary 2: tactical and theatre operations, while important, can only do this much and no more.

Corollary 3: the use of force, in order to translate into utility of force, will need to do more than just physically eliminate leaders and capture space.

Corollary 4: going into an area, in this case North Waziristan, and finding ammo and explosives and IED factories – rudimentary labs that do not require an elaborate infrastructure – while an important part of theatre-tactical operations, cannot ensure full control.

Corollary 5: success is to be determined by whether the idea has been degraded, if not entirely killed.

But how does one kill an idea? Can an idea be killed?

The CoG in this war, then, is not the leaders and fighters. It's not the physical infrastructure, which, in any case, will be very basic, nothing like the huge techno-centric command centres of the fictitious characters that James Bond has to neutralise in films.

The CoG is the idea that motivates people, regardless of whether such motivation is right or wrong.

The terrorist knows this too. [NB: I use the term 'terrorist' in a statist framework without getting into its definitional problems.] This is why, operationally, he will never work along a single axis (the term is used figuratively rather than in a literal, territory-specific sense) because doing so would deprive him of his advantage and allow the security forces to focus their strength, which is always the advantage of any superior force. Operating along multiple axes is the best bet for terrorist groups. Why?

This is how I argued the point in a 2009 article: “It [multiple axes] opens up several fronts for the security forces; it spreads them thin; it engages them in the periphery; it creates confusion; and, most importantly, the multiplicity of attacks, through media coverage, shows [the groups] to be more powerful than they really are.

“This last advantage is crucial from the terrorists' perspective. It begets them the psychological advantage; prevents a correct assessment of their numbers and outreach; shows the state to be incapable of addressing the problem and so on.”

Military operations, then, must be supplemented by planning at the strategic and political levels. In any war, “a strategic planner would like to engage the enemy in the periphery while keeping his own nucleus of operations intact and secure. By the same token, the enemy must avoid getting caught in a war of attrition in the periphery.”

Terrorist groups know this. Military operations have limited utility as a standalone exercise, even when conducting them becomes important. They end up extracting a heavier cost from the people than degrading the real enemy. This fact must not be lost sight of.

The utility of military operations must, therefore, be determined in the narrow context in which they are conducted. To expect of them anything more than theatre-tactical is to assign to them an objective they simply cannot achieve. Terrorist groups know this because it is crucial for their survival. The state and the people must appreciate this too, because it is equally vital for their survival.

The CoG in this war is the idea. The state has to fight the idea with an idea. That front requires bringing the state in sync with the society. Operations can merely provide the space to the state and society to do that.

__________________________________________________

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997) and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. (2002-03). He is currently the Editor, National Security Affairs, at a private TV channel and contributes to several publications.

Twitter: @ejazhaider

25
August

Alert and Firm

Written By: Lt Col Sohail Akbar Bajwa

An eyewitness account of the terrorist attack at Khalid Aviation Base, Quetta and  PAF Base Samungli on night 14/15 August 2014

It was an evening as usual in Quetta as I was retiring at my residence and was enjoying the programmes of Independence Day on TV. It was around 2135 hours that I received a call from HQ Southern Command (HQ SC) that I needed to report immediately at Khalid Aviation Base (KAB) Quetta in relation with a terrorist activity.

 

Being a Commanding Officer (CO) of Light Commando Battalion, I immediately passed instructions to my men and moved to the location of the incident. In the meanwhile I was informed that some intrusion by the terrorists had taken place both at PAF Base Samungli and KAB. The CO of a Punjab regiment, Lt Col Ahmed was also passed similar instructions who also immediately moved to KAB.

 

Upon reaching KAB and taking control of my area of responsibility, I came to know that the terrorists were spotted by few civilians while they were attempting to cut the outer fence of the base and making their way in. The locals residing nearby KAB, displayed responsibility and immediately passed this information to the authorities concerned. The information was conforming to earlier threats to KAB and Samungli base thus the entire security apparatus in the cantonment as well as Samungli base came to red alert.

 

I was told to cordon off the base from south, checking suspicious movement and stop any spillover of the terrorists towards the Cantonment. Meanwhile the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Maj Gen Aftab, Brigadier Rohail and Brigadier Aziz ul Hassan Usmani had been carrying the reconnaissance of entire base periphery. At the same time, the QRF of my unit was put on 15 minutes notice possibly for PAF Base Samungli.

 

In the meanwhile, troops from FF regiment were also assigned to carry out search from the intrusion site. As soon the troops led by Lt Col Waseem Iqbal and Captain Yasir approached the middle part of the fence, they were fired upon fiercely. The fire was so intense that it had hit Brigadier Usmani's vehicle, bursting its tyre, and a bullet also passed through the jeep of Maj Gen Aftab. It is important to mention about the valour of the Base Commander's driver who changed the burst tyre in minimum time amidst heavy exchange of fire and successfully brought the commander back to base.

 

This fire caused multiple bullet injuries to troops of FF regiment including Captain Yasir, however terrorists were fired back by soldiers of Punjab regiment. Enemy was in near vicinity and fire exchange was taking place from as close as 70 metres. The valiant sons of Punjab regiment led by its brave officers proved true to their salt. In this dual of extreme nerves they proved their professional mettle and hit the terrorists back with extreme courage and bravery.

 

Meanwhile Punjab regiment on inner cordon of the base was reinforced by troops of Punjab Light Commando Battalion led by Major Hassan in heavy volleys of fire. Moving forward I contacted CO of the Punjab regiment and coordinated the employment of my men with him. The best part was that no intrusion had been made by the terrorists into KAB. The fire fight continued till 0145 hours when the last of the big blasts was heard near inner fence. It was expected that all terrorists had been killed by that time. It was the same time that I received a call from Maj Gen Majid Ehsan who appreciated all the troops, took a stock of situation on ground and asked me for any further help in discharging of duties.

 

The situation and events at PAF Base Samungli were no different from KAB. The provost and intelligence tentacles provided the information of a suspicious vehicle with about 8 individuals parked within short vicinity of outer boundary of the base wall near Kili Khezi. Troops from FC Balochistan deployed outside the wall were assigned to check the vehicle. When the FC troops reached near the vehicle, the terrorists, of whom two were wearing FC uniforms started firing at them.

 

In the heavy exchange of fire, the terrorists spread out and started firing rockets, small arms and various other fire arms. They fired about 5-6 rockets into the air base which landed near main tarmac. Allah had been so kind that no harm was done and that few of those rockets didn't even explode. Three terrorists were killed during this encounter with the FC.

 

This was followed by a fierce fire fight between terrorists and own security guards on outer fence which resulted in multiple bullet and shrapnel injuries to own troops of the Punjab regiment and Defence Services Guard (DSG).

 

During this exchange of fire, Wing Commander Mehr Gul, rushed to the base main tarmac. Simultaneously Air Commodore Salman Bukhari moved troops of the Punjab regiment and PAF ground combaters to the boundary wall to tackle the expected intrusion. The terrorists had also made holes in outer boundary wall and were making efforts to enter the base. In the same situation, the terrorists got inside the boundary wall and were hiding near one of the washrooms of DSG living area.

 

At about 0130 hours, Wing Commander Mehr Gul and Wing Commander Ameed Ullah requested base Commander for employment of Punjab Light Commando troops at the air base since any further intrusion into the base could be disastrous. On the request of the Base Commander, an armed helicopter (heli) was sent to Samungli from KAB.  The heli spotted few individuals hiding along boundary wall and fired upon them. The QRF of Punjab Light Commando Battalion comprising 40 individuals was moved to the Air Base at about 0245 hours. Snipers were deployed along the inner perimeter covering the fighter aircrafts while Captain Fakhar alongwith Wing Commander Mehr Gul climbed upon ADA pen (a high rise structure) for observing and locating the hidden terrorists. They successfully located the hidden terrorists through specialized NVGs and same information was shared with Major Atif and Captain Bugti of the Punjab regiment and PAF troops. These two brave officers were quick to respond and killed the terrorists.

 

By 0615 hours the situation had calmed at both bases. The assets had remained safe Alhamdolillah and there wasn't any fatal casualties to own troops except 14 wounded. In all, 12 terrorists had been killed including 6 who were wearing suicidal jackets. The terrorists had left behind a huge cache of ammunition and explosives. The national threat had been subdued with great courage and conviction and above all, with the united response of all our security forces. 

 

Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, Commander Southern Command was continuously monitoring the situation at both places and was issuing orders for implementation at ground level. The follow up visits of Gen Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, Chief of Air Staff, CM Balochistan Abdul Malik along with his ministers, IG police, and IGFC Balochistan to the wounded officers and soldiers raised the morale of the troops.

 

The success of the operation was a divine blessing indeed. The public grew more confidence in the forces and are certain that the security of Pakistan lie in safer hands. Timely help in shape of information sharing by the local population was indeed the most valuable asset in this operation.

 

We all should bow our heads to Allah Almighty in gratitude of the divine help in the thickest hour.  

 

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