Understanding Counter-Insurgency

If there is a counter insurgency; there has to be an ongoing insurgency for it to counter. If there is an ongoing insurgency, it can only thrive if the insurgents have one or more grievances to create a cause. If there is a cause that has created insurgents, who have resorted to the use of force, they would only take recourse to violence if they have come to the realization that, without violence, their grievances have not been attended to.

The US COIN strategy revolves around the use of force, in fact relies upon excessive use of force, which is why it is doomed to fail. I have written in sufficient detail in earlier articles, on the situation in Afghanistan and the activities of US forces which resulted in creating those conditions, not to have to repeat them. Suffice it as a reminder that, once again, the Taliban have begun to represent the aspirations of a sizeable portion of Afghans.

In Pakistan, we are faced with a different set of circumstances. The most significant one being that our insurgents rule over the territories they control, merely by the use of force and do not represent the aspirations of the people. So, to that extent, the use of force against them is more easily justifiable.

Pakistan’s military also, therefore, has frequently resorted to excessive use of force but it has been focused; targeting known militants, after confirming locations based on ‘reliable and actionable’ intelligence. The Pakistan military can boast two successes: Swat and South Waziristan, SWA.

Our problem is that, having created a politico-administrative vacuum by employing the military to oust the Pakistani insurgent Taliban (as I explained in an earlier article, not all Pakistani Taliban are insurgents against Pakistan; some are merely supporting the Afghan insurgency against US occupation of their land), the government refuses to govern the reclaimed territories.

By way of a few examples: Sabaoon (a Pushto word, meaning the crack of dawn and signifying hope) is a model venture in Mingora, Swat. It is a school run by a lady psychiatrist attempting to reclaim and rehabilitate young children whose minds had been corrupted and had been trained to become suicide bombers. Starting in 2009, she has had remarkable success. Almost 50 per cent of her students have returned home to lead normal lives. But the problem is; this was the brainchild of, funded by, and run under the aegis of the Pakistan army. No one at the provincial/central government level has even attempted to emulate this sterling example.

The Pakistan army is holding between 1500 to 2000 Taliban prisoners captured during the Swat and SWA operations, since 2009. By all legal standards, these individuals are in ‘illegal custody’ But, what can the army do? The political government is not prepared to take custody of them, let alone initiate legal proceedings. The Pakistan army refuses to follow the example set by the US in trying terrorists by a kangaroo military court. They can’t let them go. They won’t kill them. So, they continue to languish in illegal custody.

While Balochistan is beyond the focus of this study of COIN, it does provide another example of the point I am trying to make. One very legitimate complaint of the Baloch youth is that they have no access to affordable quality education and, therefore, are unable to compete against the youth of other provinces. Once again, in 2008, the army opened the only affordable school providing quality education to the Baloch youth in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. I believe the army plans on opening another in the interior at Khuzdar. Not enough; but a beginning. Once again, no one is prepared to emulate the army’s effort.

Today, when political administration has finally moved into Swat and surrounding areas, when faced with the most minor of crises, the civilian administration refuses to accept responsibility, seeking instructions from the senior-most accessible army officer; usually the local unit commander, a Lt Col.

Nonetheless, Pakistan is still better off than Afghanistan, even if the army is having to fill all aspects of COIN. It would be even better off, if the US didn’t feel compelled to stoke unrest within Pakistan.

Shaukat Qadir is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at shaukatq@gmail.com


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