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Swat operation

By Zafar Hilaly
Saturday, May 30, 2009

It is important for the sake of the Army's own morale that the present operation in Swat ends in a decisive victory, because the Taliban have been crowing about how they worsted the Army during the skirmishes that took place in February.

The Taliban were no less boastful of the manner in which they had forced the provincial government and the federal parliament to accept peace on their terms by agreeing to the Adl laws, withdrawing the Army and surrendering Malakand Division to the Taliban's control. Indeed, their chosen commissioner, who ironically also represented the federation, was made to attend a large public meeting where their spokesman rubbished the courts and the Constitution of Pakistan. Never has the Pakistani state had its nose rubbed in the ground in front of a nationwide TV audience and 10,000 Swatis as it was on that day. Hence, the public too is keen that amends are made. Besides, that is the least that loyal Swatis deserve for bravely and stoically bearing the terror unleashed by the Taliban during their occupation of Swat and their subsequent displacement following the military operation.

Actually, there is no reason why the Army should not emerge the victor in the continuing operation. Not only because the Army has fought with hitherto unequalled determination and bravery, especially the officers (The casualty ratio of officers to other ranks in the Pak Army is as high as one to five, whereas that of most armies it is one to 10) but also because the enemy is outgunned, outnumbered and outfought. Just about all the area the Taliban once controlled is now in the Army's control. Moreover, the enemy's outposts, arms dumps, their fortifications, field hospitals, and training camps have been destroyed. About the only thing that remains before a comprehensive victory can be declared is for the remainder of Mingora to be cleared of the enemy and some high-value targets such as Fazlullah and his close lieutenants killed or captured. Victory without decommissioning the enemy leadership will not be as complete a victory as one would like.

The Army's performance against the Taliban in comparison to that of the American and British forces has been immeasurably better. This should lay to rest the canard of "do more" and "do better." Indeed, if anything, it is the NATO and US forces which should now emerge from their fortified ghettos and show greater zeal and effectiveness in taking on the Taliban.

For example, in Helmand province of Afghanistan, where the British are holed up, their control does not extend beyond the environs of their camp, notwithstanding the fact that they have at their call every kinds of support, including the best weaponry and equipment that the world has to offer. As for the other NATO countries their approach has best been described as a minimalist policy of token engagement. They are there purely as an act of fealty to the US. They opt not to fire a shot in anger.

It is not surprising, therefore, that after eight years of occupation the NATO allies have virtually nothing to show by way of military success or, in the words of a cynic, "actually they do have something important to show, impending defeat." It subsequently transpired that the British envoy in Kabul agreed with this assessment when, in a leaked secret communication to his government, he confided: "The war is lost." Hopefully, the British envoy was jumping the gun not because one desires that the west prevail in Afghanistan but because we do not wish the Taliban to do so.

A Taliban victory even if confined to the Pakhtoon areas of Afghanistan would provide their ally, the Pakistani Taliban, strategic depth and a ready source of weapons, funds and manpower to continue trying to impose their barbaric and perverted version of Islam on Pakistan. An American presence does have the virtue, admittedly only a single virtue, of keeping the Afghan Taliban and their ally Al Qaeda harassed and preoccupied in Afghanistan.

Of course, Pakistan, and for that matter the Americans, who are nearing their wits' end, would much prefer a political solution to the conflict. We believe, as one military historian pointed out, that "the object of war is peace and not military victory." Military victories are useless unless they create the groundwork for ensuing favourable political solutions. But that seems increasingly unlikely unless the Taliban suffer significant reverses on the battlefield, so significant that the intransigent Taliban will countenance peace talks which at present they have rejected out of hand.

But battlefield success in Afghanistan for the coalition forces will not be remotely possible unless western fighting tactics undergo a transformation. Gen McCrystal, the new US commander, has been appointed to devise a new strategy and, hopefully, he will. While doing so he would be well advised to consult his Pakistani counterpart who commanded the successful Swat operation. Perhaps for a change we have something to impart the all-knowing Americans who have thus far failed to put down any insurgency in which they were involved (including Iraq, where the insurgency though reduced is far from over) and nevertheless want to train all and sundry on how to fight an insurgency. Americans seem to believe that modesty is a form of self flattery, so why bother being modest.

A number of analysts, some of them veterans of their trade view American prospects in Afghanistan as bleak. Their reasons are fairly solid. Eric Margolis states that "the Pakhtoons will fight on for another century, if necessary even two, and are free of foreign occupation." He is probably right. Similarly Pakistan's Pakhtoons are also going nowhere. They also intend to hang around for a century or two. And they are equally determined not to be badgered and beheaded into changing their religion. And if this means indulging in the Pakhtoons favoured pastime of feuding among themselves, which includes with those from across the border, for a hundred years or more, so be it.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:
Courtesy: The News International