The government of Pakistan has been calling for talks with terrorists in attempt to settle the issue, or crisis. There are indications that these terrorists have been enjoying full support of some officials. Most of the tribesmen think it will be a major defeat for President Bush if terrorists succeeded in their mission. The mission of the terrorists is to kill the people, in addition to terrorising, just to keep themselves in power. It is not yet clear where the mastermind of these terrorists is sitting, as on the ground, low-ranking officials have been fighting the war.
According to the comment of a political writer Ejaz Haider: The state’s approach to insurgency in parts of the North-West Frontier Province, right now in Swat, suffers from two problems. Let’s begin with the first and the most glaring one: the frontier is all but lost. And it’s a full-spectrum failure, ranging from military reverses to political and ideological loss.
What is happening in Swat is a replay of what we have seen in Waziristan, what we are witnessing in other tribal agencies, Bajaur for instance, and what we shall witness in the settled lowlands of NWFP if this tide cannot be stemmed.
The military defeat is obvious. Forget the drubbing the security forces have got in Waziristan. In Swat’s Kabal area, the so-called peace, the tense calm, is not a product of the two sides realising that neither can defeat the other and therefore both must disengage and find a solution, but the extremists holding fire because the security forces have blinked and want to resolve the issue through a jirga.
“Resolution” in all such cases means one thing: acceptance of loss of control and territory to non-state actors. As someone said, while one should never fear to negotiate, one should never negotiate out of fear.
The cost factor, direct and indirect, cannot be ignored. How much does a suicide belt cost? RDX is easy enough to procure; the rest — ball-bearings, nails, sharp metal pieces etc — can be got from a local machinist. This shouldn’t be more than a max of Rs10,000, RDX counted. Using a vehicle is more expensive, but even that is a fraction of the cost of a helicopter gunship flight.
This cost differential has also to be seen in relation to effectiveness. How effective has the state been in establishing its writ and taking out the militants? Has the sledgehammer killed the fly? No.
Why? As Hannah Arendt said in her essay On Violence, quoting from Vladimir Dedijer’s The Poor Man’s Power: “...in conventional warfare the poor countries are much less vulnerable than the great powers precisely because they are ‘under-developed’, and because technical superiority can ‘be much more of a liability than an asset’ in guerrilla war.”
True enough. Barry Posen spoke of the “contested zone” where hi-tech largely becomes useless in the face of a determined adversary. Students of warfare know how difficult it is to engage and win against an adversary that is difficult to identify and has the advantage of terrain, kinship bonds and internal lines of communication.
Add to this list, in this case, the fact that the security forces are fighting people who belong to the same tribes and areas from where the army and paramilitaries get a high percentage of their recruitment, that the security personnel also have the same conservative approach to religion, that the military operations are politically unpopular in the country and we have a situation that is hopeless from the perspective of the state.
At the minimum it puts tremendous strain on the organisational cohesion and operational effectiveness of the security forces. Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais wrote an incisive piece in this space on Tuesday asking “Whose war is this?” The answer, if we go by majority opinion in this country is, America’s.
A double-whammy it would be. It has lost territory and control against the militants on the periphery and since its struggle is not backed by popular opinion in the country, it may have forfeited its legitimacy — or be in the process of losing it — at the centre also.
The point is that carrying out a military operation is difficult enough under the circumstances; but it is downright hopeless when the very approach is considered flawed by the people. Let’s consider the argument in favour of a political, reconciliatory approach.