Pakistan’s “New Resolve” against Terror

Posted by Admin On Wednesday, 22 January 2014 0 comments
Is Pakistan planning to use a “talk-fight” approach with the TTP, or is the TTP already engaged in a “talk-fight” approach with Pakistan since the Bannu attack a few days ago?
Attacks and Offers of Peace
Pakistan's New Resolve against TerrorAs the civilian government pursues its peace initiative of talks and negotiations, the Pakistan Army will continue to decimate the TTP in terms of its operational effectiveness and reach throughout Pakistan, so that the state can negotiate from a position of strength rather than weakness or even equality. However, the TTP has recently “upped the ante” with two devastating attacks in the past few days, as well as with an offer of peace talks.
The attack on the Frontier Corps (FC) convoy in Bannu Cantt – a well-planned attack that targeted troops as they were preparing to move supplies to Razmak in North Waziristan – on the morning of Sunday, January 19th, martyred no less than 20 security personnel and critically injured somewhere between 30 to 60 others. The same day (within hours of the attack, according to DAWN News) TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid – while taking claim for the Bannu attack, which he said was “revenge for the killing of (former TTP leader) Hakeemullah Mehsud” and part of a “fight against a secular system” – said that the terrorist organization was ready for talks with the government, provided it (the government) was sincere and had the power and authority to conduct peace negotiations with the Taliban. According to the Express Tribune, Shahid said that the TTP “is of the view that the government has no power and sincerity regarding the peace talks”, and if it did, then TTP leaders would not have been killed under the “pretext” of peace talks: a veiled signal that the “lack” of the Pakistani government’s “authority” to conduct negotiations with the TTP is contingent upon its ability to control U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory.
In sum, the TTP spokesperson said that “our stance about the dialogue is very clear: if the government proves its power and sincerity, we are ready for meaningful talks despite our great losses” in what a Pakistani newspaper referred to as the terror group’s “detailed policy statement”. After the Bannu attack, the Prime Minister cancelled his trip to the Davos economic summit in Switzerland, and said that terror attacks will not derail government’s attempts for peace. Military convoys travel with supplies from Bannu to North Waziristan every Sunday, and the IED attack happened when a bomb planted in the CNG tank of a private rental car was detonated as the convoy was preparing to leave Bannu Cantt for Razmak. The attack – which occurred near Aamandi chowk close to Razmak gate on the Bannu-Miranshah road – and the subsequent martyrdoms are a major setback, but the TTP’s offer for peace talks may be a sign that it has become weak; it may also be a ploy to buy time and regain operational strength, or drive a wedge between the country’s civilian and military leadership, and check the stability of Pakistan’s civil-military balance. But in a clear signal that every institution knows their jurisdiction, the Interior Minister has said that the Pakistan Army will conduct an inquiry into the attack since it occurred in cantonment precincts, he also asked the Inspector General (IG) of the FC as to how a bomb-laden car was able to enter the Bannu Cantt area, and was detonating precisely as FC troops had boarded the vehicle. The Interior Minister has also blamed “foreign criminal elements” time and again for their role in destabilizing Pakistan. In any case, if the Bannu attack caught the PM’s attention, the Rawalpindi attack has now forced his (and the Interior Minister’s) hand in terms of doing what needs to be done vis-à-vis the TTP.
Does the government of Pakistan have to prove its “power” to the Pakistani military by keeping it bound to a unilateral ceasefire while the TTP continues attacking the Army and the state? This is a very likely scenario, as terror attacks may continue even if peace talks begin: the TTP has called for the government to announce a ceasefire, but has said nothing about cessation of terror attacks on its own part.
On Monday morning, January 20, 2014, a suicide bomber martyred at least 14 people – including 6 military personnel – and wounded almost 33 others outside a restaurant in the busy T-chowk of the R.A. Bazaar area of Rawalpindi: the most important facet of this attack is that it occurred not too far from Gate no. 6 of the Pakistan Army General Headquarters (GHQ), the nerve center of the Army and considered the most secure place in all of Pakistan. The attack – like the one in Bannu – took place early in the morning, at around 7:30AM, with the TTP later sending a video message claiming responsibility for the attack and stating that it was a revenge attack for the Lal Masjid operation that took place in 2007 (and which was the main event that caused various militant groups, banned outfits and extremist organizations to coalesce and form the TTP in the first place, under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud).
Peace Negotiations: Positions of Strength and Weakness
So the TTP has taken revenge for the killing of its last leader, Hakeemullah Mehsud, and has undertaken another attack in the name of those who died in the Lal Masjid operation – is it now ready for peace talks with the government, which has made negotiations its first priority in terms of ending the existential threat of terror that faces Pakistan? While “Azm e Nau” prepares the Pakistan Army to fight a war with a conventional external enemy and, at the same time, deal with an internal threat of a militant or insurgent nature, it also involves the notion of dealing with the enemy – foreign and domestic – from a position of strength and advantage, not weakness. As the new PML-N-led government prioritized peace talks with the TTP – and the opposition PTI has gone even further in promoting the idea of a negotiated settlement with the terrorists – the latest actions of the TTP make it obvious that the terror group, and not the state, is in a position of strength; and therefore, it may dictate its terms to the government, which has been talking about peace talks even when the TTP refused to negotiate with the government. According to former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand, the TTP says that “someone else”, not the government, controls war and peace in the region, and that the peace talks option was not sidelined because of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s killing. He added that the TTP wants withdrawal of the Pakistan Army – phased or otherwise – from FATA and later from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province altogether. In order to succeed with its intended plans for peace talks, Mohmand urges the Pakistan government to draw red lines on American drone strikes – either diplomatically, or militarily (it is known, and confirmed by former PAF chiefs while they were heading the armed service, that the Pakistan Air Force can detect and shoot down unmanned aerial craft operating in the border areas).
The TTP refused the government’s peace overtures after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike on November 01, 2013, on the eve of the commencement of peace talks; but another TTP spokesman, Azam Tariq, told Reuters that “we have neither refused serious and meaningful talks in the past, nor will we deny the importance of negotiations in the future” but that “the government has never made any serious effort to hold talks”. Tariq also demanded that the government announce a ceasefire first, after which the TTP “may also review our operations if the government undertakes some confidence-building measures”. On this statement, PTI chairman Imran Khan has demanded another All Parties Conferenceto discuss the issue of peace talks with the TTP, while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan – who delayed his press conference on Sunday eve in which he was supposed to announce the salient features of the National Security Policy (which was to be presented to a special committee of the federal cabinet on Monday) – stated that the government is ready to fight those who respond to the offer of dialogue with bullets. He added that the groups which positively responded to the offer for talks are welcomed by the government, but those which decline the offer and resort to violence will be dealt with an “iron fist”.
The Interior Minister has also declared an “all-out war” and “hot pursuit” of militants who continue to ignore the government’s overtures and resort to violence. These are indubitably terms used for military strategy, and an informed mind would get the indication that the internal security policy is being formed in close consonance with the new doctrine of the Pakistan Army. At a briefing to reporters at the Punjab House in Islamabad, the Interior Minister also made it clear that the government would finalize its “line of action” against the TTP: whether it would decide on a military operation, or dialogue, or both concurrently. The U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement has a clause in which the U.S. is obliged to protect Afghanistan from an attack by the Pakistan military – in the past decade, the “hammer and anvil” approach of defeating militant groups that straddle the Pak-Afghan border has failed, particularly because of continuing suspicion between the allies (Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S.) and because of better cooperation and collaboration between various militant groups (Afghan Taliban “shura’s” and the TTP).
Pakistan’s New National Security Policy
According to Pakistan Today, the special cabinet meeting on Monday – to discuss the National Security Policy – had a one-point agenda: efforts for initiating peace talks with the Taliban. The Policy draft was also presented for approval – wherein it was stated that law enforcement agencies (including at the provincial level) need to be equipped with modern weapons and ought to be better trained, and that Rs. 28 billion will be spent in implementing the Policy. According to NewsPakistan.com, the new National Security Policy is said to include three salient parts; two of which will be revealed to the public while one will remain classified. A “Joint Intelligence Directorate” would also be established for sharing intelligence, converting communication intercepts and other forms of “chatter” – which are generated and will be collected around-the-clock – into actionable intelligence, mapping identity databases in all cities, and coordinating between the 26 intelligence agencies currently operating in Pakistan; the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) would act as the focal point for this setup or apparatus. In addition, a Rapid Response Force (RRF) supported by an air wing will be created at the federal level which will respond to acts of terrorism “within minutes” and this force would also be replicated in the provinces. The ongoing “targeted” operation in Karachi was also part of the special cabinet meeting. But, as the Monday attack shows, the main question for the security of Pakistan remains the option which is chosen to deal with the TTP: either negotiations and peace talks, or all out war. As the Interior Minister has said, both options are on the table – including another option of doing both simultaneously!
One asks again: if the government does succeed in starting peace talks with the TTP, will the latter cease terror attacks throughout the country? It is a known fact that the Pakistani military has unilaterally stopped operations – especially in the tribal areas – since May 2013 and especially after November 2013 when the new COAS took office. Except for a small kinetic retaliatory operation to a bombing of an Army checkpost in North Waziristan, the Pakistan Army is quietly counting its martyrs while the government is trying its best to start – not make progress in, only start – peace talks with the Taliban.
More questions are raised: suppose the TTP also stops terror attacks if it receives certain “confidence building measures” from the government: will the Pakistani government and state negotiate with the TTP who do not acknowledge the Constitution of Pakistan, and who are waging war in order to install Sharia law? Will Pakistan use a “talk-fight” approach with the TTP, or is the TTP already using this approach with Pakistan, to achieve various ends?
This is where the notion of negotiations and peace talks with the TTP from a position of strength become all the more important. The TTP is undeniably a hidden and deadly enemy, and its targets are out in the open, no matter how well-protected or secure they are. But the federal government and the law enforcement agencies – especially the Armed Forces, which continue to back the government despite suffering heavy casualties on an almost-daily basis – need to develop and implement a unified strategy, and also overcome any and every chance that the TTP creates or utilizes to upset the civil-military balance in Pakistan. Instead, capitalizing on the rift between the Fazlullah leadership and the Mehsud-Wazir cadres that are the most formidable core of the TTP will play a big role – if not an instrumental one – in reversing the tide and giving the state a key position of strength in terms of negotiating with the TTP. Only then will the government be able to follow through with the policy of talking to those who welcome peace, while fighting those who respond to the offer of dialogue with bullets and bombs.
The Role of Foreign Intelligence Agencies: Real or Otherwise
Instead of unleashing what the Prime Minister calls “senseless force”, the Army, paramilitary and police will keep on sending subtle but clear messages to the TTP that Pakistan is a force to be reckoned with, and that the Pakistani state and its organs are not like those in Afghanistan – be it before 1994 when Najibullah was in power with and later without Soviet help, or after 2001 when the U.S., NATO and the West put the Karzai administration and a new Afghan state in place. However, it must also be made clear that the “New Great Game” is not one that is being fought by conventional armies or even guerilla forces: it is being fought by intelligence agencies against each other. In some aspects, allies are fighting each other, whereas in other scenarios, traditional adversaries are pitted against each other in new battlefields and in novel conditions. Even if Pakistan and its state agencies know this fact, and have evidence to prove it – albeit only in dossiers to foreign governments, and not to its own people, who have to listen to Pakistan’s decades-old and now-defunct “policy of state sponsoring of terrorism” which has created backlashes and whiplashes – other states are more forthright in their claims and in asserting blame. Take the case of the Friday bombing of a popular Lebanese restaurant in Kabul, in which 21 people – including 13 foreigners – were killed. On Sunday, the day of the Bannu attack, Afghan President Hamid Karzai chaired his country’s National Security Council, and accused “foreign intelligence services” of being responsible for the attack: major international news outlets such as Al Jazeeraunderstood this to be a reference – veiled or otherwise – to Pakistan’s ISI. A statement released by the Afghan NSC said that the Taliban were not capable of carrying out “such sophisticated and complex attacks”, and “without a doubt” the attack was carried out by intelligence agencies “beyond the border”: it is this last phrase which the Afghan state uses to refer to neighboring Pakistan and its pre-9/11 support for the Afghan Taliban.
As other states blame Pakistan for being a “nursery of terrorism”, it is left to media persons, researchers and other “non-state actors” (that is, people who are neither functionaries of the state or government, nor do they represent them) to openly blame other countries for meddling in the affairs of Pakistan and destabilizing the country by making it more insecure. This betrays a continued weakness in Pakistan’s foreign policy as well as in the international arena, complemented by psychological warfare (propaganda documentaries, docudramas, news stories in international media, etc.) conducted against the people of Pakistan. All this begs another question: when other countries do it openly, why doesn’t Pakistan respond in the same manner?
A Role without a Reward: Pakistan Promoting Peace in Afghanistan
In any case, Pakistan has demonstrated maturity in the face of this “blame-game”, and has also shown its sincerity in terms of the Afghan-led peace process for the landlocked country and in the interest of the region as well: by bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, Pakistan played its part, but the U.S. and the Afghan government developed rifts with each other on the matter. Then the Afghan Taliban stated that they do not recognize the Afghan government and will negotiate directly with the U.S. – ultimately, the U.S. also created conditions for the Afghan Taliban to back out of peace negotiations, but the damage was done: the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and the peace and stability of the region (as supported by U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan) hangs in the balance when 2014 draws to a close. The U.S., the Karzai-led Afghan government, and the Afghan Taliban have differences between themselves that they cannot overcome, and Pakistan continues to be blamed for America’s inability to project its interests in the region beyond 2014 and Afghanistan’s wanton belligerence before the April 2014 elections. At the same time, the U.S. continues to “closely follow reported talks” between Pakistan and the TTP.
Pakistan has done so despite the fact that its own peace process is being hampered by U.S. drone strikes, which adds to the growing ire of the people and the security forces who are beginning to see through the hollow claims of the TTP and the fickle friendship of an ally than is worse than the damage caused by an open enmity. The people of Pakistan – especially those who are not of a conservative, extremist or literalist inclination – pause and ponder when the TTP says that they do not attack Muslims, that they are attacking Pakistan because Pakistan launched a war at the behest of the U.S., etc.
When it comes to authority, it is obvious that the TTP itself has little authority (and sometimes none) over the more-than-50 organizations and groups under its umbrella – there may be even more organizations that claim to be part of the TTP, but the TTP itself may not know about them! And as far as sincerity goes, the numerous peace accords with the TTP since 2004 – and how they fell apart – are testament to how sincere the Islamic extremist group itself is when it comes to peace: it cannot breathe or function in an environment of peace and tranquility, and needs war and insecurity in order to live and flourish.
Letter from Mullah Omar
In this light, a startling development has taken place: a letter from the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” has been delivered by a special envoy of Afghan Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar to Pakistan’s religious leaders, former diplomats and retired military leaders. In the letter, Mullah Omar categorically denies any role of the Taliban or the “real mujahideen” in the ongoing bloodbath that is taking place in Pakistan. In the letter, Mullah Omar blamed secret agencies for being actually responsible, and then blaming the Taliban or the “mujahideen” for acts like bombing of places of worship, or even extortion in Karachi. However, the letter falls short of actually linking the TTP to these “secret agencies”, even though Mullah Omar acknowledges that certain elements within Pakistan have become pawns in the hands of these vested interests.
Therefore, in addition to capitalizing on the rift between the new TTP leadership and the core TTP cadres, the elements of the terror group that do not cease and desist – which continue to carry out violent attacks at the behest of agencies and organizations who wish to keep Pakistan destabilized, and even existentially threatened – must be dealt with an iron fist, and a calculated and targeted military operation (perhaps better than the one being carried out in Karachi, and perhaps with the aid of the anti-Taliban tribal lashkars) must be carried out against those in the TTP who refuse to negotiate. But the terms of the TTP – and those of the government – seem at odds with each other from the outset; many believe that peace talks may not progress as much, or as optimistically, as they are considered to be, even before they have started. Some detractors even call the proposed peace talks a “non-starter”. But as Pakistan and the TTP try to “give peace a chance”, it must be known that both sides will definitely regroup, plan, prepare and ready themselves for any eventuality.
In a scenario where peace talks fail and both sides decide on all-out war, 2014 is the year that it will be fought out in, and it will take place in a very dangerous regional context – the U.S./NATO troop pullout from Afghanistan, and a possible Afghan Taliban resurgence in the ensuing security vacuum.
Pakistan’s internal security problem cannot be solved within the borders of Pakistan alone: it has a regional context, and after 2014, many issues that were swept under the rug will be brought out whether people or states like it or not. Such issues may include “Af-Pak-Ind”, the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan’s right of hot pursuit against TTP elements seeking refuge in Afghanistan, etc. Can Pakistan project itself militarily beyond its borders – more importantly, will it? In any case, the country’s political leadership needs to be candid and honest with the nation on important issues, for instance, who is a terrorist and who is a martyr – the country’s leaders need to draw conclusive distinctions and end the state of national confusion so that nation can unite behind whatever policy the government implements to end the scourge of terror. It is extremely important for Pakistan to have a clear strategic direction so that all institutions formulate policies that follow that particular direction. This is no time for doubts and uncertainty, because there are none on the other side.
By Shemrez Nauman Afzal
SPEARHEAD RESEARCH

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