Defeating the Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

November 22, 2009

Brian Clougley is a South Asia defence analyst.  Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

When the Taliban insurrection in Pakistan began in earnest, in 2004, the Pakistan army did not have enough troops in North West Frontier Province to combat the growing menace.  It was not possible for the army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps to conduct operations without considerable reinforcement.  In any event, the role of the lightly-armed Frontier Corps has always been more akin to policing than to engaging in conventional military operations. Dealing with inter-tribe skirmishes and cross-border smugglers is very different to combating organised bands of fanatics whose objective is total destruction of the state.

It was therefore decided to redeploy some units and formations from the eastern frontier to the west, but the main problem with the decision, no matter its appropriateness, was that troops facing India along the border and the Line of Control in Kashmir are skilled in conventional warfare tactics but not trained in counter insurgency (COIN). Retraining was essential if there was to be a properly conducted campaign against militants in the west of the country. The process requires much time and energy. (The British, for example, had
to design a training programme lasting up to eight months before units were considered effective to fight the terrorist Irish Republican Army. The US belatedly dealt with a similar problem before deploying units to Iraq, having learned the hard way.)

But there is another important factor in Pakistan’s equation of redeploying troops : the attitude of India.

The Indian government and people reacted strongly to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in September 2008 — quite understandably — and blamed Pakistan for fostering those who carried them out. Many in India considered that Pakistan actually had some formal and official role in assisting the attackers, and most Indians – spurred by an active media – now firmly believe that Pakistan was involved. In this atmosphere it was tempting for politicians, especially those of ultra-nationalist persuasion, to beat war drums and threaten Pakistan
with dire consequences if there were another terrorist outrage – which there is almost certain to be.

Although there was no reinforcement or movement of troops on the Indian side of the border after the Mumbai atrocities, Pakistan could not forget the major deployment, Operation Parakram, that took place in 2002 following a terrorist assault on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. There was no reason to be complacent concerning Indian intentions, given the similarity of the Mumbai and Delhi attacks and the ensuing rhetoric, and Pakistan’s armed forces were required to remain vigilant. There could be no question of lowering guard on the eastern border unless there were assurance from India that it would not engage in military action. This was not given.

Even after the initial outburst of anti-Pakistan bellicosity had died down, there came carefully composed but confrontational statements by major national figures who could not be ignored, and they came in a period of especial concern to Pakistan – the very time at which it was necessary to continue relocating troops from the eastern frontier area in order to combat the menace of terror and insurrection in the west.

On 4 June 2009 the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of India’s South-Western Air Command, Air Marshal KD Singh,  declared that  “In case of a misadventure by Pakistan in shape of major terrorist attack or the attack like the one we had on the Parliament, attack on our leader, a major city, public or hijacking an aircraft, can obviously lead to a reaction from India, which could be a short intense war.”

Then on 1 November 2009 India’s Home Minister, Mr Chidambaram, was reported as saying “I’ve been warning Pakistan not to play any more games. Let Mumbai be the last such game. If they carry out any more attacks on India, they will not only be defeated, but we will also retaliate with the force of a sledgehammer.”

The threat from Delhi, which many of us observers had considered to have been negligible, given the apparent pragmatism of the government of Dr Manmohan Singh, was spelled out in blunt and menacing terms. Given the prominence of those who warned so clearly of conflict, the prospect of an attack could not and cannot be treated lightly. For this reason many senior military officers in Pakistan argue that withdrawing units from the border could have serious consequences if India decided to engage in a “short, intense conventional war,” as a result of another terrorist attack. If there were strident enough allegations in India that the culprits had been trained in Pakistan, then there could be war. The army, the senior officers felt, would be failing in its duty if it dropped its guard along the frontier; so there had to be compromise, which, in military affairs as in most others, invariably results in a less-than-desirable solution.

The recent operations in the tribal areas, concentrating on South Waziristan, have necessarily been affected by the requirement to balance east and west troop numbers. It is much to the credit of the Pakistan army that it managed to restore peace in Swat and appears to be well on the way to effecting the same in South Waziristan. But the main challenge is to maintain control and prevent the insurgents from again taking over.  Concurrently there is the requirement to speedily rebuild the 200 girls’ schools that were destroyed by the fanatics, to implement a civilian-dominated justice system, and engage in large-scale social and economic development. This will take time, and, above all, commitment by skilled professionals whose security must be guaranteed, along with that of the population.

It should not be forgotten that there was no insurrection in the Tribal Areas before the US invasion of Afghanistan.  Although the tribes were never pussy cats, and often there had to be firm action taken when they went over the top in inter-tribal squabbles or other mayhem, there was no Taliban control. That ascendancy developed as a result of a flow of vicious fanatics from Afghanistan who were displaced by US and ‘Coalition’ operations.  It is absurd to loudly condemn Pakistan for “failing to seal the border,” when there are tens of thousands of US troops along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. If they can’t seal it from their side, with all their hi-tech gadgets, how can anyone expect the Pakistan army to seal the Pakistan side?

The other thing that US experts might consider is keeping quiet. For the White House National Security Adviser to pronounce that Pakistan must now conduct military operations in North Waziristan is not simply bizarre, it is insolent. The Pakistanis have had enough of people telling them what to do. Their military operations are being conducted with professionalism. It would be a good thing if a bit of professionalism and discretion were to be exercised by all the clever Washingtonians who drop into Islamabad to lecture those who are trying to cope with an emergency for which the US is largely to blame.


Myra: “Can you say what you mean by punitive military action? Or more specifically, how would India take effective military action without running the risk of escalation? As you must know, this is one of the main reasons India has not retaliated before, because it can’t work out how to do it effectively.Do you accept that the way India and Pakistan signal their intentions to each other are often open to misinterpretation given the mistrust? Or in other words, if you were responsible for military deployment in Pakistan, would you ignore Chidambaram’s words?”None of us foresaw any kind of Indian armoured thrust through Punjab as revenge for the Mumbai attacks. I did, though, think the Indians would strike back and had a running bet with a colleague (who didn’t think they would). I am still floored by their resolve, especially that of the Indian government, given the pressure from the media, the opposition parties, etc. So, yes, the Pakistanis were right to expect some retaliation. However, to suggest that Indian tanks would be rumbling through Lahore is more than a little paranoid. It’s even more fantastical to suggest that Chidambaram’s statements be given the weight the Pakistanis did nearly a year after the attack. If anything, I’d argue the rapid mobilization of Pakistani forces did more to risk escalation and increase the potential for miscalculation than anything the Indians did, who didn’t even bother cancelling leave for Army personnel.I daresay, that more and more, there is a prevailing view that Pakistan will use India as an excuse to get out of anything they don’t want to do. Mumbai demonstrated this. They delayed deployments to Swat and the FATA even as things got worse, and cited the Indian bogeyman as an excuse, when in all reality there is no credible way that India could have attacked in any time-frame more than a few weeks after the Mumbai attacks.Myra: “Kargil did not escalate because the Americans intervened and persuaded then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to order the troops out.”But that’s the point. During Kargil, the pressure was applied by the Americans (and the Chinese) on Pakistan not on India. Other powers trusted that India would behave itself and not cross the international border. So there is little reason to believe that if India had hit back against Pakistan, it would have been anything more than an airstrike or a special forces strike against training camps.If there was any escalation beyond that, I could foresee it coming from the Pakistani side more than the Indian side. If anything, Kargil showed that the Pakistani won’t pass up an opportunity to get aggressive with India if a chance exists.Now what a strike could have gotten India is a whole other discussion. You are right that they wouldn’t have gained much and probably lost far more in the bargain. In this case, getting the Americans involved and getting international condemnation of Pakistan was far more beneficial for India than any military retaliation could have been.

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Myra: “Kargil did not escalate because the Americans intervened and persuaded then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to order the troops out.”Since 1999, paks have been spinning America saved India, and because of American pressure ONLY the Kargil ended up as a fiasco.The truth is America pressured pakistan not out of kindness towards India. Indian PM, the govt conveyed in no uncertain terms absolutely no scope for any negotiation WHATSOEVER until and unless pakistan army vacates the positions it occupied. All options to evict them i.e escalation were on the table.Pakistan has initiated 4 wars 47,65,71, 99 ; only the first one ended in territorial gain (getting POK) but entangled and created the Kashmir mess.65 resulted in a declaration advantageous to India, and was diplomatic and military fiasco. Same goes for 99.Although it is very common for paks to describe all of them as victorious.Mercifully we have a phtograph like this: Dec16/Surrender1.jpgOtherwise they will say pak army never surrendered.


Musaffir writes: “India is big, in numbers as well as size and resources, but that places a great responsibility on India as well. Instead of intimidation, threats and mixed signals, there should be a return to talks and solve problems on the table rather than in a foxhole.”India has been responsible. If it was any other country by now Pakistan would be in rubble. Look at what the Americans did after 9/11. India has held its horses. It has been Pakistan that has been the aggressor all along. You mention India’s size, power etc above. But your country has had the audacity to disrespect that and engage in confrontation. That is the problem. Did your country act responsible in the case of Afghanistan? It exploited the situation and gained mileage from it. Pakistan did not get involved in the anti-Soviet proxy war without seeking gains from it. And it gained a lot of destructive power that it unleashed on India after 1989. And India has taken all the bullets and has progressed economically. What does that tell you? Indians are not seeking a war and your country is. It has been itching to use the nukes. Musharraf had grand plans for Kargil. He was hoping that India will take the bait and attack Pakistan. He had nukes ready. He couldn’t care less what happened to India or his own country. Your generals have such huge bloated heads that they have failed to look around themselves and realize the poison that was spreading all around them. Now they are fighting fire in all directions and you people still blame India. India has been a very responsible power and it is being appreciated worldwide, excepting by your country. If you want us to respect you, first do that yourself. We are not waiting at your gate for your acceptance. You can stay where you are. We are moving ahead. Only we do not want stones being thrown at us from your side. If you did that, we will mind our own business. But that will leave you with nothing constructive to do, like nation building, educational and industrial infrastructure building etc. Your country has gotten used to firing bullets in the air. And staying quiet will drive your leaders insane. Your country needs psychological help to remove the paranoia it has acquired over the years.


Keith thinks from military POV and overall startegic advantages India would have in case India attacks Pakistan. He does not see India attacking, given the history and output of the attacks. Zakaria, soon after 26/11, said attack is a possibility that India would thunk but not do since it would further radicalize the nation and terrorists.Myra is all full of theory. she is chasing statements and getting mileage out of that. Sorry Myra, but that’s the way I see. I do not see much logic there. If there is any, it is shifty logic.Even during Indian operation Parakarm and Indian and Pakistani troops tense standoff for months, I knew that India will not attack Pakistan.fact is India never attacked pakistan. Even in 1971, the formal war as started by air raids in India by PAF. Perhaps during operation Parakaram after parliament attack, India was provoking Pakistan—-may be.Only a stupid of first order will attack pakistan when Pakistan is already imploding. An Indian attack will glue all terrorists and civilians, politicians and generals together with a sweet music of attack India.

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Osama Bin Laden alive and well in Pakistan with new wifeAccording to a former member of the Pakistani Intelligence Service, Osama Bin Laden is in Pakistan, where he has been since the Tora Bora showdown.The source said that Bin Laden has been an asset to the Pakistani government and has enabled Pakistan to get financial and military aid from the United States. Y-Economy-and-Politics-Examiner~y2009m11 d23-Osama-Bin-Laden-alive-and-well-in-Pa kistan-with-new-wife

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“Kargil did not escalate because the Americans intervened and persuaded then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to order the troops out.” MyraI think this is half the story really, with a googly thrown in, A quick reading gives the impression that the US took the intiative to stop hostilities or else things would have gone out of hand. I seem to have a different perspective on the US involvement and how it came about.At this time, I am unable to give precise references (over time I have forgotten the sources) where it was generally established that the Pakistanis after initial penetration, were in disarray and wanted a face saving way out. The only quick reference I did find which does not give out too many details is at wikipedia (where else?): il_WarA perinent quote about the final stages……”Following the outbreak of armed fighting, Pakistan sought American help in de-escalating the conflict. ……… However, President Clinton refused to intervene until Pakistan had removed all forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control.[55] Following the Washington accord on July 4, where Sharif agreed to withdraw Pakistani troops, most of the fighting came to a gradual halt, but some Pakistani forces remained in positions on the Indian side of the LOC. In addition, the United Jihad Council (an umbrella for all extremist groups) rejected Pakistan’s plan for a climb-down, instead deciding to fight on.[56]The Indian army launched its final attacks in the last week of July; as soon as the Drass subsector had been cleared of Pakistani forces, the fighting ceased on July 26. The day has since been marked as Kargil Vijay Diwas (Kargil Victory Day) in India. By the end of the war, India had resumed control of all territory south and east of the Line of Control, as was established in July 1972 as per the Simla Agreement”The fact is that Sharif wanted to quit, wanted the US to intervene and the US laid down conditions to that intervention. In spite of Shariff, Musharaff wanted to fight on and finally things came to a halt when the Pakistanis were pushed back. I think this is more in line with what transpired.Another interesting article that I do have is by retired Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail which gives a picture of the serious professional rivalry between the various arms of the military at the time. The introduction to the article is a good pointer”It is telling not just for failure of Pakistan’s war planners but also the precarious relationship between democratic institutions and military ones. War, as Clausevitz said, is diplomacy by another means. There is definitely a need for an Kargil Commission in Pakistan to sort out those responsible for what turned out to be a travesty for all concerned especially as to how Pakistani military runs its affair and where the war policy is made. “ 2/12/paf-in-kargil-a-paf-warrior-speaks- out/

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

““The United States would discover the same difficult choices Indian leaders have looked at for a decade. Striking terrorist training camps achieves virtually nothing since they can easily and cheaply be rebuilt.”Myra, for once I do not have to begin by saying I disagree! Certainly the camps will come back. Just like the LeT resurfaces under another name. It is still necessary to make a statement and send out a message. One cannot eradicate terrorism, one can at best bring it under scrutiny and make things difficult, but surely that is not reason enough to let matters be.”I haven’t spoken to anyone, including Indian analysts, who consider it to be an established fact that Mumbai was officially ordered by Pakistan or the Pakistan Army. This viewpoint was however quite prevalent in the Indian TV media immediately after 26/11.”Myra, there were two english language channels which were hell bent, and still are, trying to start a war. In fact I think their anchors probably wake up every morning and are surprised to find that it hasn’t started yet in spite of the programmes they carried the previous night. They are in fact laughable and I think if you track what media critics have to say about them, every week in the print media, you know that no one, but no one, takes them seriously. To use them as a source, even when serious analysts and commentators don’t advocate it, would ruin anyone’s credibility.The larger issue however is not that it was officially ordered, but those who did help and provide planning and training were closely involved at one time or another with the establishment. Many take refuge and try to wish it away by saying they are retired and/or therefore non-state actors – that is a no brainer. Aren’t they still drawing their pensions and other retirement benefits from the state?

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

At last we have someone like Brian, who understands the real concerns of the Pakistanis. Keep up the good work at leasr you look at situation from outside the box.As a Pakistani I feel we cant blame anyone else for our problems also have to realise that we can overcome any challenges we face but NOT coprehensivly if we have outsiedrs meddling in our internal affairs. be it the US drones, or indian stelling us how bad our Pak Forces are without even pcking a finger what their army has been, still is doing in Kashmir…OCCUPATION!Try to flick few channels and see how the Pakistani media is always trying to improve the the situation except for (hamid zaid). Then try to view couple of indian news channels constant pakistan bashing when they have enough they turn to china. Childish news anchors india and indians needs to be mature and if they want the respect they need to act like a big brother in the region than interfering in every nook of other countries as they have done so in sri-lanka, nepal, pakistan always nO1 and even the beanglis dont like their behavior. Something MUST be wrong, anyway hope common sense prevails instead of lunatics on both sides maybe little more on the indian sides reading the comments and their beloved media.

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““What I took away from the article was the extent to which Chidambaram’s warning influenced thinking in the Pakistan Army”Well in that case I think Chidambaram, in an interview last night on TV has solved the problem:’In an exclusive interview with NDTV on whether Indiais safer, a year after 26/11, Home Minister P Chidambaram says war with Pakistan is not an option.”…..we have brought enormous pressure to Pakistan and I think some of our friends continue to apply pressure to Pakistan. But beyond that it would be rash to speculate on any other kind of action.’ hidambaram_on_handling_pakistan_post-261 1.phpMyra, do you think there will be another rethink in the Pak Army now?”The redeployment coincided with an easing of tensions between India and Pakistan which followed a meeting between PM Manmohan Singh and President Zardari in Yekaterinburg in Russia. The question under discussion in this post was whether the army could redeploy even more troops.”My inference from this is that if India downgrades it talk of action, Pakistan would be able to redeploy more troops to fight the war in Afghanistan or its own internal militancy. I think this question has been raised often enough and answered too. Yet, it keeps popping up without any debate on the responses to it.So my question is, what about India’s threat perceptions on its western flank? Why is Pakistan justified in expecting India to create problems but unrealistic for India to have similar apprehensions about Pakistan’s intentions? Pakistan may have legitimate concerns, why is India not expected to have any? Is it because they deflect attention from the ‘other’ war on terror?

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

the writer of the article needs more research about the so called tribal area. In the so called tribal area the Pushtoons happen to live and right now they are giving dancing lessons to the marines, one sniper pinning down a platoon of marines. I would not underestimate these warriors who have never been defeated in history. Since Pakistan Army’s intrusion in their territory the Capital and the military headquater can no longer be defended by the elite Pakistan Army. The author needs to revisit his notes on the tribal people.

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@ Editor
this is not Pakistan but rexminor. you need not edit my input and then publish it under the name “Pakistan”. I am neither a Pakistani nor do I represent Pakistan!

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