Cloughley: PAKISTAN’S ARMY, THE TALIBAN, AND WASHINGTON

Brian Cloughley writes in a guest op-ed for IC:

Pakistan’s army continues to face challenges, not the least of which is the growing insurrection by Taliban and Taliban-supporting tribesmen in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) abutting Afghanistan. There has of late been much international criticism of the army for allegedly failing to take action against militants, and according to London’s Financial Times on April 26, Hillary Clinton “expressed bewilderment that one of the world’s largest armies appeared unable to confront dozens of militants.”

First of all there are not “dozens” of militants : there are many thousands, most if not all encouraged into insurrection as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002. Senior officers in Pakistan are extremely angry concerning the accusation that the army is “not doing enough” and it is a fact that since 2002 the army and the para-military Frontier Corps have suffered over 1800 killed and three times that number wounded in battles with insurgents, which is hardly an indication that there has not been action against them.

There is an understandable lack of sympathy for the US throughout Pakistan, stemming in part from the belief that the US does not care about Pakistan army or civilian casualties.

Then there is the matter of the army’s accountability, because it cannot take action without the approval – without the orders – of the civilian government. It appears to have escaped the attention of Pakistan’s more vociferous critics that the army is subordinate to the civil power, which, according to the US Secretary of State, is so casual concerning its responsibilities that it is deliberately letting the country plunge into chaos.

Clinton told the US Congress on April 23 that “I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists,” which is the sort of pronouncement to which the world became accustomed during the horrible Bush years – the arrogant insistence that everything bad that happened was the fault of everyone but Washington’s finest. The resentment caused in Pakistan has been immense, and Clinton’s words prompted a rare statement from the Chief of the Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who commented pithily on “pronouncements by outside powers raising doubts on the future of the country.”

As any commander would be, Kayani is annoyed that the deaths of his soldiers are treated in such a cavalier, offhand fashion by a supposed ally. He went on to say that the army “never has and never will hesitate to sacrifice, whatever it may take, to ensure [the] safety and well-being of the people of Pakistan and the country’s territorial integrity”, and that “A country of 170m resilient people under a democratic dispensation, strongly supported by the army, is capable of handling any crisis that it may confront.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

*****

In the tribal areas, where all but one of the seven Agencies, Orakzai, adjoin Afghanistan, the army continues its operations against Taliban and Taliban-associated tribesmen, many of whom had no such liaison or inclination prior to military operations in the region.

Considerable disruption has been caused to tribespeople, hundreds of thousands of whom have been forced to flee their villages to exist in camps erected by the government and the UN High Commission for Refugees. Unfortunately the notable absence of young men in the camps has been assessed as indicating that many are joining the ranks of the insurgents. One patriarchal tribal was reported as saying in February 2009 that “Our youths have become bitterly angry. The courageous among them have joined Taliban, no matter whether they agree with their philosophy or not,” and it is apparent that the army’s clearance operations and US drone attacks inside Pakistan have created an unquantifiable but obviously most significant degree of extreme resentment in the tribal areas.

On 10 April 2009 The News newspaper in Pakistan, acting on a briefing by the authorities, reported that “Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent. Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan. The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8).”

The head of the US Senate Armed Forces Committee, Carl Levin, acknowledged in March 2009 that “the price is very heavy” when drone missile strikes kill civilians, but said the strikes were “an extremely effective tool.” There appears to be no intention on the part of the United States to cease or even moderate the drone attacks, in spite of a forthright meeting between General Kayani and senior US representatives in Islamabad on April 8. Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mr Holbrooke, President Obama’s envoy for the region, were again told that the strikes were unacceptable, but there was no meeting of minds.

There is much resentment concerning US policy throughout the country and at all levels of the army, which considers that unilateral strikes by the US reflect poorly on Pakistan’s position as a willing associate in the US effort to eradicate elements considered to be a threat to American security. In FATA the army has to bear with the knowledge that its operations are most adversely affecting the lives of ordinary citizens of Pakistan. The fact that these citizens are Pushtun tribals makes military action a delicate matter, as some fifth of soldiers are of Pushtun stock. There is no evidence that this has caused any disciplinary problem, but the fact remains that any commander would be unwise to ignore the sensitivity of committing troops of specific origins in operations that might involve their own kith and kin.

*****

A major problem for the army, however, was and continues to be unfamiliarity with counterinsurgency techniques. The great majority of units are trained in large-scale conventional manoeuvre warfare, and are skilled in armoured operations. When it became necessary to withdraw formations from the eastern border to counter militancy in the west, there were few if any units that had experience of the very different tactics essential in counterinsurgency. It was necessary to conduct in-area training of all units, not only those expecting to be directly involved in patrols, ambushes and attacks. Logistics elements, especially those operating or relying heavily on ground transport, are extremely vulnerable to action by dissidents, and it took many weeks for lessons to be learned and training imparted, during which time there were many casualties.

(It is notable that the US army, under the auspices of General Petraeus, now commander in the region, found it necessary in 2006-2007 to produce a new instruction Manual (FM 3-24) on counterinsurgency. It had been realised, after three years conducting such operations, that much of the army was not properly trained for the nature of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

General Kayani has ordered that 2009 should be “The Year of Training”, focusing at the unit level rather than conducting major formation exercises, and aimed at improving all aspects of lower-level expertise. This will have the effect of cutting the number of large-scale exercises, resulting in reduced operating costs, although it will be necessary to maintain conventional skills. It can be expected that the army’s emphasis on counterinsurgency will be maintained and that increasing numbers of units and formations will rotate from the eastern border to the west should the internal security situation deteriorate, as it appears likely to do.

The army’s morale appears good, and general standards of discipline and training are more than satisfactory. It suffers from a lack of high-quality junior officers, but it is possible that economic trends may result in attraction of more young people to a military career. In spite of many strains, the army considers it represents solidity and continuity in an unstable state, but under Kayani and his likely successor the army will stay out of politics, although its chief will continue to have much influence.

Further, the army chief is reluctant to become involved in the purely policing aspects of internal security, as was evident at the time of the demonstrations in support of the dismissed Chief Justice (which contributed to president Zardari’s decision to restore him to his post), but will remain the force of last resort in the event of major domestic unrest. Although it is too much to expect that there will be rapprochement with India to the point of reductions in troop levels, the stress on large-scale operations will probably be modified, and fewer exercises involving armoured formations will be held.

Pakistan is experiencing severe strains, but can rely on the army to continue to perform its duties as required by the Constitution.

What the country and its army need is quiet, structured support from Washington. All the noisy and insulting public pronouncements by Clinton and others might make good headlines in western newspapers, but they are entirely counter-productive as regards the citizens of Pakistan, who see America as a preaching bully rather than a helper in this time of deep crisis.

Brian Cloughley

[This piece is adapted from Pakistan’s Army and National Stability published on April 22 by the Pakistan Security Research Unit of the University of Bradford (UK). Brian Cloughley’s book about the Pakistan Army, War, Coups and Terror, covering events up to February 2009, is published by Skyhorse Publishing (New York) in May 2009
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