Wednesday, December 31, 2008




The wave of suicide terrorism, which started in Pakistan after the commando action of the Pakistan Army in the Lal Masjid of Islamabadfrom July 10 to 13,2007, continued unabated during 2008.

2.There were 57 attacks of suicide terrorism during 2008 killing 925 persons---- civilians and members of the Security Forces. In 2007,there were 56 acts of suicide terrorism with 636 fatalities. There were only 22 acts of suicide terrorism between 9/11 and January 1,2007.The number of suicide attacks in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) decreased from 23 in 2007 to 16 in 2008, but in theNorth-West Frontier Province (NWFP) they increased from 21 in 2007 to 30 in 2008. The Swat district of the NWFP, where the Pakistan Armyand the Frontier Corps (FC) have been struggling in vain for over a year since November,2007, to bring the situation under control, recordedthe largest number of suicide attacks for a single district----12 in 2008 with 101 fatalities as against only four attacks in 2007. There werefour suicide attacks in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, during 2008 with 99 fatalities. There were 10 attacks in Punjab as against 9 in2007--- with five of them reported from Lahore and three in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area as against five in the same area in 2007---one inBalochistan as against two in 2007 and nil in Sindh as against one in 2007.

3.While the wave of anger against the Pakistan Army for the commando action showed signs of subsiding, there has been a fresh wave ofanger against the Army for following a policy of using Pashtuns against Pashtuns by training and arming local militias called Lashkars tocounter the Sunni members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

4.Many of the members of these Lashkars are Shia Pashtuns recruited in the tribal belt.In retaliation for these attacks by the Lashkars, theTTP attacked not only the Shia members of the Lashkars, but also the villages to which they belonged. The attacks on the Shias wereparticularly heavy in the North-West Frontier Province where over a hundred Shias were killed by suicide bombers during the year.

5. The wave of anger over the Lal Masjid action started subsiding after Gen.Pervez Mushaaraf, former President, left office on August18,2008. The jihadis of the TTP and others held him personally responsible for the commando action, which killed a large number of tribalstudents studying in the girls' madrasa attached to the Masjid. But the anger has not totally disappeared. It continues in a reduced form dueto what the jihadis view as the failure of the present elected Government headed by President Asif Ali Zardari to implement some of thepromises made by it after coming to office. Among these promises were the restoration of the responsibility for the management of themasjid to those responsible before the commando action, re-opening of the two madrasas run by the masjid for poor children----one for boysand the other for girls---- and the release of all those arrested from the masjid and its madrasas before and during the commando action.

6. It was the intense anger over the commando raid which initially led to the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), headed byMaulana Fazlullah, to take to arms against the Government in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and to theformation of the TTP under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan. Anger over the alleged support of Benazir Bhutto to thecommando action is believed by the investigators of the case of her assassination to have been one of the principal causes of her killing.The other cause was her publicly proclaimed readiness to allow US forces to operate in Pakistani territory if they had precise intelligence ofthe presence of top Al Qaeda leaders there.

7. This residual anger over the commando action and the new anger over what the TTP perceives as the policy of making Pashtuns killPashtuns through the Lashkars have been aggravated by a new wave of anger in the tribal belt over the steep increase in US missile andPredator (unmanned planes) strikes on suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistani territory. Initially, these strikeswere focussed on suspected Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban ( followers of Serajuddin Haqqani) hide-outs in the Bajaur Agency and in NorthWaziristan, both in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Subsequently, these attacks were also extended to South Waziristan tohit the suspected hide-outs of the TTP leaders, if the US had suspicion that the TTP was harbouring operatives of Al Qaeda or the AfghanTaliban. Towards the end of the year, the US started Predator strikes even on hide-outs in the NWFP.

8. The intensified US missile and Predator strikes during 2008 were caused by the US frustration over the unwillingness or inability of thePakistan Army and the Frontier Corps, a para-military force of local Pashtun recruits officered by Punjabis from the Army, to go after thesanctuaries, which were providing men and arms and ammunition to the Taliban units fighting against the US-led forces in Afghan territory.This inaction on the part of the Pakistani security forces has resulted in a bleeding stalemate in Afghanistan with neither the Taliban northe US-led forces being able to make much headway against each other, with the Taliban continuing to retain the ability for surprise attacksfrom sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. Such surprise attacks kill and spread destruction, but do not result in territorial dominance for theTaliban. Reliable assessments indicate that the Afghan Taliban now has a presence in over two-thirds of Afghanistan, but presence does notmean territorial dominance or control.

9. The US strategy till now has been to deny territorial dominance or control to the Taliban. The robust policy which President-elect BarackObama has promised and the new strategy being formulated by Gen.David Petraeus, the new Commanderof the US Central Command, wouldseek to expand the objective to one of establishing the territorial dominance of the US-led forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA) in thewhole of Afghanistan right up to the border with Pakistan by going after the Taliban cells or units operating in Southern and EasternAfghanistan and in the Kabul area with the help of local militias similar to the Awakening Councils in Iraq . The surge of 30,000 additionaltroops, which the US is planning to induct into Afghanistan in the coming months, is meant to make this expanded objective a reality.

10. The success of the new policy will depend upon the neutralisation of the sanctuaries in Pakistani territory which keep the Taliban andAl Qaeda fighting against the US. The neutralisation of the sanctuaries of the Taliban is necessary for the success of the US-led forces andthe ANA in Afghanistan. Without the neutralisation of the Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistani territory, the US cannot be free of fears ofanother 9/11 in the US homeland. Military and intelligence officers of the US realise that the US objectives vis-a-vis Al Qaeda and the Talibancannot be met unless these sanctuaries are wiped out and the surviving leadership of Al Qaeda is neutralised. They also realise that missileand Predator strikes alone ( over 30 during 2008 as compared to 10 during the previous two years) cannot achieve their objective unlesscombined with clandestine strikes by land-based stealth forces. They did attempt one such strike in September in South Waziristan. It wasnot successful and the furore in Pakistan over it led to their abandoning any more land-based strikes in Pakistani territory.

11. The US finds itself in the same position as the USSR found itself in Afghanistan before it decided to quit in 1988. The Soviet troopsavoided land-based action against the sanctuaries of the Afghan Mujahideen in Pakistani territory. They confined their retaliatory strikes toScud missiles fired at the suspected hide-outs of the Mujahideen in Pakistani territory. The civilian deaths caused by the Scuds added to theanger among the Afghan refugees and strengthened their determination to step up their attacks on the Soviet troops in Afghan territory andon Soviet convoys taking logistics supplies to the far-flung Soviet posts. The Mujahideen's success in disrupting the logistics supplies wasone of the factors, which contributed to the Soviet decision to quit.

12. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, advised by retired officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) such as Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, arefollowing against the US-led forces the same strategy which the Mujahideen had followed against the Soviet troops-----keeping thembleeding and trying to starve them of essential supplies. In addition to keeping up a high level of suicide and other terrorism in Afghanterritory to disrupt road movements of troops and supplies and weaken the control of the ANA in towns, they have stepped up their attackson road movement of supplies for the NATO forces from Karachi. The US is trying to work out alternate routes through Russia,Georgia andthe Central Asian Republics (CARs). It remains to be seen how satisfactory the proposed new supply routes will be.

13. Obama's advisers, apparently influenced by the analysis of Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani analyst, have been talking of a new politicalstrategy to be combined with a new operational strategy. Rashid has been selling the idea that the root cause of the Pakistan Army'sunwillingness or inability to deal with the sanctuaries can be traced to its unhappiness over the lack of any forward movement in its talkswith India over Kashmir and its concerns over what it sees as the increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan. He has been saying that if Pakistan's unhappiness and concerns on these two issues can be mitigated, its Army will put more heart into the fight against thesanctuaries.

14. When Obama's advisers talk of a regional strategy, they mean being responsive to Pakistan's perceived unhappiness and concerns. Ifthey do it, they can exercise more pressure on the Pakistan Army to deal with the sanctuaries and if and when Pakistan does it, it willbefefit not only the US, but also India. So their argument goes.This is pure wishful thinking and betrays a failure to comprehend thePakistani mind-set. Pakistan looks upon the various terrorist groups operating from its territory ----whether against India or Afghanistan orthe US---- as strategic assets to limit the power of India and its influence in Afghanistan and the CARs. It is not going to voluntarily give upthese perceived assets, unless forced to do so.

15. The inaction or inability or both of successive Pakistan Governments has enabled Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban,the Pakistani Taliban,the anti-India terrorist organisations, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Group ( (IJG) and radicalised members ofthe Pakistani diaspora in Europe and North America acquire a strategic depth in the tribal belt of Pakistan from where they can operatewherever they want all over the world----whether against India or Afghanistan or the West or Russia or even against Pakistan if itco-operates too closely with the US.

16. What the Obama administration would need is a regional strategy to eliminate the terrorirst sanctuaries in Pakistani territory and todeprive the jihadi terrorists of the world of the strategic depth which they presently enjoy in Pakistani territory. This is a strategy on whichthe US and India can closely collaborate as and when Obama and his advisers come out of their present mode of wishful thinking.( 1-1-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )