The Militant Triumvirate

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By

Mushfiq Murshed[1]

Inept policies, procrastination, confusion and prioritization of personal agendas rather than the wellbeing of the nation by the political leadership of Pakistan has resulted in a vacuum and further fueled an insurgency of a “jihad-pumped underclass.”
The doctrine that the army came out with more than a year ago that pronounced “home-grown militancy” as the biggest threat to national security shows that the army is far more tuned to reality than the present civilian leadership. The current COAS, General Raheel Sharif, is one of the key figures involved in revamping the Pakistan army from a “simple conventional force into a multi-role force that can handle counter insurgency and fight a conventional force at the same time.” The military doctrines and strategies are in place and the transformation of the armed forces is apparent. What remains, however, is the political will to implement relevant policies by the civilian leadership without which the armed forces will not, rightly so, initiate a large scale offensive against extremist militant groups in North Waziristan.
In this context, however, the resolution that followed the All Parties Conference (APC) of September 9, 2013, was, as an analyst very rightly put it, a “document of surrender.” The text of this resolution enhanced the status of the private militia (read Tehreek-e-Taliban) spreading fear and terror throughout the country to that of a “stakeholder” as it authorized the Prime Minister to “initiate dialogue with all stakeholders forthwith.” The inclusion of TTP as stakeholders entitled them to have a say in the future of the state although they refused to recognize the Constitution of Pakistan and wanted to supplant it with their “perverted interpretation of Islam.” This resolution, therefore, was in violation of Article 6 whereby subversion of the constitution by any person is considered as high treason as is the act of “any person aiding or abetting” the abrogation or subversion of the constitution; and article 256 which reads: “Private armies forbidden. – No private organization capable of functioning as a military organization shall be formed, and any such organization shall be illegal.” These articles provide no space for negotiations with the TTP and, most definitely, no room to elevate their status to that of “stakeholders” thereby legitimizing their efforts to abrogate the constitution and implement their skewed interpretation of Islam and the Sharia in areas that they control.
After the resolution was passed, terrorist activities continued unabated in the country. The two Sundays that followed the APC alone witnessed, first, on September 15, 2013, the assassination of General Sanaullah Khan Niazi and two members of his staff, and then, on September 22, 2013, the two suicide bomb blasts at the All Saints Memorial Church in Peshawar in which 83 worshippers were killed and 170 were seriously injured.
Yet, as was evident by the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) meeting held in Islamabad in December 2013, the government seems determined to initiate talks with these illegal entities. The CCNS, in its effort to “safeguard Pakistan’s national interests” and develop a “strategy on internal security,” once again, prioritized negotiations with militant groups terrorizing the nation. The refusal of the Taliban to participate in any form of negotiations was, as always, instantaneous and carried no mixed signals. They showed supreme confidence as they even welcomed a military operation.
The paradigm shift in the army doctrine, mentioned earlier, was not formed overnight. They too initially thought that possible negotiations and under-the-table deals could provide a premises for reconciliation as they believed that “it was better to come to terms with the Pakistani Taliban rather than fight them.”(Waziristan: The Last Frontier; The Economist; Dec 30, 2009). This strategy seemed to make sense as “making deals with rebels was, after all, how the frontier had been contained for 150 years.” (ibid). There was a somewhat “shaky peace agreement” between the Pakistan Army and the Taliban brokered by the Maliks. The administrative system has, as a result, been “overrun by militancy.”
The dynamics that allowed such deals to limit uprisings in the tribal areas have changed now. The Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have facilitated the Tehreek –e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to establish itself as a formidable militant opponent of Pakistan with the key objective of capturing and retaining territory within FATA. If their hold in this area is consolidated then it will provide them the strategic space needed to coordinate and organize, not only global terrorist attacks, but also their offensive to recapture Kabul after US forces have withdrawn in 2014.
It seemed as if Al Qaeda was, in their attempt to make TTP a more reliable ally and void of any desire for peace talks, pushing its own hardliners up the ranks of the organization by strategically allowing top members of the organization to be targeted, including Hakimullah. Umar Khalid Khurasani, the current Mohmand Agency chief, for instance, is considered as one of the most powerful and effective leaders and was shortlisted for the top slot in the organization, despite not being a Mehsud, before Fazlullah was appointed.
Khurasani is a hardliner whose loyalty towards Al Qaeda is unwavering. This was more than apparent from his highly publicized statements after Osama Bin Laden was eliminated in 2011. He also considered talks with the government futile as long as the present Constitution of Pakistan remained. In the eyes of Al Qaeda, such a personality would have been a perfect candidate to replace Hakimullah. In the end, however, Fazlullah prevailed. He is considered by many as the most brutal and anti-Pakistan TTP leader to date who will provide no space for dialogue (considered by some as the main reason behind his appointment by the Shura), it is also rumored that he is affiliated with Afghan intelligence.
The fact that a Yousafzai has been appointed as leader of a predominantly Mehsud militia is quite unusual. The Mehsuds, under Baitullah Mehsud, took over the helm of affairs from the Wazirs and established the TTP after the latter drove out the Uzbeks who had taken refuge in Wana and the Lal Masjid debacle in 2007. Now, the baton seems to have been passed on to the Yousafzai’s. Shaukat Qadir, in his article for the Friday Times, titled “Worrying Signs,” writes: “In the hierarchy of Pashtun clans, Yousafzais are considered far superior than Mehsuds. For the Mehsuds to accept someone from a superior clan as their leader is even more unusual.” Reports, therefore, suggest that there is widespread resentment within TTP ranks after this appointment and, as a result, Fazlullah cut his visit to Waziristan short and decided to relocate TTP headquarters to Dir.
Whatever the internal tribal dynamics may be, the prime objective of Al Qaeda to eliminate any possibility of negotiations with the state has been accomplished. The TTP under the Mehsud leadership had simply become unreliable for Al Qaeda. The latter provided financial and technical support to the TTP and considered it as their operational hand and an integral part of their master plan in forming an “Islamic Emirate.” Hakimullah’s demise through a drone strike was exactly what Al Qaeda needed to make sure that even the thought of conducting negotiations with the state would be considered as repugnant by the TTP hierarchy.
Despite these changing dynamics, the Pakistani Government is persistent in pursuing peace talks with the TTP. This shows an inherent weakness of a state that is incapable of administering its writ while the militants are blatantly rejecting any negotiation offers and openly threatening the state with intentions of carrying out terrorist attacks to avenge the death of Hakimullah. The government’s approach smacks of apprehension and fear. If the insurgency can be defused through negotiations then it remains the most logical approach. However, the state must dictate its terms and militarily crush any force that attempts to challenge the writ of the state before they can expect the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
If sense prevails then a military offensive in North Waziristan is inevitable. A major hindrance, however, in the success of such a military offensive is the accessibility that the TTP has to safe havens in Afghanistan. The capture of Latif Mehsud in Afghanistan in October 2013 by the Americans unveiled the dubious role that the Afghans were playing by supporting TTP in their insurgency against Pakistan. Pakistan’s complaints that insurgents and enemies of the state were based in Afghanistan was given further credibility. Fazlullah, for instance, is based in Kunar since his ouster from Pakistan in 2009. Despite being one of the most wanted men in Pakistan with a USD 500,000 government bounty on his head, the ease with which he crossed the porous Pak-Afghan border, after his appointment as head of the TTP, clearly establishes one of the most formidable obstacles that a potential military option in North Waziristan will face. Kunar is also “where all TTP escapees to Afghanistan find succor.” As long as such safe havens across a porous border are available for fleeing militants to regroup and coordinate attacks from, any military success in Waziristan will be superficial and will require a permanent heavy presence of the army in the area to counter a constant barrage of cross-border infiltrations and attacks by these militants.
Governments on either side of the Durrand Line have to come to terms with ground realities and the threats that they are confronted with. With the drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the resurgence of the Taliban is inevitable. The American National Intelligence Estimate has given Afghanistan three years before the Taliban and their affiliates will be dominant again. “The ill-equipped, badly trained, unmotivated and ethnically imbalanced Afghan National Army (ANA)” is incapable of countering a Taliban insurgency without NATO presence. It has already suffered a large number of defections and it is estimated that by the autumn of 2014 this number could be as high as 40 percent of the existing army. A bloody civil war is on the cards which will have devastating effects for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Keeping this in mind, an editorial in the Friday Times rightly states that “for the first time since independence, it is Afghanistan, not India, which poses the key foreign policy challenge.” Afghanistan was, therefore, rightly so, also a key point of focus, along with national and internal security, in the CCNS meeting. However, not much has been done since then to initiate a much touted about “Afghan-led-and-owned” peace process.
In order to commence an Afghan peace process, both governments must understand that any support for militants and their safe havens by either government will only compound the already precarious forecasts of 2014. Such strategies are only assisting the Al Qaeda-Afghan Taliban-Pakistan Taliban nexus in achieving their prime objective. Al Qaeda needs to reestablish bases from which it can operate freely. The Afghan Taliban need strategic depth in Pakistan to conduct an offensive to recapture Kabul from and the accomplishment of their objective would facilitate the Pakistani Taliban by “building long-term strategic depth in Afghanistan in alliance with Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.” There may be an occasional difference of opinion or a divergent method in operations, however, there should be no waffling in understanding that the core objective of the three is the same. An environment of mistrust between Pak – Afghan administrations is ideal for the militant triumvirate to take advantage of in order to reach their objective. Terrorists are giving a new twist to the words, “divide and rule.”
The need for unity and synergy between the Pak-Afghan administrations has become imperative if existing forecasts regarding the ascendancy of the militant nexus and civil war is to be proven wrong. For this, Pakistan has to do its part. A durable solution through dialogue in the tribal areas whereby militants are willing to accept the writ of the state and disarm is highly unlikely. The other options available are either to allow the existing scenario to persist with intermittent defensive operations or to pursue an all-out offensive operation. The former option would allow the country to muddle through. Pakistan would, as a result, have to face: the threat of nationwide terrorist attacks constantly looming over its head; chances of civil war in Afghanistan in the near future and its socio-economic impact in the form of a fresh influx of refugees which would be catastrophic as the existing state machinery would not be able to cope; militants who would be given further room to consolidate their hold in the tribal belt and neighboring settled areas; minimal foreign investment and economic stagnation; and global indignation and alienation over harboring militants within its borders. The latter option would, however, provide the state an opportunity to impose its writ in the most forceful manner before allowing any private militia to enter into a dialogue with it under a strict precondition of disarmament. The last option may not be the most desirable but is the only logical route that can be pursued.

[1] The author is the Editor-in-Chief of Criterion Quarterly.