Brig Asif Haroon Raja
The swift and focused operations on multiple fronts and from four directions in Malakand Division helped in forcing militants to come out in open and wage pitched battles. Mass attacks were covered by suicide attackers riding explosive laden vehicles. At one place, when main gun of the tank targeted a vehicle in Swat, cluster of 21 suicide bombers along with their vehicles and motorcycles was destroyed because of sympathetic detonation. Open resistance by militants suited the army since it negated guerilla tactics. Large numbers of militants were gunned down in ensuing clashes thereby forcing them to abandon mass attacks and to attack in smaller groups from all directions against one military target. When this strategy too failed in slowing down the advance of determined army sub-units led by courageous young officers, and their senior leadership based in Peuchar fled the scene, it caused panic and they decided to flee.
Lower Dir, Buner, Swat and Shangla districts have been retaken by the military within a span of one month. Command structure, logistic dumps, arms and ammunition stocks and training areas have all been dismantled and second and third tier leadership as well as large number of militants killed. Notwithstanding continuation of small-scale terrorist acts in these areas, by and large the backbone of militancy has to an extent been broken. The army is now helping in restoration of services of gas, electricity and water as well as in supplying relief goods to the affected.
Gen Kayani has aptly remarked that the tide has turned in Swat. Visit by army and air chief to battle zone on 8 June was a morale booster. Now that the military is reorganizing and consolidating its gains, it has entered into critical phase of retaining captured territory. It will have to establish check posts, outposts, carryout mobile patrolling, maintain troops deployed all over Malakand Division from brigade/battalion administrative areas entailing movement of vehicles, thereby presenting softer targets. The militants have been dispersed but not eliminated completely. Guessing from their past tactics, after a breather, they would again regroup and resort to their favorite tactics of hit and run, hitting vulnerable spots.
The runaway leadership and militants from Malakand Division must not be given any respite. They have the option to either hide within the areas where they have been beaten, or move to adjoining districts, or any of the tribal agencies, or major cities, or Afghanistan. The latter course should be pre-empted by pressing US military to play its role. Fazlullah has been targeted five times but somehow he has escaped. In the last attack on Kabal he got injured. The noose has however been tightened around him. Unless senior leadership of Taliban in Swat, Bajaur and in Waziristan is got hold of, ideological movement would not die down. It may peter out temporarily but would resurface with greater vengeance once the military returns to barracks. As long as top leadership of Swat Taliban remains at large, one cannot say with firmness that back of militancy has been decisively busted. Baitullah, Fazlullah and some other prominent leaders have been provided Israeli made chip technology which forewarns them of impending danger enabling them to escape each time the noose is tightened around them. Our agencies will have to counter chip technology or spread their intelligence network all over to net the wanted 21 militant leaders on whom head money has been announced.
There is talk of impending operation in Waziristan. President Zardari has already let the cat out of the bag thereby denuding the army of the advantage of element of surprise. On one hand he has forewarned Baitullah led forces to hone their weapons and prepare a bloody reception; on the other he has created feelings of insecurity and unease among the non-militants of that region and many have already started to migrate to safer areas.
Till such time Malakand Division is fully cleared and writ of civil administration re-established, the second front should as far as possible not be opened in Waziristan. Reaction of militants in Bajaur is yet to be seen. In all probability, they would like to open additional fronts like Upper Dir to cause dilution of effort on the army. Most of the runaways from Malakand regions must have escaped to adjoining districts and Bajaur where the militants still have a toehold in Mamond District. Some new areas like, Kohistan, Battagram, Malakand Agency could be heated up. Restive Mohmand Agency and Khyber Agency are other possibilities that could get activated.
Working on the age-old principle that contact with enemy must never be lost, Waziristan should be kept under constant surveillance. It should be kept engaged by keeping it under continuous observation and some small-scale actions. This policy was not followed in Swat each time the army was made to withdraw prematurely without completing operation in totality.
The battle plan for Waziristan should include isolation of militants and making them immobile by targeting their vehicles, blocking escape routes of militants to Afghanistan or neighboring areas within Fata, division through creation of armed lashkars and village defence force and encirclement. Khost has become main supply centre for meeting needs of Baitullah. Booth RAW and RAAM are supervising reinforcements of men and material. This route needs to be sealed. Each army unit should have quick reaction force with desired mobility and firepower to reach out to the area where help is needed by the locals or civil law enforcing agencies. The base of terrorists where suicide bombers are recruited and trained must be located and destroyed. Qari Hussain in South Waziristan supposed to be a specialist in motivating and churning out suicide bombers, should be targeted. Communication system of militants should be jammed through C4I electronic means. Maulvi Nazir in South and Haji Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan who are averse to fighting Pak army and believe in waging Jihad in Afghanistan against occupation forces should be taken on board. Importance of effective media campaign to counter negative propaganda of militants needs no emphasis. Choking effect on single main supply route because of movement of IDPs should be accounted for by creating alternative routes.
All supply routes will have to be well protected since the militants are focusing a lot on this aspect to make supply lines unsafe. In April-May, over 130 convoys of police, paramilitary forces and army have come under attacks in different parts of NWFP. Somehow, militants gain prior information before or during the movement starts. In each case, militants have been following proper ambush drills by first halting the convoy by destroying front vehicle through IED and then cutting off the tail. Thereon, the militants in hiding open up indiscriminate firing. They have sufficient ammunition for a sustained firefight even when reinforcement arrives. Leakage of information must be plugged and anti-ambush drills as well as dispatch of quick deployment force at the site of occurrence well-rehearsed. Administrative tail will have to be drastically cut to avoid unnecessary movement of vehicles.
During search and destroy operations, efforts should be made that no innocent person gets killed or property destroyed. Displaced persons should be well looked after and protected since relief camps become one of the hunting grounds for the militants to enroll recruits. Within the battle zone, peaceful citizens who opt to stay should be protected. Lashkars and village guards should be further strengthened and motivated. An effective, elaborate and well coordinated local intelligence network free of CIA and FBI should be put in place at grass root level. Displaced persons could become useful informers to disclose inner intelligence of the militants. Since Swat has been neutralized where suicide bombers were trained, such sites in South Waziristan must be traced and destroyed to prevent suicide bombers streaming into cities. Likewise IDPs in camps and outside should be screened and guarded from RAW agents.
The writer is Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker, a defence and political analyst.