Pakistan’s Army: Unprepared to tackle terrorism?

November 14th, 2007 - 2:40 am ICT by admin  
Bowing to international pressure, President Pervez Musharraf has restarted an offensive in the remote tribal areas that are rapidly becoming a hub of global terrorism. Yet early indications are that, no matter who is in charge, the Pakistani Army is ill-suited - and perhaps incapable - of doing the job.

Significant casualties and scant public support for the operation, “will become a problem in the future,” says Moeed Yusuf, director of strategic studies at Strategic and Economic Policy Research, a think tank in Islamabad.

“If this continues, the Army will tone it down because there will be too many losses,” he suggests.

Yusuf is further quoted by the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) as saying that America must temper its expectations of what Pakistan can do militarily in the war on terror or risk inflaming the situation further.

In late August, for instance, some 250 Pakistani soldiers, including officers, surrendered to a smaller group of militants without firing a shot. Since then only 30 have been released. Meanwhile, conservative estimates suggest that 1,000 of the 90,000 soldiers deployed in the three-month operation have been killed.

For a military revered as Pakistan’s proudest institution, such a disgrace at the hands of ragtag rebels is symptomatic of a broader malaise, says the CSM.

“The Army officers have started realizing that this battle is not worth the cost,” says Hassan Abbas, a Pakistan expert at Harvard University.

For her part, Benazir Bhutto, who is back in the country after an eight-year self exile, the bloody attack last week has hardened her resolve.

She expects the attacks to continue, but was quoted by the BBC as saying, “What I really need to ask myself is: do I give up, do I let the militants determine the agenda?”

Despite misgivings about the current offensive in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal territories, the Army brass is thinking about it very seriously,” says Yusuf, who recently co-wrote a report titled “Counterinsurgency in Pakistan” for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Pakistan’s future threat, he says, is not from India: “The threat is an internal one for years to come.”

But an array of factors plays into the Army’s unwillingness to put those thoughts into decisive action.

For one, some elements of the Pakistani Army still believe the militants are a useful and manageable tool: If the West leaves Afghanistan - as many here believe it will - they will give Pakistan a means to influence events there.

Moreover, the Army is hardly designed to take them on in their own territory. Since its inception, the Pakistani Army has looked eastward to India, focusing on the plains of Punjab and sands of Sindh, from where any invasion might come - probably in columns of tanks and sorties of jet fighters.

Now it is being asked to look westward to its rugged Afghan border and wage a completely different style of warfare for which it is unprepared. This is not what we were trained to do,” asks Yusuf.

To be sure, the Taliban are viewed differently here than they are in the West, not least because they are Pakistani. While the West sees an Islamist war against its liberties, many here see a US-led war against Islam itself.

From this perspective, Pakistan’s Muslims are being asked to kill Muslims at America’s behest.

For this reason, many experts do not expect the current offensive to continue.

If it does, the Army “will get divided vertically,” with officers remaining loyal to headquarters and the rank and file becoming increasingly alienated, says Ayesha Siddiqa, author “Military Inc.,” a book about the Pakistani Army. “Cracks are appearing,” she adds.

Like other analysts, she agrees that the way forward is not militarily - it is by developing the region economically over the next 15 to 20 years, undercutting the poverty and lack of education that feeds extremism. (ANI)

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