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Friday, February 06, 2009

How to reverse the militancy crisis

How to reverse the militancy crisis

Friday, February 06, 2009
by Charles Ferndale

A frequent cause of the human animal’s capacity for self-deception is arrogance coupled with wishful thinking. When Robert Gates, the American secretary of defence, said recently something to the effect that America could not afford the money or time to create some sort of Valhalla in the NWFP, if that was what was required to defeat the militancy there, he was deluded by arrogance. Does he think it can be done on the cheap, according to America’s timetable?

Valhalla, in Norse mythology, is a great hall to which half of those who die in battle go and where they then live in peace. I doubt that Gates had read up on his Norse mythology. What he intended to say was that America could not afford to create an ideal land in the NWFP just to put an end to the militancy there. But what Mr Gates failed to realise is that, in the troubled areas of Pakistan, paradise is having something to eat, is not freezing to death, is not having one’s family killed and injured, is not having one’s home destroyed; in short, is not being terrorised. And Mr Gates seems to have overlooked the fact that this tragedy is a direct consequence of American foreign policy since 1977. Since the Americans made the dreadful mess, they should pay to have it cleaned up.

Mr Gates should make up his mind whether or not the present American administration wants seriously to help defeat the militants. Successive US administrations have claimed that defeating the militants is vital for the security of the rest of the world, so presumably they should be deeply committed to that end. Pakistan can certainly not afford to do what is necessary alone. If the Americans really do want victory over the militants, then they must do whatever it takes.

Here is what I think is the minimum that must be done in order to defeat the militants:

— The Americans should guarantee Pakistan against any first attack from India, so that the Pakistani Army can concentrate fully on the troubles on its western border.

— The militants’ sources of finance should be discovered and stopped. No insurgency can survive without a continuous supply of money. If, as many Pakistanis believe, a major source of funds is the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, then America must make India an offer they cannot refuse.

— The resupply of arms must be stopped by whatever means it takes.

— Anyone who has studied guerrilla warfare will know that the single most powerful weapon that can be used against insurgents is inside knowledge, so the militants must be infiltrated. They are too smart and too closed a society to be infiltrated from outside, so their own people should be induced by whatever means it takes—one of which is money—to inform on their colleagues.

— Whatever information is gained from infiltration of the insurgents must not be allowed to leak back to the insurgents, which, given the supposed sympathy for militancy within the ISI, cannot be guaranteed except by setting up sealed cells within the intelligence services.

— A study of successful counter-insurgencies shows that conventional armies do not do well against insurgents. What is needed is undercover special forces who are as hard to detect as are the insurgents. The Pakistani Army has little experience in this type of warfare, so they should find those who do and get them to train the Pakhtuns as a counter-insurgency guerrilla force. The trainers could be sympathetic Mujahideen who fought the Russians, Vietnamese who defeated the Americans, the mountain warfare sections of the British Marines and the British SAS, the Canadians, and so on.

— Chairman Mao, the great Chinese insurgent, said that guerrilla fighters are fish that swim in the sea of the people. Take away the cover of the people among whom they hide and they become fish out of water. The only effective way to do this is to take back and secure, permanently against re-incursion, every village and town in which the insurgents seek cover, food, medical care and resupply. America’s record in Vietnam for successfully doing this was bad; maybe the Pakistanis, especially well trained Pakhtuns, can do a better job because they are of the people.

— With villages and towns permanently secured, the damage done by the army and militants can be undone, and people can return to nearly normal life in the sure knowledge that they will not be killed by the army or militants later. Putting guards on schools so as to lure back girl students is a hopeless idea unless the area is permanently secured. The smaller the area the easier this strategy should be. So start in the small villages and broadcast successes. The people of the towns and villages should also be armed and trained by Pakhtuns already armed and trained in counter-insurgency. Having broadcast the successful freeing of a village from militants, these guerrilla counter-insurgents should lie in wait for militants returning to take revenge on the newly freed village.

— To guard against arrogant and indifferent abuses of power by the army, as many Pakhtun commanders as possible should lead the conventional army in the NWFP operations. Special operations should be largely made up of Pakhtuns from the areas in which they fight.

— Stop killing non-combatants in the areas affected by insurgency. The present curfew policy—shooting curfew-breakers on sight—is an obscenity. Anyone who is not an insurgent and is willing to risk life by breaking the curfew is clearly in urgent need of help, which they should be given. The Punjabi dominated army should be reminded that it is their job to protect, not to kill, non-combatants. This is something the Americans have never understood, for the simple reason that all the wars they have fought in the last 63 years have been in other people’s countries, where they have shown indifference to the deaths and injuries they have inflicted upon the indigenous people. The Pakistani army often behaves as if the NWFP were a foreign country.

— Deprive the insurgents of their means of communication, both in military and in propaganda terms. Why the army has not jammed the militants’ FM radio, or bombed it out of existence, is beyond me. Radio triangulation is not rocket science.

— Launch effective and honest information services (radio and television) to counter the propaganda put out by the insurgents, and to inform people isolated by war of what is going on around them (set up a Tribal Broadcasting Network). Set up communication systems so that people within range can call in rapid assistance teams (medical, military, food, information). The people whom the militants terrorise must have good reason not to feel abandoned by the government and the militants must know that their attacks on those people will cost them their lives. The supply of personnel to the militants will dry up if non-combatants feel safe and are not enraged by suffering they perceive to have been caused by the central government.

— Within the secured areas, undertake intensive, effective, projects that will employ the people and make them self-sufficient. Almost universal literacy could be accomplished within a year at most (in Nicaragua, the Sandanistas changed 85 percent illiteracy to 5 percent in six months, though their population and area was larger). Set up clinics, schools, agricultural advice centres, technical colleges, markets and especially agencies whose job it is to listen to people’s grievances and to seek honest solutions to their problems.

— Address all the grievances of the local people with impartial courts and jirgas comprised of only trustworthy indigenous people and deprive the bullying intruders of all power and, if necessary, of their ill-gotten property too.

In my view, these are the necessary, if not sufficient, conditions for a successful reversal in the NWFP of the present militant terror. Of course, if they were implemented, it would mean that the NWFP would become an area in which social justice would truly exist, for the first time in Pakistan. That would not be Valhalla, it would be a miracle.

The writer has degrees from the Royal College of Art, Oxford University, and the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. He divides his time between the UK and Pakistan. Email:


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