My new friend Haider Mullick — we met during an unusually uncontentious “debate,” and I quickly came to the conclusion that Mullick is a deeply knowledgeable guy — has written a fantastic piece on the beginnings of a successful Pakistani counter-insurgency strategy for Newsweek.
At first, the Pakistani military’s response to the Islamists had been disastrous. Caught off guard by their onslaught, the Army had responded with brute force, trying, in the words of one officer, to “out-terrorize the terrorist.” Such heavy-handed tactics had alienated locals, even while the intelligence services played a double game, trying to crack down on local Taliban while supporting them in Afghanistan so as to counter Indian influence there.
But then, after the arrival of the innovative General Tariq Khan, the Pakistanis began experimenting with clear-hold-build.
I visited the region in March and spoke off the record to officers involved in Operation Shirdil then and again last week. They say the new strategy has brought Bajaur and the neighboring district of Mohmand back “under the writ of the government,” setting up a “counterwave” of government victories that has prevented “the Taliban marching to the capital.” In March, several key Taliban warlords surrendered, disbanding their militias and handing over heavy weapons. And some 200,000 internally displaced people have returned home. “Our mantra for too long was, kill one insurgent and produce a hundred, but keep killing hundreds and they will run out,” says one officer. “We finally learned the value of killing none and producing a thousand friendly tribesmen that do the killing for you.”
Mullick goes on to outline what a national counter-insurgency strategy for Pakistan should look like. The article is well worth your time. I’m only sorry I wasn’t aware of Mullick’s work earlier on.
P.S. And by the way, comrades: this Tony Karon post strikes me as very helpful in understanding the Pakistani dilemma. Key points:
The insurgency is largely confined to ethnic Pashtuns, who comprise little more than 15% of the population.
Even in the most generous assessments of their fighting strength, they are very lightly armed and outnumbered by the army by a ratio of more than 50 to 1.
The bad news is:
The military may also be more sanguine about the Taliban than Washington has been because the generals tend to view the country’s political establishment, most directly challenged by the militants’ gains, as corrupt and self-serving.
There’s little support in the public — or within the ranks of the military — for deploying the military in a sustained civil war against the militants.
I can’t imagine Karon and I agree on very much — he’s not an admirer of the neoconservative right, as you can probably guess — but this is a smart, shrewd analysis that cuts through a lot of misunderstanding re: the situation in Swat.