Saturday, 3 November 2007

Pakistani Counter-Insurgency

Today's schadenfreude award goes to this short report prepared by the neo-con think tank, the AEI, which examines the Pakistan counter-insurgency effort in the tribal belt and northern areas and, after criticizing the "elementary errors" made by the army, recommends that Pakistan should learn from India's successful counter-insurgency effort in Kashmir!

Its an interesting report, worth reading, but interestingly enough, the folks at the Indian policy blog, The Acorn are not entirely convinced. They point out that some of the steps advocated in the report actually backfired for the Indian army. Two points made are that cordon-and-search operations (CASO) that the AEI report recommends was found by the Indian army to alienate local inhabitants and the recruitment of former insurgents (ikhwanis) only met with mixed success.

An interesting point made though, and I think a valid one, was that the Indians soon learned that the use of artillery and airstrikes always did more harm than good and instead relied on flushing areas with huge numbers of ground troops to provide security for the local population and hinder the free movement of the insurgents. Fully one fourth of India's army was stationed in Kashmir. Soldiers were deployed on foot along entire roads and highways to check for IEDs before they were used by military convoys.

This is particularly important because firstly, as we can see in Swat, the Pakistani forces have lost their own freedom of movement and are confined in their bases and checkpoints. The militants can amass to attack and overrun specific targets and then disperse again at will, before the Pakistani army can bring significant force to bear on them. Proportionately, the Pakistani army has far fewer men to cover the areas where insurgents operate, and IEDs and suicide bombings are a major source of casualties. Furthermore, convoys move along unsecured routes and are easily attacked and overwhelmed. This was one of the "elementary mistakes" referred to in the AEI report. Several convoys have been attacked and overrun, including one in which over 200 soldiers were captured by the militants without a shot being fired.

In an interesting interview with one of the officers of a captured convoy, it was revealed that the soldiers had been told that a peace agreement had been reached with the militants and that they could travel through the area without hindrance as long as they remained in their vehicles. When the convoy was surrounded by locals asking what the soldiers were doing there, they kept radioing HQ for instructions. The local army commander kept radioing High Command for instructions. No one had any clear idea about what to do. Finally, after a long delay, the locals lost their patience and took the soldiers into captivity.

What is clear was the ineptitude and lack of clarity in the Pakistani army leadership's handling of the crisis. There is no clear idea of what the military objectives are, let alone how to go about securing them.

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