Originally Published 2004-09-01 06:31:27 Published on Sep 01, 2004
Why does Manipur continue to be on fire? Civil and human rights activists, social scientists and even the media would have you believe that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is primarily responsible for this. Is that so? Why is this act necessary? What does it imply?
Act of last resort
Three months from now, President Pervez Musharraf will have to take a decision. He could decide to quit the post of the Chief of Army Staff-a position he has been holding for the past five years, the longest ever for a Pakistani General, perhaps longest ever for a General anywhere in the world during peace time. Or he could decide to stay put.

The first decision could mean a new Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan and a new set of generals in the top echelons of its Army. This could also mean that President Musharraf will no longer have full control of the Army as he does now. The new generals might have had their stint in the Afghan jihad as the current crop of generals, but they also had the chance to observe and analyse President Musharraf's actions during the past five years, especially his relations with the US and the operations in south Waziristan, both of which had an impact on the Pakistan Army.

There is evidence that the Waziristan operation has not gone down well with the Army. It is for the first time that the Pakistan Army was involved in prolonged counter-insurgency operations within its borders. The operations have taken a toll on the troops and continue to do so even today. The situation in Waziristan, where most of the Al Qaeda cadres had initially sought refuge from the US bombings in Afghanistan, is far from normal. 

Though the tribal leaders were, in the initial stages, willing to cooperate with the Armed forces, the Army action of pulling down houses and indulging in wanton killing of men, both young and old, has embittered the tribals who have since then withdrawn their active participation. The terrorists, mostly foreigners, have exploited this growing schism between the tribals and the Army to entrench themselves in the region.

This is the reason why the Pakistan Army continues to battle guerrilla forces in Waziristan even six months after the operation was first launched. The number of troops killed in the operation is mounting by the day. More than 150 soldiers have so far been killed in skirmishes. 

There is increasing evidence that the Pakistani troops are battling not merely foreign terrorists associated with the Al Qaeda but also local renegade elements who have been affected by the military operations. The incidents of landmine blasts targetted against the troops are a sign of local involvement. The area of operation has expanded beyond the initial few pockets which the Pakistani forces had attacked with concentrated fire power both from field artillery guns and combat helicopters.

The battle is being fought on newer grounds forcing the Army to extend its commitments in terms of manpower and weapons. Going by official accounts, more than 30,000 troops have been deployed in the region. There is no doubt that the battle is far from over. The terrorists and their guerilla supporters have dug in their heels and are drawing substantial support from the local tribal leaders as well as from a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

The fallout of the Waziristan operation has been substantial. Not only has there been a coalition of sorts between terrorists and tribal leaders in Waziristan, the failure of Pakistani troops to neutralise them have encouraged terrorist groups to expand their area of operation to Balochistan, sending the Pakistani Army on the defensive. Although the Army and the official establishment has denied any Army operations in Balochistan, the growing number of protests by local political leadership, lawyers and residents leave little doubt that Balochistan is witnessing a military operation.

There are even reports that Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was eased out of premiership because he protested against President Musharraf's decision to take the war on terrorism to Balochistan. Whatever be the truth, it is undeniable that Pakistan Army's operations in Waziristan and surrounding areas are being met with fierce resistance from the local residents. On August 30, for instance, a large number of angry tribals gathered at the funeral of several "Al Qaeda terrorists" killed in a gunfight with the troops. 

They accused the Army of killing innocent residents. Such local protests are bound to increase in the days to come unless the Pakistan Army withdraws from the area. There are signs that the Army brass is aware of the disastrous consequences of running a full-fledged army operation inside own territory and have therefore deployed Frontier Corps, Waziristan Scouts and Northern Light Infantry in these areas.

There is another fall-out the Army is worried about. The Waziristan operations are being exploited by terrorist and religious groups to gather support for their cause. Even Pakistani intelligence officials, as quoted in the media, admit that the three assassination attempts in the past one year-targeting President Musharraf, the Karachi Corps Commander and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz-were planned and executed by members of various sectarian and religious groups which merged with terrorist groups including the Al Qaeda. 

Most of these terrorist were trained at Al Qaeda terrorist training camps in south Waziristan. A large number of other recruits from these camps are now distributed throughout Pakistan, especially in cities like Karachi, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

A recent media report (Daily Times, August 30) said several members of East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement have shifted their base from south Waziristan to cities in the wake of the military operations. One of the wanted terrorists was the former bodyguard of a Chinese Islamic terrorist leader, Hassan Mahsum, wanted by the Chinese authorities for his involvement in terrorist activities in Sinkiang. Mashum was killed last year in the Northern Areas. The report reveals the nature of terrorist coalitions that was taking place in Pakistan, triggered in no less measure by Waziristan operations and Pakistan's involvement in the war on terrorism.

These developments are unsettling for the military top brass. Today, the Pakistan Army is engaged on three fronts simultaneously. On the east with India and on the west with Al Qaeda groups operating out of Afghanistan and its surrogate units entrenched in own territory, especially in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, hitherto left unattended by the Army.

The Army finds dealing with terrorist groups within the territory more challenging. There are serious, palpable differences of opinion within the Army on the whys and hows of Pakistan's alliance with the US, its role in the war on terrorism, and the need for launching a full-fledged military operation in Waziristan. The arrest of over 20 Pakistani Army officials, including some mid-level commanders, in Afghanistan, on charges of aiding the Taliban, has had its own impact on the Army leadership.

Most officers who are in line to take key positions in the next wave of succession, if and when it happens, are those who are witnessing the pitfalls of being surrogate to a superpower, and being involved in a counter-insurgency operation, ironically not much different from the one in Kashmir.

There is thus a strong possibility that these officers might have different views on how to deal with terrorist groups which were once aided and abetted by Pakistan intelligence agencies and the Army, and might not agree with President Musharraf if they were allowed to take key positions in the Army hierarchy. So, there is less and less chance that President Musharraf would dare shed his uniform and expose himself to the decisions of a new set of generals.

Courtesy The Pioneer, New Delhi, September 1, 2004

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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