Was there ever really a Plan B?
I want peace in Pakistan. So do most Pakistanis. There were prolonged efforts at peace talks between the government of Pakistan and Taliban. Nothing much came out of it. Taliban to attack, innocent people were victims. These attacks were mostly claimed by outfits that were unheard of; broken away factions of Taliban. My question always was; what exactly is the government’s strategy to deal with Taliban if Plan A (Peace Talks) fail? What is Plan B?
In my Op-Ed published on November 12, 2013, I had written, “The new TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah nicknamed the “Mullah Radio” was born Fazal Hayat to Biladar Khan, a Pukhtun of Babukarkhel clan of the Yusufzai tribe of Swat District where much later, he worked as an operator of a manual chairlift on the river Swat. He then joined the Jamia Mazahir-ul-Uloom — a religious seminary run by Maulana Sufi Mohammad. He married the daughter of Maulana Sufi. He has fought side by side the Taliban in Afghanistan with his father-in-law. Both were arrested by the Pakistani security forces. Maulana Sufi was sentenced for 10 years whereas Fazlullah got off lightly after 17 months and emerged as a popular Wahabi militant leader because of his activities in Swat. He reorganised the TNSM and raised a private army that he named the “Shaheen Commando Force”. In the aftermath of the 2007 siege of Lal masjid, Fazlullah’s forces and Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) formed an alliance. Fazlullah and his army henceforth reportedly received orders from Mehsud. (Al Jazeera Feb 13, 2009) Mullah Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat Valley in 2006. He also had set up shari’a courts in Swat and is known to be a hard core Islamist. Reports by a source point towards indications that there are deepening fissures within the ranks of Taliban that a sharp adversary can take advantage of. But then, a fumbling adversary may fail to do so. This brings me to the next question that needs some serious thinking by our lawmakers. With Taliban not willing to come to the table for talks, what is the Plan B? If there is a Plan B? Here we must take in consideration an important distinction. The difference between strategy and tactics; overlooked and often confused by many. The word strategy emerges from a Greek word that roughly translates into “general”. It may be defined as the plan to meet a goal or result and may include using various tactics. Whereas tactics may refer to a plan or procedure for promoting a desired end or result. The strategy answers the “what” part of the equation whereas tactics, on the other hand, are supposed to tell us “how we are supposed to reach the objectives. “A strategy may include two or more tactics to reach the goal. Therefore talking with Taliban aimed at achieving peace is one tactic out of many options. It is not the strategy itself.”
So Plan B mow stands revealed.
Voilà! It is military offensive.
The Guardian (22 May 2014) reports, “On Wednesday fighter jets bombed areas in North Waziristan, which an army spokesman said killed scores of “hardcore terrorists including some of the important commanders and foreigners”. Army spokesmen made clear it was in response to attacks in the preceding weeks in the troubled western region and also the city of Karachi. Despite numerous meetings between government and TTP representatives the peace talks’ initiative appears to be going nowhere. Terrorist attacks have continued and the movement has been riven by factional infighting. Last week a video emerged of TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah vowing the movement would continue its fight until Pakistan introduced strict shari’a law.”
“The offensive targeted the Matchis Camp near the capital of North Waziristan, an area set up to house Afghan refugees but now a hub for local and foreign militants,” a senior government official of the region said.(May 23, 2014)
Where do we go from here? The offensive will not, cannot remain restricted to North Waziristan alone.
The question is; will the terrorists restrict themselves to North Waziristan or escape to other areas to regroup in face of the military offensive?
In my op-ed published on February 04, 2014 I had questioned, “If talks do not work out; is military operation the next step? Interesting questions again emerge; once these operations start will the Taliban shift to Afghanistan? How will the present and incoming government of Afghanistan look at this? Will the border areas be used as a hideout and launching pad for their attacks? How will these operations affect Pakistan in its role of bringing about a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan as expected by US? Needless to say, Pakistan has to face the issue of terrorism and take a proactive action aimed to end killings of innocent citizens. These questions are intricately linked with exit of American forces from Afghanistan. How will Pakistan secure peace within if Afghanistan does descend into civil war with drug barons and warlords running amok? This seems to be a likely outcome of post US forces withdrawal in Afghanistan. Pakistan must be seen as a solution to the problem, not as a problem adding to the problem.”
Peter R Neumann, writing for Policy Affairs in 2007 says, “The argument against negotiating with terrorists is simple: Democracies must never give in to violence, and terrorists must never be rewarded for using it. Negotiations give legitimacy to terrorists and their methods and undermine actors who have pursued political change through peaceful means. Talks can destabilise the negotiating governments’ political systems, undercut international efforts to outlaw terrorism, and set a dangerous precedent. Yet in practice, democratic governments often negotiate with terrorists.”
There are many instances to support Neumann’s claim. Joshua Keating, writing for Slate Magazine states, “The British government maintained a secret back channel to the Irish Republican Army even after the IRA had launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street that nearly eliminated the entire British cabinet in 1991. In 1988, the Spanish government sat down with the separatist group Basque Homeland and Freedom (known by its Basque acronym ETA) only six months after the group had killed 21 shoppers in a supermarket bombing.” (He quotes Peter R Neumann here actually).
Pakistan Today reports, “During a tense meeting, the army effectively declared it would override a crucial plank of the government’s strategy and take matters into its own hands. The army chief and other military officers in the room were clear on the military’s policy: the last man, the last bullet,” a government insider with first-hand knowledge of the meeting told a foreign news agency. Asked to sum up the message General Raheel Sharif wanted to convey at the gathering, he added: “The time for talk is over.”
The question is; will the terrorists restrict themselves to North Waziristan or escape to other areas to regroup in face of the military offensive? The answer is no to the first part and yes to the second part. Even if the security forces reportedly took the caution of sealing off exit points from North Waziristan which they did; leaks would have led to many exits before the offensive happened. The fact remains; not every Taliban is in North Waziristan, cross border ingress and support has happened before and will happen again. With the heat turned on, attacks in other parts of Pakistan and lethal attacks for that matter will be launched to divert and deflect attention. There are good chances of the fire spreading. (As I was sending off this piece to my Editor, I read the news about eight officials of the levies killed while three were reportedly injured by ‘namaloom afrad’ at a heavily armed check-post along Quetta-Karachi Highway in Wadh Tehsil of Khuzdar district). However, those who state that this is exactly why they supported peace talks need to be reminded that killings were being conducted during peace talks too; only, it was one sided and innocent blood that flowed.
Pakistan is between devil and the deep blue sea- damned if it does and damned if it does not.