Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sounding the drums of war

As I am writing this piece, the military offensive in South Waziristan has already begun. After a weeks of deadly suicide attacks across five cities in Punjab and the North West Frontier Province, tanks, troops and artillery including helicopter gunships and jets have begun making their way into the FATA region. While the Pakistani armed forces are confident that this offensive against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al-Qaeda will be a successful one, its prudent to remind ourselves that we have been here before. The last three military offensives in this region; in 2004, 2005 and in 2008 ended in peace deals.

So what makes this one so different? For one, the military has come to understand the threat that these militants pose to not only its existence but also its legitimacy in Pakistani society. For years the military has enjoyed excesses, carving out an opulent first world existence in a third world country. This existence was justified with the role of the army in protecting Pakistanis from the threat of "big, bad" India. Well, the times have changed. The ongoing suicide attacks  have shown the incompetency on part of the military forces to the protect the civilian population. Another reason would be the sheer difference in the logistics of war this time around. In the last three operations only a fraction of troops were committed compared to the 28,000 troops taking part now.

Are these changes going to be enough this time around? I'm not so sure. The success of the offensive in Waziristan depends on the ability of the Pakistani armed forces to deal with guerilla warfare in a strategic manner. While the military may seem to have an upper hand due to the massive arsenal  employed, the Mesuds (a tribe from which the TTP primarily draws its support) do not only know South Waziristan's geography inside out, but are also well aware of  the strengths and limitations of warfare in this region. This may have undoubtedly contributed to their previous success in engagements with the Paksitan army. Just something to keep in mind. The South Waziristan offensive also cannot be successful  without the cooperation of US and NATO forces across the border. As seen in previous occasions,  TTP militants are not averse to "border hopping". Cross border cooperation will ensure that any spillover effect from this operation is minimal.

Even if the army succeeds in destroying TTP-Al Qaeda infrastructure in South Waziristan, it still has to deal with its most recent incarnation: the Punjabi Taliban. It is all well and good to roll in gung-ho in a mountainous region with a population of 500,000 people and very little in the way of infrastructure. But how exactly are you going to fight an enemy in the heavliy populated heartlands of Punjab?

While I hope for the success of the military offensive in South Wazirstan, I can't help but feel that this response is a case of too little too late. In my (non-expert) opinion, the future of the Taliban has already been decided with the emergence of the group in Punjab. I sincerely hope that I am wrong about this, and the recent violence are just acts of desperation (highly unlikely, but still probable)

On a lighter note: posted below are songs that are part of my South Waziristan  soundtrack. Enjoy!

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