Fighting the Taliban Odds stacked against the Pakistan Army

BAITULLAH MEHSUD, leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan of South Waziristan, has been killed by a US missile launched from an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) and a bitter succession war has broken out in the TTP. 
Pakistan’s north-west is now so deeply embroiled in insurgency that, for a change, no one has made even a token statement of disapproval against yet another violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by US forces deployed in Afghanistan. Perhaps the government and the Pakistan army are grateful to the US for helping them to get rid of an iconic symbol of defiance. 
After the partially successful Operation Rah-e-Rast (the Right Path) in Buner-Swat Valley and the long-drawn Operation Mizan in South Waziristan, which has failed to meet its objectives so far, it has clearly emerged that the Pakistan army is finding it difficult to effectively subdue the Taliban, leave aside rooting them out. 
Also, some elements in its higher echelons are not seriously inclined to do so as they see in this fight against the Pushtuns portents of an impending mutiny. The army comprises over 20 per cent Pushtuns and they are bound to be disenchanted if it kills their fellow Pushtuns in large numbers. 
The army created the original Afghan Taliban and considers it a strategic asset. Hence, the army is still following the duplicitous policy of running with the (Afghan) Taliban hare and hunting (the Pakistan Taliban) with the US hounds. Inevitably, it is failing in both endeavours and has antagonised both the protagonists. On April 22, 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Pakistan of “abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists.” 
Insurgency in the NWFP and FATA is proving difficult for the Pakistan army to handle primarily because its tactics, techniques and procedures are more suited to conventional conflict. Its policy of placing the Frontier Corps, a border guarding force, in the vanguard while the regular army provides support and trains and equips itself for surgical counter-insurgency interventions has been unsuccessful and casualties have been mounting. 
The use of fighter jets and helicopter gunships for air-to-ground strikes and heavy artillery bombardments to attack terrorist hideouts is proving to be completely counter-productive and is rapidly alienating the tribal people. It is also compelling people to leave their homes. Unless it engages in close combat with the Taliban and systematically destroys armed resistance, the Pakistan army will be unable to gain control over and hold the areas that it has lost to them. 
Approximately 1,00,000 army troops are now deployed for counter-insurgency operations. The Peshawar-based 11 Corps, comprising 7 and 9 Infantry Divisions, is responsible for counter-insurgency operations in the NWFP. It is stretched thin on ground whereas the Taliban are well prepared to launch high-profile hit-and-run attacks and melt away into the mountainous terrain. 
The Okara-based 14 Infantry Division is deployed in the area Bannu-Mir Ali-Dera Ismail Khan in South Waziristan (Operation Mizan) since early-2007. It is finding it difficult to come to grips with the situation as the TTP has the initiative on its home turf. 
Besides 14 Infantry Division, a large number of troops from the corps and divisions which are traditionally responsible for operations on the eastern front with India were inducted into the area of Buner and Swat Valley for Operation Rah-e-Rast. 
According to the usually well informed Pakistan analyst Brian Cloughley, who is occasionally briefed by the Pakistan Army, these included “two brigades of the Mangla-based 19 Infantry Division (10 Corps)… two brigades of the Gujranwala-based 37 Infantry Division (1 Corps), two brigades of 23 Infantry Division (10 corps) under the command of HQ 19 Infantry Division and the Sialkot-based 54 Independent infantry Brigade (30 Corps). Two integral armoured units and two or three artillery regiments were also deployed… units of 11 Corps took positions in Lower Dir, Buner and along the Sawt Valley to the south of Mingora securing ground for the formations from the east…” (‘Swat Team’, Jane’s Intelligence Review, August 2009). 
The operation was launched with 20,000 troops backed by massive air force and artillery support. While many militants were killed – the army claims that it killed 1,592 militants, many others fled the area to live to fight another day despite a tight cordon. The extremist elements are bound to return when the army moves out of the area. The operation resulted in a mass exodus of people from Dir, Swat, Malakand and Buner, the largest internal displacement of population since the great exodus of 1947. 
Over two million refugees streamed into Peshawar and other towns in the NWFP, presenting a complex humanitarian challenge for a weak and financially insecure government and for the international relief agencies. The army is now in the process of engaging the TTP in South Waziristan in Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Road to Deliverance). 
Brian Cloughley has estimated that up to five brigades have been deployed for this operation that is expected to last much longer than the Buner-Swat Valley operation. The TTP is fighting back with ferocity and is likely to further escalate its hit-and-run raids, ambushes and IED attacks after the death of its leader Baitullah Mehsud. Though the army might wish to launch surgical strikes against suspected hideouts and disengage quickly so as not to alienate the tribal population, it will be unable to do so. 
The Pakistan army lacks counter-insurgency weaponry and equipment. Despite uncontrollable internal instability, the army has been investing in upgrading its war fighting capability for conventional war with India – at worst a distant threat. The army has also not yet succeeded in acquiring basic infantry skills that are necessary for dealing with internal security challenges. At a conservative estimate, it will take at least another two to three years to upgrade its capabilities to the level necessary to face the new challenges provided it begins in earnest immediately and makes a determined effort to succeed. 
The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi