Pakistan’s internal security challenges

THE deteriorating internal security environment in Pakistan has gradually morphed into the country's foremost national security threat. The Pakistan army has been battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan since mid-June 2014 with only limited success. The Al-Qaida has been quietly making inroads into Pakistani terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayebba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Recently, Ayman Al-Zawahari, the Al-Qaida Chief, announced the launch of a new wing in South Asia, to be based in Pakistan. 
Fissiparous tendencies in Balochistan and the restive Gilgit-Baltistan Northern Areas are a perpetual security nightmare. Karachi is a tinderbox that is ready to explode. Sectarian violence is rampant; the minority Shia community is being especially targeted by Sunni extremists. Other minorities like the Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have also been assaulted. And, there have been several instances of insider involvement in attacks on military establishments like the Mehran airbase and the Karachi naval dockyard. 
The realisation about the gravity of the internal security situation took some time to dawn even on the Pakistan army. Over the last decade, the army has deployed between 150,000 and 200,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas for counter-insurgency operations. It has suffered over 15,700 casualties, including 5,000 dead since 2008. The total casualties, including civilian, number almost 50,000 since 2001. 
War on terror
Hurt by a series of Taliban successes in “liberating” tribal areas and under pressure from the Americans to deliver in the “war on terror”, in the initial stages the Pakistan army employed massive firepower to stem the rot — as was visible on television screens worldwide when operations were launched to liberate the Swat Valley (Operation Rah-e-Rast, May-June 2009) and South Waziristan (Operation Rah-e-Nijat, Oct-Nov 2009). Fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were freely used to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts, irrespective of civilian casualties. This heavy-handed, firepower-based approach without simultaneous infantry operations on the ground failed to dislodge the militants, but caused large-scale collateral damage and alienated the tribal population even further. Counter-insurgency operations against the TTP in South Waziristan drove most of the fighters to North Waziristan, but for long the army remained reluctant to extend its operations to this province. 
Lack of cohesion
Despite facing the grave danger of a possible collapse of the state, the Pakistan government's counter-insurgency policy had until recently lacked cohesion. The commencement of a peace dialogue with the TTP, despite the abject failure of several such efforts in the past, allowed the terrorist organisation to re-arm, recruit and train fresh fighters. It also gave the TTP leadership the opportunity to cross the border into Afghanistan. In March 2014, the TTP offered a month-long cease-fire. The army honoured the cease-fire and refrained from active operations, but several TTP factions fought on. On April 16, the TTP withdrew its pledge and blamed the government for failing to make any new offers. In the face of mounting public and army pressure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reluctantly agreed to approve military strikes. The PM is now backing the army fully and has said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a “sanctuary for terrorists” and that the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated. 
Refugees in own land
On June 15, 2014, the Pakistan army and air force launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting strike), their much-delayed offensive against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan. The operation began with air strikes and was subsequently followed up with offensive counter-insurgency operations on the ground. Operations of the Pakistan Air Force were supplemented by US drone strikes, which were resumed after six months and caused extensive damage. Approximately 30,000 regular soldiers of the Pakistan army are involved in the operation. As a result of the operation, one million civilians have become refugees in their own land.The army claims to have eliminated over 1,000 terrorists so far, a large number of them foreign terrorists. Most of the others have escaped across the border into Afghanistan. 
Good Taliban spared
Though the Army Chief has said that the present operation is aimed at eliminating “all terrorists and their sanctuaries” in North Waziristan, no strikes have been launched against the Haqqani network and two other militant groups that have been primarily targeting the NATO/ ISAF forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA) — the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group and the Mullah Nazir group. These three groups are called the “good Taliban” by the Pakistan army and the ISI and are looked upon as “strategic assets” to influence events in Afghanistan after the NATO/ ISAF draw down has been completed. The Haqqani network has also been employed to target Indian assets in Afghanistan.
North Waziristan has rugged mountainous terrain that enables TTP militants to operate like guerrillas and launch hit-and-run raids against the security forces. When cornered, the militants find it easy to slip across the Durand Line to safe sanctuaries in Khost and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan. So far, only limited success has been achieved in military operations in North Waziristan. The coming winter season will make it even more difficult to conduct effective operations. 
Not military solutions alone
There can never be a purely military solution to an insurgency. A successful counter-insurgency strategy is a dynamic but balanced combination of aggressive offensive operations conducted with a humane touch, good governance and socio-economic development. Political negotiations to address the core issues of alienation of the population and other political demands must also be conducted with the local leadership simultaneously. The tribal culture prevailing in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA, with its fierce ethnic loyalties, makes the task of the army and the government more difficult. 
Impact on India-Pakistan ties
What do these developments portend for India? It is a truism that regional instability always has a negative impact on economic development and trade. Creeping Talibanisation and radical extremism are threatening Pakistan's sovereignty. If the Pakistan army fails to conclusively eliminate the scourge in the north-west, it will soon reach Punjab, which has been relatively free of major incidents of violence. After that, it will only be a matter of time before the terrorist organisations manage to push the extremists across the Radcliffe Line into India — first ideologically and then physically. It is in India's interest for the Pakistan government to succeed in its fight against radical extremism, or else India may have to fight the Taliban at the Atari-Wagah border. 
General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani's statement after the April 2012 avalanche at the Gayari battalion HQ that peace with India is in Pakistan's interest and that the Siachen conflict zone should be demilitarised, was undoubtedly encouraging as it was the first such overture made by a Pakistani COAS. Given the challenges posed by growing internal instability, the need to cooperate with NATO/ ISAF forces and the fear of major Indian strikes if the ISI-sponsored Jihadi organisations like the LeT and the JeM launch another Mumbai-type terrorist strike, the Pakistan army had until recently curtailed its proxy war operations against India, but had been keeping the pot simmering so that it could ratchet up violence levels quickly when required. Recent incidents on the LoC and the increase in infiltration levels this summer negate the genuineness of moves towards rapprochement. Hence, Pakistan's recent overtures towards India are a tactical ploy to tide over the army's current difficulties at home, rather than a paradigm shift in grand strategy. The Pakistan army is still light years away from a genuine change of heart about the futility of prolonged hostility towards India. Nevertheless, besides talks with the Pakistan government, the Indian government should begin a back-channel dialogue with the Pakistan army as it is the real power centre in Pakistan. Even during war it is always advisable to keep a channel of communication open with the adversary.
The precarious situation in Pakistan is gradually headed towards a dangerous denouement. The government has been unable to deal effectively with the prolonged street protests by Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri. The likelihood of a military coup is being openly discussed again. Pakistan cannot survive as a coherent nation state unless the army gives up its agenda of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan, discontinues its attempts to destabilise India through its proxy war and stops its meddling in Pakistan's politics. The army must substantively enhance its capacity to conduct effective counter-insurgency operations. 
Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but the situation that it is confronted with could rapidly degenerate into unfettered disaster. All institutions of the state must stand together for the nation to survive its gravest challenge. In the national interest, the army must give up its dubious role as a “deep state” and accept civilian control, even if it does so with bad grace. Also, the Pakistan army and the ISI must concentrate on fighting the enemy within, rather than frittering away energy and resources on destabilising neighbouring countries. 
Pak’s war within 
On June 15, 2014, the Pakistan army launched the operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting strike), their much-delayed offensive against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in North Waziristan.
Approximately 30,000 regular soldiers of the Pakistan army are involved in the operation.
As a result of the operation, one milion civilians have become refugees in their own land.
The army claims to have eliminated over 1,000 terrorists so far, a large number of them foreign terrorists. Most of the others have escaped across the border into Afghanistan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is now backing the army fully and has said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a sanctuary for terrorists and the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated.
— The writer is a Delhi-based strategic analyst