Pakistan: From Counter-Terrorism to Counterinsurgency

Pakistan: From Counter-Terrorism to Counterinsurgency
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick
Washington Post (PostGlobal), April 1, 2008

When a new government takes charge in Pakistan, there will be little time to celebrate the return of civilian rule. Faced with a plethora of socioeconomic problems made worse by rising suicide bombings, Pakistanis have not felt this insecure in their homes and cities since the conventional wars with India. The United States administration is equally nervous about its estranged, nuclear-armed ally facing the nearly insurmountable task of eradicating al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Given the electoral loss of Islamists in insurgency hotbeds in northern Pakistan, Pakistani civilian and military leaders, backed by the United States, have an excellent opportunity to go beyond short-lived counter-terrorism tactics to a multifaceted sustainable counterinsurgency strategy.

In most of the last six years, counter-terrorist military actions, focused on kinetically interdicting die-hard terrorists, dominated Pakistan's security policy. These actions were assisted, although unsuccessfully and inconsistently, by counterinsurgency strategies of socioeconomic development and political reconciliation. Contrary to Washington's misinformed dismal report card on Islamabad's halfhearted efforts to curb terrorism, however, the Pakistani military did achieve major successes in the early years after 9/11.

Nearly half of Guantanamo Bay Prison is full of al-Qaeda operatives caught in Pakistan, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the chief plotter of 9/11. But selective treatment of the Taliban in hopes of finding a political solution, a reduction in human intelligence, and a failure to 'sell' the war to the Pakistani people have overshadowed prior victories. Today the realization is growing, among military and civilian leaders alike, that "America's War" is "Pakistan's War" and that mistakes have been made.

To remedy the situation, last fall General Ashfaq Kiani, former head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and current Chief of Army Staff, implemented a new guarded yet effective counterinsurgency strategy. Relying on credible human intelligence, winning over local support, and coordinating with American trainers and intelligence and military personnel in Afghanistan, General Kiani was able to bring Swat – a former Al-Qaeda stronghold in northern Pakistan – under state control.

Pakistani civilian leaders seem just as dedicated as their military counterparts to eradicating terrorist safe havens. The Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and the Awami National Party won last month's national elections, ousting President Musharraf's allies and the Islamists. Despite constitutional differences with the president, the victors agree that terrorism is a complex, multidimensional threat and not simply Musharraf's bogeyman that would disappear if Pakistan severed its ties with the United States. Nonetheless, they also believe that Musharraf's prior connivance in supporting a U.S.-centric counter-terrorism strategy was detrimental to Pakistan's long-term stability.

In addition to Gen. Kiani's approach and the next government's desire to 'talk' to moderate Taliban, more needs to be done to endorse counterinsurgency strategies over brute-force counter-terrorist measures. Pakistani politicians are eager to take charge – but they must know that simply cutting deals with al-Qaeda or Taliban will not guarantee security. First, before hastily signing another truce with the 'moderate Taliban' in the tribal areas, the new government must investigate past failures of similar agreements.

Second, measures that promise better governance, more constitutional autonomy and socioeconomic opportunities to the tribal areas pending expulsion of terrorists will only succeed if Pakistani politicians guarantee consistent engagement. That includes, for example, asking the military to support Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) – similar to International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) role in Afghanistan – over large-scale military operations.

Third, the current U.S. plan to increase the training of Pakistani troops – paratroopers, Pakistani Special Forces, and Frontier Corps – is a step in the right direction. U.S. training programs must be supplemented by U.S. military hardware and intelligence exchange across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A unilateral U.S. attack on Pakistan's rustic tribal areas, however, will be devastatingly unsustainable and counterproductive.

A stable nuclear-armed Pakistan is crucial for any successful U.S. effort to bring stability to the region. It holds the potential for intelligence exchange and military support, and holds a strategic geographic location next to Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban know this too well. With time running out, Washington should continue providing smart and targeted military, economic and diplomatic aid to all willing and capable Pakistani civilian and military leaders and institutions. Changing the counterterrorism-counterinsurgency calculus by focusing on active socioeconomic engagement over excess use of brute force is essential to achieving victory in the Global War on Terror.

Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is an independent policy analyst, and an Adjunct Fellow at Spearhead Research, Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at


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