What we faced then: Pakistan’s decade of counter terrorism

By Maj Gen (R) Ijaz Awan

When I took over in the second week of December, 2008, the prevailing conditions were very difficult and different for three reasons; the entire region was witnessing a reversal of earlier successes. The reversal had taken place after the ANP government decided to release Sufi Muhammad and many of his followers. They went back and started targeting the people and taking revenge from those who had helped the Pakistan army in their initial operations.

 Now because of that the army’s unit number one was over-stretched. Their line of logistics and supplies were being targeted by the terrorist who had moved into the built-up area once again. They had created a perception that probably the army was not very serious about their operation.

Common people also seemed to feel that (fighting the Taliban) was probably beyond the Pakistan army and that it either lacked the will to resolve or don’t have the capability to control them because they are same people who are arrested and then they are back again. The ANP government was little indifferent to this entire operation because they had passed a bill in the KP provincial assembly legitimizing their slogan of Islamic sharia law in Malakand division. 

Taliban filled with sense of triumph?

All these factors resulted in hopelessness among common people lost hope and created doubts about the army. The Taliban also thought they could overrun everything they wanted in a situation wherein the army was overstretched, with deployments starting from Malakand Fort to the mouth of Peochar. They were also deployed over River Swat on both sides and every village that was cleared near that village there was a post of Army which was established to control initially the conduct of elections. Now when these Taliban were released from jail, they went back and began attacking army posts wherever they saw an opportunity.

It was only the administrative difficulties, the overstretch of units and non-availability of reserve force for the entire that gave rise to false perceptions. 

The Trigger for Operation

My biggest difficulty was the identification of friend and foe. Also, notables of the area, including Afzal Khan Lala, kept asking me, if the provincial assembly agrees to the demand for sharia law, why is the army  opposing it. 

Coupled with the difficulties of operation, and the fact that Taliban terrorists were dominating those areas and also targeting people at will, I requested the Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani to visit Swat. He visited and himself took a sense of the situation.

In a consequent meeting at GHQ I proposed three things; one the need of additional troops to start operations to clear the main supply route (MSR) to different units. Second, we have to stop reliance on helicopters for logistical support and this slogan of sharia needs to be taken head on.

General Kiyani was of the view that the Taliban were not fighting for sharia. They want control on a geographical piece of land where they can live with confidence or reorganize and start their operations elsewhere.

The Nizam-e-Adl, as they called it, enforced in eight districts of Malakand division. We had to get over with it to give a motivation against terrorists and their false narrative of Sharia to troops.  For this reason, he had a meeting with Asfandyar Wali and later he met President Asif Ali Zardari. Both had diverse views on Nizam-e-Adl enforcement. Wali said a draft law for enforcement of Sharia could be passed by KP provincial assembly whereas Zardari raised an objection based on his Pakistan People’s Party’s political ideology, saying it would not be possible for the party to go for the vote with this.  Then the bill was tabled in February 2009 at the  the National Assembly which passed it and the “Islamic system’’ enforced in those district of Malakand to please TNSM.  

This led to cease operation there and provincial authorities began talks with  Sufi Mohammad for the system’s enforcement. My entry in the negotiations came later when it hit a snag on laying arms by Muhammad’s followers, the demand he was unable to fulfill as he did not have any sway over militants headed by his son-in-law FazlullahI along with the then provincial information minister Iftikhar Ahmed, police chief Fayyaz Tooro and other officials met Muhammad at Aman Dara mosque and sought his promise to announce laying arms as a key demand in return of the Sharia enforcement. But, he changed his mind a night before a public gathering at grassy ground of Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley, as Fazlullah stopped him of making any such announcement on phone call. 

He whispered him with his sting thought that this would harm his movement as they got this “success with the barrel of the gun” and would not be able to dictate terms on which they wanted to enforce Sharia. So the cleric rather used the gathering to condemn Sharia negotiated with us and Pakistan’s constitution. That was the moment when the army understood the real script. General Kiyani’s assessment was right given their linkage with Tehrik-e-Taliban, an umbrella organization of militants groups operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the Afghan border.   Yet, we went into negotiation that lasted for some time. They wanted as final demands the army to leave the Malakand to retake control and imposed an orthodox system seen in Afghanistan during the Taliban era. So finally the army in the end of March decided to go into an offensive there for a decisive battle. Additional force sent in because my division alone could not have operated in that region bordering Dir and Bajaur.   

That successful operation later was copycatted by Americans in Afghanistan and our commanders in North Waziristan. They evacuated areas of civil population before launching operations because otherwise it is difficult to single out foes in a huge crowd and chances of collateral damages are more that harms public sentiments. The Swat operation was done purely on the army’s own resources with the least collateral damages. Terrorists were deprived of using local population as human shield. This success was very reassuring to all that people of these area are with the state and not with these terrorists. No sympathy with terrorists. If they are quiet, it is under coercion and not at will. And most important thing that TNSM and its slogan of Sharia was completely exposed. They rather wanted a piece of geographical to carry on their violent drive. 

And those talk about the military’s Inter-Service Intelligence’s linkage with these terrorists should see the background where these violent individual were also helped getting training here and pampered by the world’s powers to fight Soviets.     

There is no iota of doubt that 9/11 attacks on the United States led Pakistan’s policy towards militants shifted to 180 degree and that annoyed terrorists who then bombed Pakistani cities, schools, mosques and imambargah and killed thousands of its people. 

By September, displaced people began returning. The major operation was over. I was posted out after commanding a division there for three years while intel-based continued for another six months.

Source: Matrix Media

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