Afghanistan has seen a third Mumbai-style commando attack by suicidal terrorists on multiple targets. The previous two had taken place in Kabul and Kandahar. The latest---the third one--- took place in Khost in Eastern Afghanistan on May 12,2009. Three groups of suicidal bombers launched commando-style attacks on the compound of the local Governor, the nearby police headquarters and a municipal building. The multiple attacks, which began at around 10 AM ended only at 5 PM after US and Afghan security forces managed to eliminate the terrorists or some of them blew themselves up. Initially, the raiding Neo Taliban terrorists took 20 hostages, but the US and Afghan troops managed to free them. A Neo Taliban spokesman has claimed that the multiple attacks were launched by 30 of their men.
2.Eleven members of the raiding parties and nine members of the Afghan security forces and civilians are reported to have been killed during the seven-hour confrontation between the security forces and the raiding parties. There are no reports of any US fatalities. Earlier on the morning of May 12, there was an attack by a US unmanned Predator plane on a suspected terrorist hide-out in the Dray Nishtar area of North Waziristan. Ten unidentified persons were killed. This was the second US Predator attack in three days. Many people were killed in a similar attack in South Waziristan on May 9. Both attacks have been described by local sources as retaliatory for attacks on US forces in Afghan territory by elements which had infiltrated into Afghanistan from the two Waziristans. The two drone attacks did not specifically target any individual. They merely targeted the buildings or hide-outs from which these elements were suspected to have infiltrated into Afghanistan.
3. In the meanwhile, Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, announced in Washington DC on May 11,2009, the replacement of Gen David McKiernan, the US Commander in Afghanistan, by Gen Stanley McChrystal, who currently serves as the Director of US Joint Chiefs of Staff,and was previously a Director of special operations forces. Gen McChrystal was in charge of Joint Special Operations in Iraq. According to a report disseminated by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), his forces were involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein and the killing of Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Gates justified the replacement as necessitated by the need for new thinking on the strategy to be followed by the Army in Afghanistan.
4. Gen.McKiernan, who had also previously served in Iraq, was posted in Afghanistan for less than a year. He took over the responsibility for dealing with an unsatisfactory ground situation marked by a bleeding stalemate between the US-led NATO forces and the Neo Taliban.There was no end to this stalemate during his tenure. This stalemate saw the US-led forces and the Neo Taliban inflicting periodic casualties on each other without either of them being able to establish territorial dominance in any substantial area in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan.
5. Gen.McKiernan's strategy was more reactive than proactive----building effective defences and retaliatory capability to deny success to the Neo Taliban. It was not pro-active in the sense of the US-led forces going after the Neo Taliban and launching pre-emptive strikes before it was able to attack US and Afghan forces. A pro-active policy with emphasis on pre-emptive strikes is expected under Gen.McChrystal.The new strategy is expected to focus on "attack, disrupt and dismantle" instead of being merely content with denying success to the Neo Taliban.
6. The US faces a three-in-one security dilemma in the Af-Pak region--- counter-insurgency against the Neo Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizbe Islami in Afghan territory, counter-sanctuary operations against the safehavens enjoyed by Al Qaeda and its allies in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and by the Neo Taliban in the Quetta area of Balochistan and counter- Pakistani Taliban in the FATA and the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).While the US has to play an activist role against the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban, the operations against the Pakistani Taliban are essentially an internal security task of the Pakistani security forces and Govt. While the new strategy of Gen.McChrystal is expected to add greater thrust to the counter-insurgency operations against the Neo Taliban and the Hizbe Islami, the counter-sanctuary policy against Al Qaeda and its allies and against the Neo Taliban in Pakistani territory is in a state of confusion with the Pakistan Army unable or unwilling to deal with them and with the US not showing any signs of fresh thinking. The present policy is focussed almost exclusively on drone attacks, which are yet to make an impact. Deniable covert actions against the sanctuaries in Pakistani territory is an option which has not been given a serious try lest there be uncontrollable adverse reactions in Pakistan.
7. The Pakistan Army has been giving an impression of being serious now about its determination this time to wipe out the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its ally the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-a-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) from their hide-outs in the Swat Valley and other areas of the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The TNSM has been adopting the same tactics as it did in 2007-08 when a similar offensive was launched when Pervez Musharraf was the President. This tactics consists of avoiding frontal clashes with the security forces, stepping up suicide attacks of terrorism, splitting into small groups, withdrawing into the mountains and inveigling the security forces to raid and attack them in their mountainous hide-outs so that they could inflict heavy casualties on them. Neither the Pakistani security forces nor their US advisers have been able to think of an alternative strategy of strengthening the control of the security forces in the areas vacated by the TNSM, building up their defences and inveigling the TNSM into attacking the security forces in their strongholds.
8. The large-scale exodus of Pashtun civilians from the areas affected by the counter-Taliban operations----now estimated at 1.3 million---shows that there is not much public support for the TTP and the TNSM. Due to the weak capabilities of the security forces, the TNSM and the TTP have been able to intimidate the civilians into supporting them. Once the civilians had an opportunity to escape, they did so.
9. The protection of the civilians and humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced Pashtuns should be an important task. From the statements emanating from Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and others in Washington, it is evident that US policy-makers realise the importance of humanitarian relief to the internally displaced. The US has already made an initial contribution of about US $ five million. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has also initiated action for humanitarian assistance.There are reported promises of assistance from Saudi Arabia and China.
10. The problem is that Pakistan does not have an effective Governmental infrastructure for humanitarian relief. One saw that during the earthquake, which ravaged Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and some areas of the NWFP in 2005.The Government's response to the disaster caused by the earthquake was very unsatisfactory. It was the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the terrorist organisation, and its political wing called the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), which were in the forefront of the disaster relief work. They mobilised volunteers and funds and organised the relief work in a manner which won the gratitude of the people. They were alleged to have pocketed for their own use part of the huge flow of funds from the Pakistani diaspora abroad and Saudi Arabia for quake relief.
11. Similarly, now, in the face of the lethargic response of the Government, it is the LET and the JUD and certain other Islamic fundamentalist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), which have taken the lead in looking after the internally displaced Pashtuns with the help of money locally collected as well as flowing from the Pakistani diaspora and Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. If the Government does not effectively take over the leadership role in providing humanitarian relief to the internally displaced Pashtuns and leaves the field free to jihadi and fundamentalist organisations, part of the money flowing from the Pakistani diaspora and Saudi Arabia would be diverted to their coffers and their humanitarian work would enable them to make more recruitment for acts of insurgency and terrorism. (13-5-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Directior, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )