There were a series of notable arrests this past weekend in Pakistan. On Sunday, media outlets reported that Shah Abdul Aziz, a former MP with the MMA, was detained in connection with the murder of Piotr Stanczak, a Polish engineer decapitated by Taliban militants in February. The AFP reported, “On July 16, Pakistani police arrested another man, Atta Ullah Khan, in connection with the killing and on Sunday arrested three other people suspected of links to Stanczak’s murder and of plotting militant attacks in Islamabad.” Speaking in a court in Rawalpindi, Attaullah said the Polish engineer was killed on the orders of Aziz, “after negotiations for the release of captured Taliban members broke down.”
Speaking of collapsed peace deals, news agencies reported that Sufi Muhammad, the head of TNSM [Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammad] who negotiated a deal in February, was also arrested Sunday. Provincial information minister Iftikhar Hussein told a news conference the cleric had been detained “for encouraging terrorism and violence.” The BBC quoted him telling reporters, “Instead of keeping his promises by taking steps for the sake of peace, and speaking out against terrorism, he [Muhammad] did not utter a single word against terrorists...He has been involved in activities which help militancy and militants and sabotage government efforts to combat them.”
Meanwhile, The News reported yesterday that the banned TNSM has “almost been eliminated” in Malakand, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that Muhammad’s son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah (also known as the “Radio Mullah”) has been injured and “security forces will be able to arrest him in a few days,” adding that, “Now there is no danger of the terrorists regrouping.”
The arrest of Muhammad and the impending capture of Mullah Fazlullah will be significant in not only disrupting the power structure of the Swati Taliban, but also in raising the confidence of returning IDPs. Zahid Hussain, in the piece, “Swat – It’s too Early to Declare Victory,” wrote, “The biggest failure of the army operation has been the escape of the top militant leadership. [The] Army claims to have eliminated second and third tiers of Taliban commanders, but the top leadership has so far survived, raising fears of insurgents regrouping once the operation is over.” Shamsher Khan, who is in the hotel business in Swat, told Hussain, “Everyone here dreads that Taliban could return any time.”
Although the military dismisses such fears, asserting the Taliban’s “capacity to regroup and launch major attacks has been destroyed,” militants, not surprisingly, issue statements that portray a different reality. Last week, TTP spokesman Muslim Khan told journalists via phone that the entire Taliban command “was intact and had pulled back as part of a strategy.” Khan also played to journalists a purported recorded audio message from Fazlullah to dispel military claims that they had critically wounded the militant leader in an air strike on his hideout.
So who to believe? While there is not enough information to really separate fact from fiction, it is clear that we are far, far away from the zero-sum game of conventional warfare. According to the Christian Science Monitor on July 17, despite the military “clearing” areas in Buner and Swat, “Early reports point to a resurgence in Taliban activity there.” The Monitor’s Ben Arnoldy noted, “Returned residents and local journalists say that Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah has been heard on FM radio [reports also said his sermon was jammed within several minutes]. In Buner – the first region that the military moved in to clear – the Taliban are setting up fresh checkpoints, pressuring refugees for money, and have burned the home of an outspoken journalist.”
Several families that returned home to Buner nearly two weeks ago reportedly fled after finding militants still in the area, claiming that 250-300 Taliban remain. Arnoldy added in his coverage, “The militants were threatening people and demanding payments of 25,000 rupees ($305), which happens to be the amount the government is giving displaced people on ATM cards as they head home.”
What is important, though, is that the military seems to understand the necessity of staying in these areas this time around. According to the Monitor, the government has been recruiting 25,000 retired Pakistani soldiers for police duty in order to protect returning residents, ultimately tripling the number of police stations and bolstering the force above levels present before the Taliban drove them out. This strategy seems to echo policies advocated by Hassan Abbas and Christine Fair, who both emphasized that a strong police is key to defeating an insurgency. Abbas in his report, “Police & Law Enforcement Reform in Pakistan,” cited Kelev I. Stepp’s Best Practices in Counterinsurgency, who emphasized the police should be “in the lead” with “the military providing backup support and strengthening the police with diversified training capabilities to help meet the security needs of the at-risk population.”
The retired soldiers who agree to be police in these areas will be paid significantly more than their old salaries, and will undergo a training that will last a week to 10 days. And, though critics say there are major differences between soldiers and police work, “former soldiers do bring some built-in skills, including physical toughness, basic education, knowledge of how to patrol, and experience with firearms.” According to Dawn, the government will also introduce the concept of community police which would be more integrated with the local population, and allow for more ownership of this process.
Therefore, it seems the major difference between this offensive and Pakistan’s past military operations is a deeper understanding of what constitutes a “success.” In counterinsurgency warfare, success is defined not by victories in the battle space, but the ability to maintain security in its aftermath. In Gen. David Petraeus‘ Field Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency, the trinity must be achieved – clear, hold and build. This credo, originally devised for the Iraq “surge,” will be a lot harder to apply to Pakistan, where tribal loyalties, the military’s past relations with militant groups, and conflict fatigue make the situation far more complex. It will be vital for the government to not only strengthen local police forces but also provide sustainable basic services for local residents. And, given the fact that many of these services cannot even be provided to the rest of Pakistan’s population, it seems we’re in for a long road ahead.