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Archive for December, 2001

The Three Tajiketeers

While the Taliban Regime was decidedly Pashtun-heavy, the new interim government installed in Kabul on Dec 22 has swung to other extreme, weighted so blatantly in favour of the Punjsheeri Tajiks, it calls into question the credibility of UN as a fair adjudicator. This distorted parity does not auger well for the peace process, it is a sure recipe for continuance of chaos and confusion.

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First Blood

In Dec 13, 2001 six terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, all except one who got away, were shot dead, but not before they started a chain of events that has brought Pakistan and India to the brink of war. Even before the live TV drama was over, the Indian Government had labelled the terrorists, who had no identification on them, as Pakistanis of Kashmiri origin belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish Mohammad, two Kashmiri organizations engaged in guerilla warfare against the Indian occupation forces within Indian Held Kashmir. Coincidentally, within the Indian Parliament on that day, the Indian Government was under internal siege on two issues, viz (1) POTO, the Anti-Terrorist Bill that was being opposed tooth and nail not only by the Opposition but some of the BJP’s coalition partners, enough for the government to declare a parliamentary “whip” for its partners, coincidentally during the same week, and (2) the matter of “over-payment” for 3000 coffins ordered from USA by George Fernandes for the Indian Kargil dead during his previous tenure as Defence Minister from which he was forced out because of another scandal, the “Tehelka” scam.

Whether the attackers were Pakistanis, Kashmiris or even Indian convicts, they were conveniently dead and as such could not be identified immediately as per the Indian claim. Among the possibilities, in a desperate bid to divert the issues bedevilling their governance, India requested the Northern Alliance for Pakistani Taliban prisoners to be brought by air by Qanooni as a “gift” from Kabul to New Delhi, and then contrived to have them to “escape” and carry out the attack. One may well ask why were they brought to India in the first place? That India blamed ISI was no surprise, the only things they have not blamed ISI in the last decade is for the rat plague in New Delhi in 1994 and for Rabri Devi being elected as CM of Bihar. India has a history of being quick on the gun to blame Pakistan for its own “dirty tricks”, “Ganga” being blown up in Lahore by Indian RAW in 1971 is once concrete example. A few weeks ago an Indian Airlines aircraft remained “hijacked” for 4 hours before it was discovered that the flight had no hijackers, they had probably missed the flight but no one told the cockpit or the cabin crew. The cockpit crew thought the “hijackers” were in the cabin, the cabin crew thought likewise they were in the cockpit. In the meantime senior Indian officials, including a junior minister, told the media that the hijackers were Pakistani since they had heard their “Urdu” conversation over radio. Of such stuff are “facts” created to scandalize Pakistan.

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Airpower and Unconventional Warfare

“Airpower” and “unconventional warfare” have radically changed the concept of war in the 20th century. Addition of the fourth dimension, the air, has brought speed, flexibility and dynamism to the modern battlefield while “unconventional war” has meant a non-linear battlefield with no front and no rear, with soldiers without uniforms targetting combatants and non-combatant’s alike without observing Marquess of Queensbury’s rules of gentlemanly conduct. The savagery of unconventional warfare can be very pervasive, even regular forces have resorted to conduct anathema to the Geneva Convention as seen in Qila-e-Janghi with respect to prisoners of war.

Airpower had already become a decisive factor during conventional war, Stealth technology and precision guided bombs has force multiplied its lethality. However airpower is costly, fragile and can never be a substitute for clear military objectives. Rapid advances in science and technology ensured that airpower has accuracy, speed and is difficult in countering, making it also more decisive in unconventional wars, unconventional warriors not having the resources to afford counter-measures or avoid being manipulated into providing conventional targets. World War 2 and the Arab-Israeli wars show the decisive effect of airpower on conventional forces, a number of intangible factors delayed decisiveness in unconventional warfare till very fairly recently. The major intangible, intelligence, unless reliable, can limit the influence of airpower on conduct of military operations, effectiveness of airpower depending upon its timely and accurate availability. An infantry soldier firing his weapon sees the enemy physically in real-time, artillery is dependant upon forward observation officers (FOOs) acquiring targets, like Special Forces providing forward air observation in Qila-e-Janghi and Tora Bora. A conventional army may find it difficult to acquire accurate information because an unconventional enemy does not (and should not) conform to the known rules of warfare. The technological advance has been startling, when one looks at the Gulf War, the Bosnia and Kosovo air campaigns and compare it with Afghanistan.

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Back to the Future

Pakistan has lived for more than two decades under the threat of a religious Sword of Damocles, after the Talibs took over in Afghanistan in 1996 our “future” began to take name and shape, the Talibanisation of Pakistan. A very vocal, religious minority in Pakistan held a rather submissive and terrified liberal majority in virtual thrall, threatening to convert our present back to the past and to make our future bleak. While religious teaching is more than necessary it can never be a complete education by itself, given the technological advances, theology is hopelessly mired in the past. Instead of investing in more schools and colleges, we allowed Madrassahs to move into this vacuum, proportionately increasing ignorance among our school going children. An absence of basic world knowledge among our youth virtually asked to be exploited by the religiously motivated. The religious rioting in Pakistan in September/October this year had the streets brimming over with sympathy for the Taliban. The youth yelled their throats hoarse and lungs out in support of “their” heroes Osama bin Laden and Mullah Umar, a frenzied thousand or so crossing over into Afghanistan to join the ranks already fighting with the Taliban. Moulvi Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik Shahriah Nifaz Muhammadi (TSNM) flamboyantly led them across the border on prime time TV, first in he was first out, abandoning them on the “every man for himself” basis and making it safely back across. Sales of Osama bin Laden T-shirts nose-dived when Osama took off on the age-old principle, discretion is the better part of valour. Heroes are supposed to fight and die fighting, not to slink from hole to hole in the night like common thieves.

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Back to the Past

According to US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, Mullah Umar, who is making a last stand in Kandahar, will probably go down fighting as he is “not the surrendering type”. Or so he is hoping so that Umar does not become a hot potato in their hands. In the meantime Osama bin Laden scurried away to find cover in some hole, probably the Tora Bora cave complex near Jalalabad, leaving in his wake dead and dying strewn across the Afghan countryside, the consequences of his many deeds, viz (1) distorting the Taliban interpretation of Islam and (2) leading them into collective suicide in militarily opposing the mightiest nation on earth. For the sake of his own hide, this man sacrificed not only his trusting hosts but those from foreign lands who believed his spiel, a latter day “Pied Piper” leading a naive and gullible people down the one-way road to death and destruction. Meantime about 1,500 US Marines near Kandahar are carrying out high-visibility exercises around their desert forward base, meant to keep the defenders of Kandahar on edge expecting imminent attack. The idea is to bomb and bluff the Taliban out of their stronghold and avoid casualties. Unfortunately some of the US casualties have been self-inflicted due to misdirected or stray bombs (“friendly fire”).

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Untangling the Taliban

On the run for more than a fortnight since Oct 8, 2001, the Taliban faithful rallied somewhat to make a last stand in the five Provincial strongholds around their spiritual capital Kandahar. Once “foreign influence” on Mullah Umar in the form of Osama bin Laden took off for parts unknown, possibly deep into Pashtun heartland in the mountainous area astride the Pak-Afghan border between Khost and Jalalabad, rumours of imminent collapse in Kandahar because of disunity and internal dissension among the hard-core faithful, seemed to abate. The first US ground troops finally landed in Afghanistan, the Marines securing an airfield in the desert south-west of Kandahar as a firm base. Kandahar is indefensible and will certainly fall but widespread destruction and collateral damage to civilians all over Afghanistan could have been avoided by concentrating on simply isolating this city in the first place in keeping with the primary war aims. Airpower diplomacy of the late 20th century has not quite replaced gunboat diplomacy of the nineteenth. Starting with Iraq in 1991, the zero-sum casualties air-war strategy continued with Bosnia and Kosovo. In the end it is the infantry that must go in, the infantry which must hunt down the enemy. You may call them Special Forces, Rangers, Marines, whatever, high-tech cannot replace the foot-sloggers, they are the only ones who can hold ground. When the “lucky bomb” theory did not work, the only option left is the physical use of ground troops to root out the Taliban hierarchy.

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