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Crossfire

Senator Tariq Azeem has the credentials and the integrity to do a much better function for the Government of Pakistan (GOP) than the likes of Muhammad Ali Durrani. His present job description as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting seems limited to requesting the Minister of Information and Broadcasting to request the President to speak. At the Iftar/Dinner hosted for the media at the Serena Hotel in Islamabad on Wednesday Oct 11, 2006, Durrani’s courtier-like introduction of the President was positively embarrassing. He went overboard with his unadulterated flattery. A hard-bitten Pakistani media does not take kindly to such public displays of fawning and servility. This clouds the Pervez Musharraf-image of a blunt, no-nonsense soldier who speaks his mind and is not given to such public displays of adulation.

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A Time To Unite

The terrorists who strike South Asia (mainly India) from time to time have a precocious propensity to do so close to a noteworthy event, e.g. whenever a US President (or someone likewise important) is about to visit the region. Despite the fact that India has a fair number of militants, Naxalites, Mizos, Nagas, Manipuris etc with several thousands of square miles under their control and who are certainly not Islamic, any major terrorist activity is blamed immediately on Pakistan, lack of evidence notwithstanding! That it also puts Pakistan on the defensive as a terrorist-ridden State (if not a sponsor) is not a coincidence anymore. Whoever thought up the Mumbai blasts (targetting first class railway compartments?) did not have mayhem only in India’s economic capital in mind, Pakistan’s image in the world (and existence as the only muslim nuclear entity) was the real target. No mean coincidence that for the past four weeks the Economist, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, etc etc have been running remarkably similiar articles attacking Musharraf and Pakistan, in that order, much before the Mumbai blasts. The coincidence goes on when you note the “accusations” list against Pakistan are strikingly in sequence.

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Jihad Against Terrorism

The beginning of the 21st century has seen advances in science and technology force-multiplying terror as a deliberate creation of man. Terror was previously the domain of the unknown, the perception was that of animals in the jungle and of spirits in the night. High-tech equipment rapidly becomes obsolete as sophisticated terrorists innovate circumventing of their potency. What to talk about individuals and communities, entire nations can be held hostage to terror, case in point presently the mightiest nation on this earth, the US of A. Terrorism is a potent weapon for those who lack numbers and weaponry, money may be important but innovation overcomes that deficiency. The targetting of soft targets put forces of law and orders initially in disarray because of the variation in the threat perception, the level and mode thereof. Organized criminal activity desires anarchy i.e. the collapse of the State’s machinery. The international terrorist has a far bigger canvas, the collapse of world order as is evident from the present dangerous split in the UN Security Council and NATO. The globalization of terrorism makes it difficult to counter terrorism, dominating it altogether is almost impossible. Countries without resources must depend upon each other for precise sharing of intelligence, denial of funds, sanctuaries and/or supply of weapons/equipment to terrorists as well as promptly addressing requests for extradition. On the negative side, countries like India are using the bogey of terrorist groups as either surrogates or motivated propaganda to achieve their own motivated objectives against adversary States like Pakistan, India has now started targeting Bangladesh also.

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Suicide Bombing?

On 8 May a powerful car bomb ripped apart the coaster carrying French technicians working on the Agosta submarine project in Karachi, leaving 11 French and 4 Pakistanis dead, injuring more than 2 dozen others. First reports indicated it was suicide bombing, later it transpired that instead of ramming the coaster the car had moved adjacent to its right side before blowing up. Whether the explosives, attached to the engine block, were detonated by the driver or it was remotely detonated, is still a matter of conjecture. Because of the recent spate of “suicide bombings” in Israel by the Palestinians and the repeated threats of Al-Qaeda about retaliatory attacks against the “war against terrorism” Coalition partners, expert opinion seemed to coincide with general public perception. For all practical purposes, “suicide bombings”, hitherto associated with Tamil Tigers and Palestinian activists of various kind, had come to Pakistan.

Staying in the Pearl Continental across the road from the Sheraton, a number of New Zealand and Pakistani cricketers were jolted, even in their rooms, besides being on the receiving end of flying debris. The New Zealanders were particularly lucky, most players were finishing breakfast, ready to depart for the National Stadium for the Second Cricket test. Their physiotherapist, standing next to their coaster parked behind the Pearl, took cuts and bruises in his right hand. Another few minutes and the car bomber would have had a full load of international cricketers in his bomb-sights. Having earlier cancelled their October 2001 trip because of Sep 11, the New Zealanders were in Pakistan more or less under duress. A bomb in their midst would have been an unmitigated disaster for cricket in particular and sports in general, for Pakistan, the repercussions would have gone far beyond that for the poor French technicians. Botham would never have sent his mother-in-law here, as a sporting venue Pakistan would have become a desert!

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The War Goes On

The war in Afghanistan has entered its six month, the concerted air offensive giving way to occasional airstrikes but mostly ground battles against suspected Al Qaeda/Taliban strongholds. As “Operation Anaconda” has shown, the claws may have been blunted, the sting still remains. And so it will, for some time to come.

The US ran the war according to what was their actual primary mission, to topple the Taliban from power and thus deny terrorism in the form of Osama led Al-Qaeda a firm base to operate from. For the record the war on terrorism was primarily meant to bring Osama Bin Laden (OBL) to justice, however Mullah Umar and OBL continue to evade capture. Bin Laden’s No.2 in Al-Qaeda Abu Zubayda, was hauled up recently during raids on urban hideouts in Faisalabad city. On the premise that the tougher they seem the softer they are, he should be a mine of useful information to the US, for whom every bit of knowledge about Al-Qaeda’s intention is necessary in their plans to counter-effectively in their “Homeland Defence”.

According to US military sources, a group of Al-Qaeda fighters who ultimately were estimated to be about a 1000 were spotted gathering in cave complexes east of Khost near the Pakistan border. The battle that developed forced reinforcements by more US troops into the fray than earlier anticipated, it also underscored the fact that the Al-Qaeda/Taliban were now re-grouping in small units, with the ability of coming together very rapidly when faced with an air/ground assault. “Anaconda” was a major test in the US resolve. Having had relatively an easy time evicting the Taliban from the cities of Afghanistan, the US had only the recent Tora Bora experience to go by with respect to fighting a counter-guerilla war in Afghanistan. In Tora Bora, while the fighting was intense, most of the firepower was directed from the air and quite a lot of the guerrillas had managed to escape because the mercenary militias employed by the US failed to come to grips with the enemy. During “Operation Anaconda”, a better quality of Afghan soldiery was clearly in existence with the result that greater firefights took place between combatants on the ground. The induction of a Panjsheeri Tajik armoured unit was resented in the Pashtun area but it remained a resentment only because they were not employed. US spokesmen claimed that 800 of the approximately 1000 guerilla fighters had been killed, this could not be verified as very few bodies, less than two dozen, were actually discovered. The intense air activity must have resulted in high casualties but it seems that the bulk of enemy forces slipped through the net that had been laid for them in high mountain passes and narrow valleys. Obviously the route was into Pakistan across the border where they would get shelter from sympathetic elements. However this help would only be a temporary transit permit, not as a permanent base to carry out cross-border attacks. This is an important point. While there will be sympathy for them and their grievous travails at the hands of Coalition Forces it will be far diminished than the earlier enthusiasm because of the treatment that the Pakistanis got at the hands of Afghans within Afghanistan. Even if an enemy turns up at your gate and asks for help, Pashtun honour cannot refuse that help. What Pakistan has paid in social disintegration and economic devastation thereof as a cost of such help can only be estimated.

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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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