Lt Gen Mohammed Masood Aslam led Pakistani military forces into the restive tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan in 2007. Now, he says that the current peace negotiations should be carried out until the end, but military action might still be necessary.
Pakistani security personnel inspect a bomb blast site in Quetta on March 29. A bomb targeting a vehicle carrying security forces killed a young girl and wounded 16 others -- including up to eight children -- in Pakistan's troubled southwest. Banaras Khan / AFP Photo
Pakistani security personnel inspect a bomb blast site in Quetta on March 29. A bomb targeting a vehicle carrying security forces killed a young girl and wounded 16 others -- including up to eight children -- in Pakistan's troubled southwest. Banaras Khan / AFP Photo

Lieutenant General Masood Aslam led the Pakistani military offensive against Taliban militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), along the border with Afghanistan, from 2007 to 2010. Though the operation was widely considered a success, a resurgent Taliban is once again creating instability in Pakistan. Despite peace talks launched this month, Lt Gen Aslam, now retired, warns it is likely only a matter of time before Pakistani military action is again necessary.

Maintaining some kind of international support for Afghanistan’s army – whether in troops or cash – is crucial not only for the security of Afghans but for Pakistanis as well.

Politicians in Islamabad are attempting to use the tools that they have to try to negotiate an end to the Taliban insurgency.

They should try to use dialogue to see if better sense prevails on the other side. But the way things are moving, it is likely only a matter of time before military force is needed again.

Before a successful counter-insurgency is launched there will need to be political ownership of such an operation. Then the government will rally the people to get behind the cause of rooting out militancy.

But using force, however technologically advanced, will add problems to the area where it is used. Militaries increase problems wherever they go.

Security forces will put up checkpoints that will restrict the movement of civilians.

There will be collateral damage.

You have to completely cordon off and isolate the whole area where you want to undertake a military operation.

An operation in the Fata is unique. You cannot compare the environment of the tribal areas with anywhere else in the world. Carrying a weapon there doesn’t mean a man is a militant.

Unless he fires at you, unless a group charges at you, the military should not take the initiative.

The tribal areas are inhabited by half a million people. Maybe they are 250,000 able-bodied people, many carrying weapons. It is very difficult to tell who are the Taliban and who are not.

In the operation, the local people must be vacated from the area where the militancy has taken hold and moved through military checkpoints.

The homes of the people who are vacated will be occupied by the Taliban, who will fire when they are approached by the military.

The Taliban will not move with the local civilians. They will try to adapt and move around the military checkpoints to avoid them.

But unless the US and international forces in Afghanistan block the border, such an operation will again remain a half-hearted attempt. The militants could just flee into Afghanistan when the military closes in on them.

Can the Afghan National Army secure the border without the assistance of international forces? The Afghan army is still being supervised closely by Nato leadership. Armies cannot be raised in five to 10 years. You need to develop a spirit, especially when you start from scratch. Securing the border would be a very tall order for them.

Even if some international forces remain – whether it is 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000 – the more important point is the financial support.

A least US$4 billion (Dh14.7bn) is needed every year to maintain the Afghan army. Where will this money come from? Afghanistan does not have the resources. No one has really come up with this money.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Published: March 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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