How can Pakistan Army Retreat from Fata?

By Prof Farakh A Khan:

The American and Pakistan armies are locked in Afghanistan (2001) and Fata (2004) respectively. Pakistan is a poor country and cannot financially afford its continued presence of 1.5 lac soldiers deployed in Fata and sooner than later the army has to pull out since Pakistan cannot afford a 100-years war. My questions are how can the army pull out of Fata if at all? And when?

Pakistani Afghan policy is tied to the American policy in that country. The Americans after 10 years have realised that they are unable to bring peace or their form of democracy to Afghanistan. The American trained Afghan army and police force are corrupt and unreliable despite huge amounts of dollar inflow. At the same time the Americans cannot leave Afghanistan to its people and warlords. Recently Karzai called Loya Jirga in Kabul to give future directions for Afghanistan. Over 2,000 delegates attended Loya Jirga in Kabul authorising US troops to stay in Afghanistan for 10 years beyond 2014 (Afghan jirga. Editorial. Dawn. November 22, 2011). Members of Loya Jirga in Afghanistan are hand picked by Karzai and reflect his wishes. In fact the decisions ultimately reflect the American policy in Afghanistan. It thus seems that the Americans are going to stay in Afghanistan for many years to come. The Taliban has rejected the decision of the Loya Jirga and it is going to be business as usual (Afghan Taliban reject jirga decision. AFP. Dawn. November 21, 2011). According to rough estimates Afghanistan should require over $7 billion annually of American money after they leave to sustain the war economy. Without this minimal aid Afghan government cannot survive.

Americans have been complaining since 2006 of double-faced Taliban policy of ISI, which they feel is deeply mixed up with the Taliban (Section S of ISI). Recently there has been a serious twist in AmPak relations. Isaf helicopters launched a pre dawn attack on two Salala Sar checkposts (alt 4,500 feet) in Anargai Ghakhi Mountains in Baizai tehsil on 26th November near the Afghan border on the Mohmand Agency/Bajaur Agency border killing 25 security forces including two officers and injured 13 others. These posts were of Stone Age vintage and were bombed beyond Stone Age. DG of Military Operations, Maj Gen Ishfaq Nadeem claimed the attack was pre planned on Volcano and later on Boulder posts in Salala. The attack lasted for over two hours (Attack termed deliberate, unprovoked. APP. Dawn. November 30, 2011). Khugakhel Mohmand tribe inhabit the area. Part of the tribe is in Afghanistan due to Durand Line drawn in 1898. This is not the first Isaf attack on Pakistani security forces nor it will be the last. In the last three years Nato forces have launched 7 attacks into Pakistan killing more than 60 ‘disposable’ security forces. The reason given in the past was that Pakistani security forces in the checkposts were facilitating fighters to cross into Afghanistan to attack Isaf forces. This time the Americans will claim that the posts fired on their helicopters first.

In retaliation Pakistan has stopped the supply line of Isaf. Beyond the supply line threat Pakistan has no other option. Nato trucks leaving Karachi comprise of 100 containers and 200 oil tankers daily. Each oil tanker carries 50,000 to 60,000 litres of oil and costs Rs4 to 5 million. The round trip takes 15 to 20 days (300 trucks carry supplies to Nato from city daily. Our Staff Reporter. Dawn. November 28, 2011). This senseless attack defies logic and think tanks shall debate on this issue for a long time to come. The government response to Nato attack has been restrained but the people of Pakistan see red and pushed them to sympathise with the Taliban who are now fighting a common enemy—America. There are ‘Death to America’ protests all over Pakistan. The AmPak relations have plunged to a new low.

The Shamsi air base in Balochistan used by US drones has been asked to be vacated by December 11th. Gen Musharraf handed over Shamsi air base constructed in 1992 by ruler of Abu Dhabi for his hunting expeditions to the Americans after 9/11 apparently to be used for only fuelling drones (Syed, Baqir Sajjad. US told to vacate Shamsi base; Nato supplies stopped; Noorani, Ahmed. Secret of Shamsi Base revealed as closure ordered. Dawn. November 27, 2011; Yusufzai, Rahimullah. Khugakhel tribe complains Islamabad gave up border. The News. November 27, 2011). In an interview to a private channel (November 29, 2011) Gen Musharraf disclosed that under American pressure he gave Shamsi air base (no mention of Shahbaz air base) to CIA after 9/11 but only allowed to conduct logistic operations. He also disclosed that there was no written agreement, which is strange to say the least. Loss of Shamsi air base for the Americans is only a minor pinprick. The other base called Shahbaz, Jacobabad is still with the Americans, and no decision has been taken regarding this base by the Pakistani government. According to ‘Global Security’ public policy organisation Americans are using Shahbaz air base in Jacobabad since mid October 2001 against Afghanistan and Fata (Shah, Sabir. Hundreds of US troops housed at Shahbaz base: US think tank. The News. December 1, 2011). However Ministry of Defence claimed that Shahbaz base was under PAF control and there were no foreigners at the base (No foreigner at Shahbaz base: ministry. Online. The News. December 2, 2011). Will some one tell me if the Americans are paying any rent on these bases? It is unlikely since there is no written agreement. After four years of democracy in Pakistan the Americans are still using our air bases to attack our people in Fata. Perhaps Fata policy is still in the hands of our army. Meanwhile Pakistan army in Fata is being attacked from both ends.

We also have the issue of drone attacks in Fata. According to newspapers Fata had six drone attacks between November 1st and 26th. As usual we have no figures on civilian deaths, which the locals claim, was substantial. Pakistan’s jittery Gen Musharraf also agreed to drone attacks but nothing was given in writing. The present government has also given similar nod. According to one report more than 100 foreign fighters were killed in drone attacks during October and November this year (Mir, Amir. US drones killed 100-plus foreign fighters in two months. The News. December 2, 2011). These claims cannot be verified. The report also avoids giving civilian deaths during these attacks. Drone attacks claims need to be independently verified. There are loud noises from the Pakistani public about our loss of sovereignty since the past and present government had not given permission for Nato to physically attack Pakistani territory. The case of drone attacks and occupation of air bases by the Nato and Americans had been given verbal permission and hence are not reported as attack on our sovereignty. In any case the drone attacks are a bad counterinsurgency measure and tend to promote militancy.

The other Pakistani retaliation is not to participate in the upcoming Bonn Conference. This like its previous one in Istanbul held on November 2nd is designed to endorse American Afgan policy and will not address the core issues of the country. Pakistan’s participation is of no value (Jamal, Nasir. Pakistan to boycott Bonn conference. Dawn. November 30, 2011).

All Pakistan Cable Operators Association (APCO) in its own silly patriotic gesture has banned number of international news channels for being anti Pakistan. At the same time Bollywood Indian movies and hip gyrating songs flood our TV (Dangerous precedence. Editorial. Dawn. December 1, 2011). During the 1971 debacle we thankfully listened to BBC rather than Pakistan media, which was feeding us with lies. Is this going to happen again?

We are not getting any independent reports from Fata and are fed by ISPR through the newspapers. The newspaper reports claim that on an average 10 ‘militants’ are killed by artillery shelling and helicopter gunships missiles on daily basis in Kurram and Orakzai agencies for the last many years. According to Pakistani newspapers during November this year the security forces in Kurram and Orakzai agencies killed 217 ‘militants’. The ISPR or any other agency fails to register civilian deaths. Despite alleged heavy human loss of the ‘militants’ the insurgency has not abated. This is an unwinnable war. The army or the government has not considered the loss of houses, markets, domestic animals, and agriculture of the displaced people of Fata. Yet there are tall claims that people are returning to their homes in ‘cleared’ areas. What they will find there no one knows. Unfortunately people of Pakistan are anti Taliban and also non-Taliban Pushtuns without knowing the truth of what is happening in Fata.

I have discussed army withdrawal from Fata with many intelligent people but have failed to get a satisfactory answer. Many believe that Pakistan has to stay the course despite economic crunch in the country. They condemn Pashtuns of Fata collectively and want a strong military action against them. This is a fatal argument because Pakistan does not have endless resources to fight this war in Fata. Some feel that the Taliban want an Islamic Emirate in Pakistan through military action. Fata as a conquering hoard as in the past is history. It is inconceivable that a poverty-stricken Fata badly split along tribal lines would carry out such a mission. On the other hand there are more fundamentalists with similar objective in the Punjab.

The cost of deploying and feeding 1.5 lac soldiers in a difficult terrain and hostile environment in Fata must be substantial. Then there is cost of launching F16 and helicopter gunship sorties (officially in Fata more than 5,500 sorties dropping 10,600 bombs since 2008 (Air force dropped 10,600 bombs in two years: Qamar. The News. November 15, 2011)). The fuel and maintenance cost of operating tanks and armoured personnel carriers in Fata must be significant. The cost of missiles and other armament must be prohibitive. Unfortunately the army and the government fail to disclose the cost of war in Fata. The Pakistan Army is also bleeding us in Siachin war for more than two decades. Will someone tell me the cost of Siachin war? According to Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Abdullah H Haroon in an interview with CBS News (October 5, 2011) quoting World Bank figures Pakistan has spent $150 billion in Afghan conflict.

There are others concerned about ‘writ’ of the nation in Fata. They get confused when told that the Pakistani government like the British before them had made agreements with the tribes to leave security and justice system in the hands of the tribes. No corrupt thanidar or patwari are allowed to function in Fata. The justice system is swift and free of corruption. There are major shortcomings in the Fata system. The ancient system of ‘badal’ (revenge) over generations is a bad idea, which ‘Frontier Gandhi’ (Wali Khan) tried to eliminate in pre partition days, and failed. The proud people of Fata also suffer from aimless jealousy amongst their members leading to violent conflict. Despite abundant natural resources the tribes resist any industrial development in the area, which would lift the area out of poverty.

With the recent US debacle in Mohmand Agency and stoppage of American military requirements through Pakistan has put us in a strong position. We should seek a ban on drone attacks, a new agreement on ‘war on terror’, which would be in the interest of Pakistan and seek financial compensation for those killed and injured in the attack (blood money). On our side it is a good opportunity for the army action in Fata to be put on hold before withdrawal and the political forces allowed to make a settlement with the ‘militants’. The much needed money saved should be diverted to education, health and pay our increasing debt. Above all we need an independent inquiry into Fata war and how to pull our army out. The enquiry should include not only drone attacks and helicopter gunship killing of our soldiers by the US but also killing of our own people by artillery shelling and air attacks by our military. The claim of deaths of 35,000 Pakistanis by militant actions should also be investigated.

It remains to be seen if the present government with the backing of the army has enough wind to rise to the occasion and challenge Gen Musharraf’s policy dictated by the Americans. Will the ‘Memogate’ affair and NRO case put breaks on the government? Will the annual dole outs from the Americans make the army more pliable as in case of Raymond Davis case where blood money was accepted and culprit released?

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