Zarb-e-Azb: A Decisive Battle?

By Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Clausewitz defined war as an act of violence aimed at compelling the enemy to submit to our will. While theorizing war, the Prussian military strategist agreed to the fact that the concept of “absolute war” was impossible in the real world. It is erroneous to mix “absolute war” with “total war”. The former imagine a utopia where war and warriors are unbridled. No account is taken of political and social objectives. Total war is when all elements of national power, be it civil or military are harnessed to defeat the enemy. The aim of total war is the complete annihilation of the enemy’s power. Therefore, all wars are limited in nature. Clausewitz’s major contribution was in linking war with state policy. That merits another write-up. The state of Pakistan has been ambivalent as to how to shift the political equilibrium in its favor vis-à-vis the non-state-actors. The state was supposed to use an assortment of tactics to compel the enemy; however, Pakistan has thus far been unable to develop cohesion between war and policy. This has significantly been the cause of much of what is happening as of this writing.

The menace of terrorism and militancy has plagued the socio-political scaffold of Pakistan. Much to the relief of some and dismay of others, the armed forces of Pakistan launched a massive offensive in the TTP’s center of gravity, North Waziristan. The operation has been named “Zarb-e-Azb”; meaning, sharp and cutting. Let us look at this operation, and its importance in the overall alleviation of this epidemic.

Turning our attention back to Clausewitz, we see that his theory hinged-upon compelling the enemy. He therefore contributed meritoriously to military theory, by giving the concepts of decisive battles and center of gravity. The battle for North Waziristan is decisive in more ways than one.

Firstly, North Waziristan has been a safe haven for the TTP and its splinters and affiliates ever since the Southern part of Waziristan was cleared through Operation Rahe-Rast. It has been a crutch for the TTP. It has been a base for planning. Much of this is a result of dilly-dallying on part of the state of Pakistan, which allowed, the TTP, despite fissures, a chance to recuperate. Abortive peace deals dispossessed the state of its monopoly on violence, giving equal status to non-state actors.

Secondly, North Waziristan became the enemy’s center of gravity not only because of geography and depth, but also because of the military, despite being deployed was not acting. Rather, it was not ordered to act. Time and space are important; the moment the enemy gets the advantage of time and space, then their position is formidable.

Thirdly, mere inaction in North Waziristan gave TTP a “feel good” factor. A confidence that the state considers the cities of Miranshah and Mir Ali as impregnable became another source of strength. When, in a bout of rage the military targeted hideouts in the very cities, the TTP either reacted with forceful retaliations, or offered an olive branch.
These factors show that North Waziristan is the center of TTP’s gravity. Precedence shows that this offensive is decisive, to say the least. However, we need to understand that even if we are unable to mop-up the area in the classical sense of the term, obliterating and dislocating the pivot of the enemy will be a major accomplishment. The military has to target the enemy’s sources of strength.

The Pakistan Army has a few tactical advantages. Air support has not only softened up enemy targets, but has actually damaged their combat capabilities by launching surprise surgical strikes. The way this operation was launched has given the military a significant degree of surprise element to use as a major advantage. Element of surprise has meant that the TTP is perhaps not fully prepared for defense.

However, the lack of preparedness has imperiled the security of our urban centers, for, as the past suggests there would be a colossal blowback. Therefore, the military and the civil administration both at the federal and provincial level shall have to liaise well. The spillovers will be there, but my effective co-ordination can help mitigate the damages.

Indeed, we have embarked upon a decisive battle within this war. However, this is certainly not the be-all and the end-all. We are fighting a total war, a concept which was aforementioned. We have to harness all that we have to fight this internecine war. It is time to shun political rivalries, recalcitrance and apologetic behavior.

We can certainly compel the enemy by this decisive battle, but by no means can we eradicate the spate with this “Zarb” alone. We need to learn from history; rather, recent history. The military has assiduously cleared the rest of FATA and Swat. They have built and held the areas. The other elements of the counterterrorism strategy are as important as the military operation.

We can win a battle in Waziristan, but may end up losing the war, if we don’t work towards the socio-political development.

For now, let us all unite in supporting our armed forces in their to purge our country from grotesque beasts. D-day may become a precursor for the dawn of a new era.

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