Counter Insurgency Pakistan I : Insurgency doctorine or How Pakistani Taliban are taking on the state

The purpose of this post is to understand insurgency doctrine of terrorist outfit Pakistani Taliban aka Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan aka TTP in light of the insurgency doctrines described in classic counter-insurgency book “Counter Insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice“, David Galula.

Obviously all wars are different and its pretty hard to squarely fit terrorists in one category or other as terrorists may use every available trick (cheating, lying, exaggerating etc) to gain advantage whenever they can. However, based on certain characteristics and traits of terrorists and their activities, we can broadly classify as following on of the following two patterns:

  1. Communist party method: orthodox pattern
  2. Bourgeois nationalist pattern: short cut pattern

The first one is a long and arduous one which communist parties followed in China and Vietnam wherein they indoctrinate the inductees in their cause through training and brainwashing and then subsequently send them out to fight. Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan which has pretty good network of schools, charities and training facilities follows this method.

The second one is short one wherein their is no overarching cause as such other than to create disorder and chaos to gain control over land. They may use certain slogans as religion, sect or ethnicity but other than that they do not have any fixed plan for governing and administering the acquired piece of land. They use terrorizing tactics as explained below. TTP is clearly following this methodology.

1. Communist party method: orthodox pattern

In this step, the first objective is the guerrilla’s survival: the final one, the acquisition of bases in which an insurgent government and administration will be established, the human and other resources exploited, and regular forces created. Guerrilla warfare with no bases, says Mao Tse-tung, is nothing but roving banditism; unable to maintain links with the population, it cannot develop and is bound to be defeated.

Objectively, there is no difference between ordinary, everyday bandit activity in almost every country and the first guerrilla actions. What makes it possible for the guerrillas to survive and to expand? The complicity of the population. This is the key to guerrilla warfare, indeed to the insurgency, and it has been expressed in the formula of the fish swimming in the water. The complicity of the population is not to be confused with the sympathy of the population; the former is active, the latter inactive, and the popularity of the insurgent’s cause is insufficient by itself to transform sympathy into complicity.

The participation of the population in the conflict is obtained, above all, by a political organization (the party) living among the population, backed by force (the guerrilla gangs), which eliminates the open enemies, intimidates the potential ones, and relies on those among the population who actively support the insurgents. Persuasion brings a minority of supporters—they are indispensable—but force rallies the rest. There is, of course, a practical if not ethical limit to the use of force; the basic rule is never to antagonize at any one time more people than can be handled.

MQM in its early days and 90s used this strategy on an ethnic card. However, it has since matured and become pretty mainstream and distanced itself from it urban warfare past of 90s.

Where to operate? In the areas that the counter-insurgent cannot easily control and where the guerrilla gangs can consequently survive and develop. The factors in selecting the first areas of operations are:

  1. The strength of the insurgent’s organization among the population that has been achieved in preliminary work.
  2. The remoteness of the areas from the center of the counter-insurgent’s power.
  3. Their inaccessibility due to terrain and poor communications.
  4. Their location on both sides of administrative borders, which makes it difficult for the enemy to coordinate his reaction.

The North West region of Pakistan where TTP is currently based fits the above location descriptions pretty well.

Demoralization of the enemy’s forces is an important task. The most effective way to achieve it is by employing a policy of leniency toward the prisoners. They must be well treated and offered the choice of joining the movement or of being set free, even if this means that they will return to the counterinsurgent’s side. Despite its setbacks in the early stages, this is the policy that pays the most in the long run.

A colleague of the author visited a camp at Hsuchow in central China, where the Nationalists kept 5,000 Communist prisoners.
“Where were they caught?” he asked the Nationalist general in charge of the camp.
“Between you and me, we have no more than ten real Communist soldiers among these prisoners.”
“Who are the others then?”
“Nationalist soldiers caught and released by the Communists. We don’t want them to contaminate our army.”
Thus, the Communists had achieved the trick of having the Nationalists themselves watching their own men!

The first clear sign of the Chinese influence on the Vietminh came in 1950, when the Vietminh suddenly changed their attitude toward French prisoners. Instead of slaughtering them, they undertook to brainwash them.

This is where TTP is deviating clearly from Orthodox doctrine. Being a roving band of bandits with nothing but a garb of religion, they definitely do not have superior moral or psychological basis to indoctrinate the captured soldiers. As such, they slaughter them even releasing videos of the slaughtering.

The insurgent must solve a problem created by what we have considered a tactical asset: the scattered nature of his operations. Although this makes it difficult for the counter-insurgent to cope with them, the insurgent must also reconcile the dilution of his forces with the need for unity of action. The solution is a clear, common doctrine widely taught and accepted.

The expansion of the insurgent movement raises the problem of political and military cadres. They are selected on the basis, above all, of their loyalty and, secondly, of their concrete achievements in the field. How important the Communists consider the loyalty of their personnel, cadres, and troops can be seen from the following story. In 1952, a Vietminh regimental commander, hard pressed by French troops in the Red River Delta, pleaded for replacements. The answer from the Vietminh command: “Impossible to send you replacements now; they have not yet received full political indoctrination.”

If we ever overcome TTP insurgents, it will be relatively easier to rehabilitate the captured soldiers as most of them would not have been indoctrinated. True TTP brainwashes them into fighting for them in the name of religion. However, their target is the state because it is “infidel” and may be insurgents join them for their love of religion. The rehabilitation should comprise of teaching the captured TTP warriors that the picture painted by TTP of the state and religion is completely wrong and misguided.

What is very different from past insurgencies and probably what the author is describing in his book is that TTP has made inroads into Karachi which is at the other end of the country. It does not provide the location advantages of North West Pakistan neither does it provide as steady a stream of local recruits. Yet still they have been able to mark their presence. This is something that needs to be further analyzed.

As the overall strength of the insurgent grows while his opponent’s decreases, a balance of forces is reached at some point. In the assessment of the insurgent’s strength must be included not only his military assets but the solidity of his political structure, the fact that the population is mobilized in his areas, the subversive activity of his underground agents in the counter-insurgent’s areas, and finally, the insurgent’s psychological superiority.

From then on, the scope and scale of the insurgent’s operations will increase swiftly; a series of offensives aiming at the complete destruction of the enemy will constitute the last and final step.
At any time during the process, the insurgent may make peace offers, provided there is more to gain by negotiating than by fighting.

Now we come to the second method. As you read through it, you will realize that how neatly it fits the recent pattern of TTP

2. Bourgeois nationalist pattern: short cut pattern

First step: blind terrorism
The purpose is to get publicity for the movement and its cause, and by focusing attention on it, to attract latent supporters. This is done by random terrorism, bombings, arson, assassinations, conducted in as spectacular a fashion as possible, by concentrated, coordinated, and synchronized waves.

(See Pakistan Faces New Wave of Attacks, WSJ)

Second step: selective terrorism
This quickly follows the first. The aims are to isolate the counterinsurgent from the masses, to involve the population in the struggle, and to obtain as a minimum its passive complicity. This is done by killing, in various parts of the country, some of the low-ranking government officials who work most closely with the population, such as policemen, mailmen, mayors, councilmen, and teachers. Killing high-ranking counterinsurgent officials serves no purpose since they are too far removed from the population for their deaths to serve as examples.

See (Suicide attacks in Mohmand kill 104; peace jirga main target, Dawn; A young suicide bomber dressed in school uniform has blows himself up at an army compound, BBC; Deadly attack at Pakistan funeral procession attended by many anti-Taliban militiamen, BBC)

The early supporters are set to work collecting money from the population. Although money, the sinew of war, is interesting in itself, this operation has important side effects. The amount of money collected provides a simple standard to gauge the efficiency of the supporters and to select leaders accordingly. It also implicates the mass and forces it to show its revolutionary spirit. “You give money, you are with us. You refuse money, you are a traitor.” A few of those unwilling to pay are executed.

See (Taliban Spread Terror in Karachi as the New Gang in Town, NYTimes; Creeping threat: Taliban in Karachi, DAWN)

In order to involve the population further, simple mots d’ordres are circulated, such as “boycott tobacco”; a few violators caught smoking are executed. These assassinations have value only if they serve as examples; therefore they must not be hidden or committed on the sly. The victims are generally found with a tag explaining that they have been condemned by a revolutionary tribunal and executed for such and such a crime.

See (Blast in Sohrab Goth kills 4 near drug den, The News. The report does not state this but it was reported at the time that Taliban asked the drug dealer to shut down his business but he didn’t so the bombed his place.) There are other videos available online of Talibans carrying out beheadings in Karachi for breaking their laws but due to gruesome nature, I am not linking to them.

The insurgent has to destroy all bridges linking the population with the counterinsurgent and his potential allies. Among these, people (generally the liberal-minded) inclined to seek a compromise with the insurgents will be targets of terrorist attacks.

ANP has been talking about negotiating with Talibans and even organized an All Parties Conference to agree on a strategy (see APC supports peace talks with Pakistani Taliban, DAWN) yet Talibans continue to kills it workers nationwide (See Over 700 ANP activists slain to date. Recently they have expanded their hitlist to include other secular parties such as MQM, PPP (See Pakistan election: Taliban threats hamper secular campaign, BBC)

When all this is achieved, conditions are ripe for the insurgent guerrillas to operate and for the population to be mobilized effectively. From there on, this pattern rejoins the orthodox one, if necessary.

Conclusion

Following the news trail and statements of Taliban attacks in Pakistan and mainly urban centres, it is quite clear that TTP is following the short cut strategy. As mentioned in the beginning that classifications are not mutually exclusive so they may use certain strategies that were classified under the orthodox strategy. Any way, the objective of both strategies is the same. To have a piece of land where to set up government, impose your ideology and laws.

This is where TTP is extension into Karachi is hard to fathom. Being the lifeline of the country’s economy, TTP should face immense opposition for threatening it. Yet has been taking over slowly and so far successfully. Whereas running an insurgency in North West of Pakistan with its porous border with Afghanistan and rough terrain is easy, trying to establish a base in Karachi which is an urban landscape covered on one side by sea, flat land on the others with the rural areas of south Baluchistan and Sind not really offering any welcome to Taliban neither in terms of shared ideology, culture nor language. So the question arises, how TTP intends to establish their base and government in Karachi in a region surrounded by relatively inhospitable land for them as well as population which overwhelmingly votes in the secular parties in elections.

Yet TTP has been able to not only infiltrate Karachi but is now engaged in turf war with existing stake holders and even going so far as to eliminate them one by one. They have already unseated ANP from their strong holds in Karachi, their extortion racket now reaches all suburbs of Karachi and they are now openly challenging PPP and MQM for a larger share of the pie.

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