The wonders of modern warfare will never cease! Three cities were targetted in US air attacks against Afghanistan Sunday night, most of the damage took place in Pakistan. Where the bombs destroyed is still generally unknown but Quetta in Pakistan was worst hit by violence, the mob made up of quite a few Afghan refugees as well as religious party activists. Two cinemas halls (showing US movies), several banks, a police station and assorted vehicles, etc were torched by demonstrators protesting the US attack and Pakistan’s tacit support of it. Other cities saw roads blocked, buildings attacked and vehicles damaged, stoning and burning of tires and effigies, by small bands of youthful protestors, mostly in their teens. Protests were expected and were fairly widespread throughout the country, were negligible relative to South Asia’s normal standards. Overall (1) they rioted in small groups and (2) religious activists were not joined in by the other parties. The administration did well in allowing them to let off steam in a controlled fashion. An exchange of fire between our Frontier Corps (FC) troops and Talibaan guards took place when some enthusiastic refugees tried to break into banks in a border town. What gives reason for concern was an armed 1000 plus mob (mainly Afghans supported by Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI) attack on vehicles, some commercial, on the road leading to Chaman. Given the purity of their noble purpose, what is driving these religious zealots to such crass commercial motives as looting banks and commercial vehicles? The TV clip of the Afghan protestor in Quetta shouting on prime-time CNN, “we will first destroy Pakistan, and then America”, should be re-run again on Pakistan TV to show our public how grateful the Afghans are for the help and support by Pakistan over the years.
With very little to write about, journalists from all over the world became unduly excited by the sporadic brickbats being thrown at the government. Rumours of a military coup swept through Pakistan on Wednesday, sparked by a routine fire in a storeroom in GHQ, Rawalpindi and the round of posting/promotions of Lt Gens necessitated because of the vacancies created by Usmani and Mahmood’s suppression and retirement, and Musharraf’s giving up of the Chairman JCSC post. Well, the Pakistan Army is fairly monolithic and stands together, very firm and united behind their Chief. Some facts are blatantly misrepresented, the news item that a major English newspaper carried about Lt Gen Mahmood was outrageous. I have never liked Mahmood personally but he is a fine, upright professional. “Aabpara” happens to be Islamabad’s Hyde Park, a small crowd there is hardly of consequence, as at Regal Chowks in Lahore and Karachi, etc. The protests may still be miniscule but the anger is very much there, too widespread to simply ignore. Evidence can always be manufactured, and in power games between nations usually is, but Bin Laden vowing to make “more” suicide bombings against the US helped the western case by giving due credibility to their cause. That “smoking gun” will turn off a great many Osama sympathisers. As the bitter truth sinks in that their “hero” has tacitly (if not directly) acknowledged the killing of innocent civilians drawn from almost 80 countries, there will be reaction among the faithful. Every religious party in Pakistan has condemned the Sep 11 atrocity, incidentally so has the OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Qatar, is Osama in step with them? Osama Bin Laden was once a “freedom fighter”, he is now a terrorist, pure and simple, caring two hoots whom he targets as long as it fulfils his convoluted logic, he is simply using Islam to camouflage his perverted ideology. If our Ulema have the courage (and the character) they should face the truth, Osama is turning our religion into a violent travesty of what it really is, a peaceful one which forbids violence and which abhors killing. If our intelligentsia does not act now, different sects and factions within Islam could be further polarized, already a divide is taking place between haves and have-nots, this could lead to a full scale conflagration. It will certainly create more terrorists, some having access to weapons of mass destruction.
Make no mistake, there is widespread anger in the country with respect to the US air attacks, mainly because of anti-Americanism but also because innocent civilians would be caught in the crossfire. With US air attacks very focussed on military and logistics targets, the simmering resentment within most of Pakistan’s population (and one believes almost the entire muslim world) has been somewhat contained, but what will happen on Friday? Will the masses join the religious activists? That will certainly mean trouble! As a potential target Afghanistan is so helpless in conventional terms it attracts sympathy as the underdog. Because of the seeds of terror emanating from Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden has given Afghanistan a “terrorist super-power” status.
The air-dropping of 37000 packets of food and medicine will accomplish far more than bombs. Against the Talibaan, air power as an instrument of policy has far less potency than for a conventional target, like Iraq. A conventional war mind-set aims to, viz (1) destroy the Talibaan’s military and logistics potential (2) destroy the civilian infra-structure supporting their rule (3) destroy the public and Talibaan regime morale, causing the public to turn on or away (from) the Talibaan (4) encourage defections among the not-so committed against the Talibaan and (6) create conditions for support of ground operations by US (and other allied) troops within Afghanistan. There are limits to the use of airpower as a battle-winning factor in future wars “of the new kind”, Afghanistan is another proof of this. Damaging the Talibaan’s war potential with respect to ground-to-air missiles, heavy weaponry, equipment and supplies, the air attacks have achieved very little against the personnel except kill a few commanders here and there. Major defections are rumoured, none have been confirmed. Quite a bit of Afghanistan’s urban population decided discretion is the better part of valour and left for the borders of neighbouring Pakistan, reducing the strain on the Talibaan regime with stocking up for food, water and other utilities which otherwise they would have had to provide as governors. The lack of any “Organization and Method” (O&M) in the Army helps the Talibaan to pursue their form of warfare. Without heavy equipment and logistical supply lines to bog him down, the Talibaan foot soldier becomes foot-mobile, far more effective in his chosen terrain. If the Talibaan take to the hills then we should prepare for the worst for a long time. The “Snatch and Run” heliborne raids being planned has to be mainly from bases in Pakistan, will have to get very lucky to be successful. America should heed Gen Patton, to quote “no man ever won a war by dying for his country, he won the war by letting the other (man) die for his country”. Militarily the only route potentially successful is to arm the various anti-Talibaan factions and give them military and material support while staying out of the ground war and giving massive humanitarian aid to the refugees.
This is not going to be sharp, swift affair as President Musharraf has hoped for, it will be a long, drawn out campaign where the strategy will be to keep hammering away at the Talibaan while providing succour to the civilian population, inside and outside Afghanistan. The whole aim should be to separate the body and soul of the Talibaan from the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The Pakistan Government has to ensure the army and the people stay together, no mean task given the present insecure environment with religious overtones. What seems to be standing up well is Musharraf’s will and the Pakistan Army’s famous discipline.
The US entered the “war on terrorism” without gearing for this new type of warfare. They are not fighting a normal guerilla war confined to geographical and/or ideological boundaries, it cannot be fought by conventional counter-guerilla means and by a conventional army alone. Terrorism uses “judo” ploy effectively insofar as it uses the strength of those who attack them against the attackers themselves. With civilians in the cross-fire there will be casualties, the ensuring bitterness will spawn more recruits for the likes of Osama Bin Laden. Terrorists cannot hope to stand up to conventional forces, their response will be directed at the soft under-belly ie. at civilian population centers and not for material damage, they will target psychological damage and weakening of the mass morale. That in turn will increase the state of siege within the US into permanence, in fact in the entire civilized world. While one cannot completely eradicate terrorism, major economic and political initiatives to redress grievances of the have-nots must be undertaken, this will at least contain the seeds of terrorism. A pragmatic balance sheet will show that an economic and political war targetting poverty and ignorance will cost far less than any military “war on terrorism”.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).