COIN, Counter Insurgency, is really a function of governance, not the military; though the military could be an essential component. The equation is simple. If there is an insurgency, it is because people are dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction of the populace, or a portion of it invariably stems from politico-socio-economic reasons i.e. governance; or the lack thereof.
In Pakistan, however, the insurgency originated from a desire of Pakistani Pashtuns to assist their Afghan brethren in ousting the American invader in Afghanistan. While Pashtun tribes in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan had cause to complain on grounds of political exclusion and/or lack of socio-economic development, but that was not the cause for the insurgency.
It must also be pointed out that, those Pakistani Tribals who revolted against the state, were merely a few members of each tribe. While insurgents had support from within the tribe during the early days of the insurgency, as soon as they turned violent against the state, their support within the tribe began to erode. As an example, Baitullah Mahsud could never muster more than 4000 Mahsuds in his support from an approximate 400,000 Mahsud in South Waziristan, SWA. The number of Mahsud insurgents today is less than 1500. But they rule by force.
Unlike the IRA, these insurgents do not represent the aspirations of their people. Nor could they win an election in their region. However, they are better armed, supported by by Uzbek and Tajik Islamic terrorists, and they rule by terror. Punjabi Taliban swell their ranks as suicide bombers.
This is why, in Pakistan's case, the use of force is indispensable.
Until a year or so ago, when the US was demanding a military operation in North Waziristan, NWA, it was not in Pakistan's interest and, had the US listened to reason, not in US long-term interests either, that Pakistan comply. The Wazir tribe in NWA was not bothering Pakistan, nor were the Haqqanis, whom the Wazir harbored. Both fought against American occupation in Afghanistan.
It needs also be mentioned here that Afghan Taliban repeatedly expressed their opposition to the Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan---TTP, and went so far as to declare their attacks on innocent citizens "un-Islamic."
Had Pakistan complied with US demands, the narrative that the TTP was selling to the people that Pakistan's government and army is a mere extension of the US would have been proven. And, as a consequence, Pakistani Pashtun might have decided to support the TTP; a risk that was unacceptable to Pakistan. And had the TTP narrative won greater support, Pakistan would have been unable to facilitate the US drawdown too.
This was also why US drone strikes carried out without Pakistani support and approval were also counter-productive.
Now, with the imminent withdrawal of US forces and a likely termination of the corrupt Karzai era, the TTP narrative has lost credibility. One consequence of this is visible in the recent split among the Mahsud faction of the TTP.
But a lot has changed domestically. However corrupt and inept that Zardari's government was, it was committed to the war against the TTP. The current Pakistani government is Taliban apologist and is scared of the consequences it might suffer were it to espouse the war against TTP.
Therein lies the root of Pakistan's current dilemma.
We are now in a situation where Pakistan can, without being seen to be acting under US pressure, undertake sustained counter guerrilla operations in the tribal areas. We also have an army chief who carries no baggage and is determined to carry this war to the enemy and is doing so.
The supreme irony is that in both K-P-K and Balochistan, all 'good' governmental functions are also being carried out by the army. It is constructing roads, schools, providing health facilities, economic opportunities, and trying to impose the writ of the state.
And yet, it seems disjointed. Military operations seem like punitive operations rather than counter guerrilla ones, since there is no civilian administration, no political structure that reaches out to the people with the carrot and stick, and no political ownership of the military operation; which would necessitate a holistic strategy and, identify the war termination stage to the military and the people.
This is also another beginning. The TTP is on the run in tribal areas. But for years past, it has been building its base in Karachi specially, and other selected urban centers as well -- it must also continue to terrorize, or lose its stranglehold on peace in the country.
It is retaliating in urban centers with a vengeance. This should have been expected but, due to the deliberate disconnect between the government and military, created by the government's gracious permission to the army act against militants "as it deems fit in self-defense," the government neither foresaw it, nor is prepared for it.
Here another point needs be made. While counter guerrilla operations are and should be the responsibility of the armed forces, when they move to urban centers to become counter-urban-terrorist operations, they are not the responsibility of the military. These are a function of a combination of police and intelligence; though the assistance of the military may be sought wherever necessary.
While Pakistan's police forces have moved a long way from where they were when first faced with urban terrorism, they still have a long way to go. Our intelligence services are pretty good though. However, once again, there is the lack of coordination between the two agencies: intelligence and police.
The government recently created the National Counter Terrorism Authority, NACTA. Conceptually, it has the right idea: placing intelligence and counter-terrorism under one authority; one person. But it is deeply flawed if authority is not delegated.
While information must be centralized and made available to those who need it, action cannot be at the national level. Not even at the provincial level. It will have to be delegated to Divisions and Sub-Divisions. In the case of large urban centers, like Karachi, Hyderabad, Multan, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi etc. the urban centers will need to be subdivided.
This war must be fought by the nation on war-footing. Politicians will need to prioritize expenses to find funds for sophisticated security measures and intelligence gathering, collation, analyses, and prognoses. Mobile rapid response units, with license to kill, though under a system of accountability that minimizes misuse, need to be positioned to respond to all kinds of threats.
We, the citizens, must also appreciate that it is very easy to blame intelligence and security agencies, since their successes are seldom publicized and their failures are public property with the media of today. And, therefore, not only try to be patient, but also alert to assist them. The sterling example of that 15 year old Aitzaz Hassan, who noticed something and gave his life to save his school-fellows from a suicide-bomber, comes to mind.
I cannot conclude without pointing out that if security forces took every intelligence warning seriously, there would be utter chaos and the nation would come to a standstill. Terrorists would no longer need to kill, they would terrorize by threats alone.
This is where Pakistan stands today. Its security forces ready to fight, even as politicians prevaricate. The US draw-down in Afghanistan offers a priceless opportunity since it destroys the basis on which the TTP narrative gained some popularity. To the credit of Nawaz Sharif, he was able to convince the Obama administration to change its drone policy on Pakistan.
After a six month hiatus two consecutive strikes have targeted militants we identified. Obviously, therefore, the US is now assisting Pakistan.
The entire environment seems favorable to the beginning of a final showdown. Admittedly, its going to be a long, hard haul but it will end only if it begins. COIN is a governmental issue and its past time for the government to assume ownership of it. One can but hope that this opportunity is not lost.
The Karachi attacks demonstrated the determination of the TTP. Will we be able to demonstrate ours?