Leaving it to the general

Pakistan's politicians must realize that leading the war effort is their responsibility

Leaving it to the general
The Army Public School in Peshawar reopened after that frightful December day. Parents led their offspring by the hand, sometimes hesitantly, towards the gates. We watched the children, some bright-eyed, some fearful and uncertain, but all determined to defy the horror that had been visited on them by the forces of darkness. And there, at this most inspiring of moments, quietly and unassumingly welcoming the children back to school, was General Raheel Sharif!

The optics were irresistible.

The Prime Minister was, of course, too busy with Secretary John Kerry and other important matters of state to do a quick helicopter hop-across to Peshawar. The Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was earlier reported in Karachi, attending a wedding function. The chairman of PTI was involved with the Election Tribunal, threatening massive upheavals if Ayaz Sadiq were not unseated. The PPP leadership remained as somnolent and sclerotic as ever. Even the usually sensitive and wise Sirajul Haq, Education Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, missed the opportunity.

Has nobody informed our political worthies that there is a war going on? And that, in wartime, morale building symbolism is of fundamental significance? Most of all, do they not realise that leading the war effort is indeed their responsibility?

Clearly, they have never read Georges Clemenceau’s famous dictum: War is too important a matter to be left to the generals.

While the politicos conducted farcical negotiations with murderous “stake-holders”, or found excuses for them, or just plain did nothing, it was clearly up to the army (whose strategy of arming non-State actors got us into this in the first place) to do something about it.

I think we can take immense heart from the fact that the army did finally rise to the challenge and is firmly doing what has to be done. I gather this particular General, and the hard-learned lessons of experience, have a lot to do with this fact.

The point is that there is a lot that we can safely and happily leave to this General: The military part of things. But, at the same time, one cannot permit the civilian government to abdicate themselves from their responsibilities. To begin with, while some may think that this war has gone on long enough (36 years, and counting), the plain fact is that it is going to run a whole lot longer yet. For that is the way with armed insurgencies.
There is a lot of money in the Tribal Areas

While we can take heart from the historic fact that few rebel groups in the last 50 years have actually achieved victory and all insurgencies eventually end, it can take a very long time to happen. The insurgents eventually lay down their arms and join the political process out of sheer attrition, or because the army, police and intelligence agencies have arrested or killed their key leaders. The use of military force is obviously the first essential step and its continued use the necessary accompaniment of all other steps.

To understand counter-insurgency (COIN), one must understand insurgency. The dynamics of revolutionary warfare stem from the insurgents’ ability to capitalise on societal problems, or gaps. First, and most important, the state must provide security to its citizens, protecting them against internal and external threats, and preserving sovereignty over territory.

If governments cannot ensure security, armed non-state actors can exploit this security gap, as in Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia. The extraordinary ‘innovation’ in Pakistan — where state functionaries themselves damaged national sovereignty by arming and training terror legions, providing them with recruiting bases and a spurious ideological legitimacy, and even de facto handing them over whole swathes of national territory — has made matters more difficult in Pakistan than even in the classic cases mentioned.

Next, the state must have the capacity to provide at least the most basic survival needs of water, electrical power, food and public health, closely followed by education, communications and a working economic system. Inability to do so creates a capacity gap, which can lead to a loss of public confidence and the growth of political upheaval.
Underlying both of these is the issue of governmental order. At base, where it counts most, this means local administration, maintenance of law and order, and provision of justice. Now, we know that, in the areas under their control, the insurgents have provided rough but effective governance. Their armed bravos manned police patrols within these areas; their informal courts administered quick, crude justice; their armed assessors collected taxes; they enacted rough-and-ready legislation, and maintained and operated a simple administration and a highly effective army. Have they not filled several of the Gaps? It is merely that their rule is coercive, rather than invoked by the consent of the governed, and their methods violent and therefore unconstitutional.

This last is particularly significant in the case of Pakistan, where arrogant ‘saviours’ have illegitimately seized power at State level repeatedly at the cost of constitutional legitimacy. Let us understand that a government that exists by the consent of the governed, such as we have acquired only 7 or 8 years ago, and that too of a shallow and flawed nature, does have inherent advantages in terms of stability and legitimacy. But it must work, and be able to deliver the goods.

All these gaps – security, capacity, legitimacy – need to be closed. The goal of the insurgent is not to defeat the military force; that is almost always an impossible task. Rather, the insurgency seeks, through a constant campaign of sneak attacks and terrorism, to demoralise COIN forces and destroy political support for the operations. The military pressure must therefore remain constant and unrelenting, side by side with the closing of the three gaps.

One final point: The uninformed speak of insurgency and terrorism being born out of poverty – therefore, the way out is to get rich friends, like the USA and the Gulf States, to throw money at the problem (perhaps hoping that some will stick to our own hot, little hands along the way). Let me point out straightaway that the Badlands of FATA and PATA are NOT isolated pockets of deep poverty, cut off from the world. They are intimately involved as significant participants in the globalised economy: by way of the ‘grey’ trade in smuggled consumer goods and other products; by way of the massive economies of narcotics and weaponry; by way of a few minor additions like stolen vehicles, kidnapped persons, and human trafficking. And also, of course, perfectly legitimate pursuits, like farming, herding, market gardening, quarrying, transport, etc.

Let us not be naive. There is a lot of money in the Tribal Areas. If the distribution of wealth and income there is somewhat skewed, it really is not much worse than in much of the rest of the country.

What is needed is not to fling aid dollars at these areas, but to slowly create alternative, legitimate economic structures therein. That will be a long, slow process, needing innovation and imagination, as will be the filling of the three gaps.

And these, of course, are not such things as can be left to the generals.