The army operations in Swat and South Waziristan have succeeded in ending the domination of these areas by the insurgents. But they were unable to prevent the insurgents from escaping to other places in the region from where they continue to hit opportunity targets and run.

As a result, the army’s area of operations kept expanding as it went after them in Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai tribal agencies and the areas on their periphery. The chase continues.

As in Afghanistan, here too, the insurgents are adhering to the tenets of guerrilla warfare. They avoid holding ground which involves pitched battles. Instead, they leave small stay-behind parties to engagethe army while their main strength withdraws to other places in the region to fight another day. Nine months on since Operation Rah-i-Raast and six months on since Operation Rah-i-Nijaat, they are still raiding security outposts and roadside checkpoints, ambushing security forces’ convoys, attacking lashkars formed by tribal volunteers, and carrying out a rash of suicide bombings in the country.

In the process, they have created a sense of uncertainty and insecurity in the minds of the people, especially those who are residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and those who have been displaced as a result ofthe army’s operations . But the impact this has had on the minds of our parliamentarians and government in Islamabad is noteworthy — like the president, they too live in mortal fear, despite Islamabad having been turned into a fortified city.

Apart from the insurgents who are moving from agency to agency, most of the fighters of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have escaped to North Waziristan which is dominated by the forces of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Sirajuddin Haqqani. While the former have generally not taken sides in the war betweenthe army and the TTP, the latter collaborates with Mulla Omar’s Afghan Taliban, and is blamed by the US military for the deadly attacks carried out in Kabul — it was also accused of helping the Jordanian double agent in his suicide attack on the CIA station on Khost province.

The recent deadly ambush of the army convoy in North Waziristan perhaps was staged by TTP fighters with the connivance of Gul Bahadur. Could it be that the ambush was orchestrated by the US intelligence/ US special operations forces teams, reportedly present in Fata, to provoke the Pakistan Army to launch a full scale operation in North Waziristan? And that if this doesn’t have the desired effect, more such ambushes could be on the cards? After all, an operation here by the Pakistan Army has long been demanded by the US.
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North Waziristan is bristling with militants who are battle hardened and skilled guerrilla fighters. They are masters of innovation and surprise. The terrain favours them and they know it well. An operation here would be challenged by the forces of Gul Bahadur, Sirajuddin Haqqani and the TTP, whose union would turn them into a formidable force, the likes of whichthe army is yet to experience in its war against insurgency. Moreover, if the Afghan Taliban dispatch some of their fighters to join the Haqqani force the union would become even more formidable.

In this environment it would be unwise on the army’s part to go into North Waziristan on its own, for it would need far more infantry than it presently has in Swat and the tribal areas, which could only come by more thinning out from the eastern front at the risk of creating a grave imbalance there. The other option is to plan a joint operation with US forces in which the two forces alternate as hammer and anvil until the noose is tightened.

Although a joint operation makes eminent sense militarily, it would perhaps not be acceptable politically. But when viewed against the government’s acceptance of US drones attacking targets in Pakistan territory and the presence of US specialoperations teams in Fata, this would be a contradiction. If, however, the Americans decline to undertake a joint operation, the Pakistan Army should rule out the option of going in on its own. Under the circumstances, a joint operation is the only viable option — and the most dangerous hypothesis for all the stakeholders in North Waziristan i.e. — the TTP, the Gul Bahadur force, the Haqqani force and the Afghan Taliban.

What can they do to forestall this hypothesis from materialising? The Indians had yet to recover from the humiliation they suffered when Operation Parakaram (Operation Victory), the largest ever mobilisation of Indian forces that followed the attack on their parliament on Dec 13, 2001, was terminated after a 10-month standoff without ‘teaching Pakistan a lesson’, when on Nov 26, 2008, Mumbai was struck by gunmen they say were patronised by Pakistani intelligence. The humiliation has generated such feelings of hostility that the Indian home minister directed a threat at Pakistan that “another Mumbai-style attack would evoke a swift and decisive response”.

It is this threat that the TTP could exploit by prevailing on their allies, the jihadi groups and the ‘Punjabi Taliban’, both of whom have a long reach, to execute a Mumbai style strike or even multiple strikes, in India to provoke an India-Pakistan war. If India swallows the bait, it would be folly of the highest order — and the TTP would have succeeded beyond their most optimistic expectations. In the event, the Pakistan forces on the western front would be immediately shifted to the eastern front, thus clearing the way for the TTP to regain the lost spaces and regroup, besides eliminating the threat to North Waziristan. Would the US-led forces fill the vacuum created by the shifting of Pakistan forces, at the risk of getting into a two-front war situation that would lead to the collapse of their Afghan strategy?

It’s time for the Pakistani government to shed its inhibitions and act decisively against the jihadi groups before a crisis is created, the consequences of which would be disastrous not only for the occupation forces in Afghanistan, but more importantly, for the people of India and Pakistan.

How long will it take the army to crush the insurgency that has enveloped the country and threatens to undermine its foundation, nobody can surmise, least of allthe army. But what one can say with certainty is that the war against the insurgency will be a war without end.
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