An audiotape of Osama Bin Laden surfaced the day prior to President Obama’s highly-anticipated speech to the Muslim world from Egypt. Bin Laden was incensed that the U.S. had supported the Pakistani military offensive in the Swat Valley, which had been abandoned to Sharia Law and rule by approximately 4,000 radical Islamic terrorists. The Pakistanis believe that the fighting for the territory will be over in the coming days, but the offensive is just the beginning of what must be a widespread effort to prevent Pakistan from becoming what Afghanistan was prior to 9/11.
The offensive into Swat Valley cannot be taken as proof that the Pakistanis are working to their fullest capabilities to rid the country of extremists, nor that the terrorists have suffered a decisive setback. Hundreds of law enforcement personnel in the area have deserted, and failing to capture any top leaders including the head of the Taliban in the Swat Valley, the Pakistani government is offering rewards for information leading to the capture of 21 missing Taliban commanders.
The Pakistani military’s seizing of the Swat Valley stands in sharp contrast to the treatment extremists in other parts of the country are receiving from the political and judicial system. On June 2, the Lahore High Court ordered the release of Hafiz Sayeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), the terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda that is believed to have played the leading role in carrying out the shooting and bombing attacks on Mumbai, India in late November 2008.
This followed six months of house arrest for Sayeed that still allowed him to attend a mosque nearby and have visitors arrive with trucks that went uninspected. Inadequate measures have been taken against his organization, LET, and its front group, Jamaat ud-Dawa. As one intelligence official told Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, “More than six months after Mumbai, there has yet to be a single conviction or even a trial of anyone involved in the attack. Pakistan does not have the capacity to try and convict known terrorists.”
The group continues to preach violent jihad in Pakistani mosques, less than a dozen of its leaders have been arrested, and only a miniscule amount of its estimated 50 madrasses, 160 schools, 153 health care centers and eight hospitals have been closed. Jamaat ud-Dawa’s headquarters was even found by journalists to be openly operating days after the group was banned by the authorities as a terrorist organization.
The government’s laissez-faire attitude towards radical Islam has allowed terrorists to resurrect the safe haven they enjoyed in Afghanistan in Pakistan. Then-CIA Director Michael Hayden clearly stated this in 2008 saying, “Let me be very clear. Today, virtually every major terrorist threat that my agency is aware of has threads back to the tribal areas. Whether it’s command and control, training, direction, money, capabilities, there is a connection to the FATA [Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas].”
The problem is further exasperated by the fact that the Pakistani military is insufficiently prepared for the comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign required of it, and remains unwilling to massively revamp its forces with U.S. guidance. Instead, the Pakistanis have been using such vulnerabilities to demand more American money and weapons.
The Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Kayani, has rejected having its forces trained by the West, saying “…except for very specialized weapons and equipment, high technology, no generalized foreign training is required.” President Zardari likewise stated his intention to fight the terrorists, but said “We need much, much more than the $1 billion we’ve been getting, which is nothing.”
This statement contradicts reports that U.S. special forces personnel are secretly on Pakistani soil providing training and may be a way of avoiding popular backlash, but the needed transformation of the military will require more than small units, and most of all, political will. Furthermore, the fact remains that large portions of the Pakistani intelligence service continue to provide support the Taliban militants.
Public assurances from Pakistan’s leaders that they are committed to ridding the entire country of radical Islamic militants are often followed with demands for aid and a retraction. For example, President Zardari made the encouraging statement that “We’re going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” He then denied this statement, saying he was misquoted and no such operations were planned.
An additional problem is likely to flow from the estimated three million refugees that have been caused by the Pakistani military offensive. An essential part of any counter-insurgency campaign is winning the hearts and the minds, and with privately-run refugee camps with an anti-government bent providing better care than the government camps, the more Islamist-oriented segments of society will manage to maintain and even expand support. The U.S. has wisely provided $110 million in emergency aid for the refugees, but that is a fraction of the work that must be done.
There are signs of hope, though. The Taliban and their allies seem to be losing public support. Some Muslim clerics openly supported the military offensive, and even offered to send volunteers to fight alongside the soldiers. Protests against the Taliban have also taken place in Lahore, where one newspaper publisher said “I will fight them to my last breath and the last drop of blood in my body.” A window of opportunity has opened for the Pakistanis to leverage such dissastisfaction against the extremists, but this will require a sophisticated counter-insurgency approach similar to what worked in Iraq, with obvious adaptions for the local situation.
However, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The additional U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will cause the Taliban elements in Pakistan to become increasingly active, and they will absorb any militants pushed out of Afghanistan into their areas. The fight for the future of Pakistan has just begun.