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The Express Tribune

Militant illusions

Published: April 7, 2011
The strategy used by the Pakistan military of clearing specific areas and then marching on has been criticised at home too.
Have we been living for the past two years in the shadowy world of illusions, where nothing is quite what it seems? Since 2009, when thewar against the Taliban got underway in earnest, we have been told of decisive victories in Swat, in Bajaur and South Waziristan. Suspicions that these military projections seemed rather too optimistic given the continued acts of terrorism and the hold of insurgents on areas such as the Kurram Agency, have been confirmed by a bitingWhite House report to Congress. It states that Pakistan still lacks a “clear path” to defeating insurgents and that the situation had deteriorated in recent months. In what seems like a knee-jerk reaction, Pakistani officials are reported to have denied the veracity of the report.
But perhaps rather than refusing to hear things we do not like, we should listen a little more carefully. While pointing to the immense sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror, the report also mentions good cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. It can then hardly be described as being biased or intended to damage Pakistan. This makes it all the more necessary to tune in to the criticisms it makes — notably the lack of “build” and “hold” operations.
The strategy used by the Pakistan military of clearing specific areas and then marching on has been criticised at home too, on the grounds that it gives the Taliban an opportunity to retreat, and then regroup and return or reassemble in other locations. The army, which is conducting what now seems to be an unending war, needs to look at this and decide if a change in plan is needed. The report is not encouraging but it can be used as one basis on which to reassess what is happening in tribal areas and determine if the war is genuinely being won or whether this is just an illusion that is intended to fool us as civilians and disguise the fact that the militants are proving far more impervious than had seemed when the operation against them began.
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