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Agency to GHQ

Has the Rawalpindi attack expedited the Pakistan army’s South Waziristan offensive?....

Written by Ejaz Haider |
October 13, 2009 10:19:37 pm

The October 10 terrorist attack on General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was not unexpected. In fact,a report initiated by Punjab’s Crime Investigation Department had warned about an impending attack at least a fortnight ago. The report even had the MO right — the attackers would be wearing army uniforms. This report was published on October 5 in a section of the Pakistani press.

The normal channel through which such reports reach the Interior Ministry takes about three days. One would assume,however,that a report of this nature would have bypassed those channels. Evidence suggests it reached the concerned quarters quickly. The question then is: why was it not acted upon?

One of the most important lessons in this kind of conflict is the constant realisation that the other side will reinforce its advantage of surprise by being innovative. And innovation is always a simple affair; the best innovative techniques usually are those that create something new from what is obvious and easily available. In this case it was the decision by the attackers to use the simple expedient of army uniforms. Why?

Soldiers for some years,unlike previously,now carry arms. A van travelling on Peshawar Road with an army number-plate with armed “soldiers” inside would not evoke any suspicion. The sentries at the first checkpoint to GHQ’s main gate would not immediately suspect anything. That would reinforce the element of surprise the attackers already enjoy. Result: by the time anyone could react,the attackers had taken out the sentries at the first barrier.

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Small arms fire and hand grenades created the expected melee and even as sentries at the second checkpoint took out four of the attackers,it became difficult to figure out the attackers immediately. Visually it would have looked like a fire-fight going on among the soldiers. The brigadier and the lieutenant colonel who got killed fell to the attackers’ fire because reports suggest they thought they were instructing their own men to take positions and respond.

The buildings or complexes that are under attack today were constructed in times when such a threat did not exist. No one could have anticipated it either. Now they need to be secured and the measures often make commuting a nightmare. That’s the paradox of securing oneself in a non-conventional conflict. Beefing up security throws up its own multiple problems.

Worse,social trust is the first casualty and the most problematic issue. Now that the terrorists have used a simple innovation of wearing army uniforms,the response will inevitably throw up the problem of how to determine who is a genuine soldier. Can the procurement of uniforms be regulated? If so,how?

One must never lose sight of the fact that innovation is the most dangerous arrow in the insurgent/ terrorist’s quiver. The idea is to try and stay ahead of him. That is not always possible but one must try.

The attack on GHQ was the attack on the army’s centre of gravity. The army is poised to hit the insurgents/ terrorists’ COG. The leader,Aqeel aka Dr Usman,a deserter from the Army Medical Corps,is a known terrorist and wanted by the intelligence agencies also in relation to the attack on the Sri Lankan team. He belongs to Jaish-e-Muhammad and was close to Ilyas Kashmiri,Al-Qaeda’s commander for operations. Kashmiri was recently killed in a drone attack.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban has claimed responsibility,calling the group that attacked the GHQ the Amjad Farooqi Group. Farooqi was the terrorist that masterminded the two 2003 attacks on former General-President Pervez Musharraf. Farooqi was originally with Sipah-e Sahaba and later joined JeM. Intelligence agencies know that JeM and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are now subsumed in TTP and linked to Al-Qaeda through that connection. Farooqi was killed in a police encounter in Sindh in 2004.

The attack was conducted by two teams. The plan seemed to be for one team to engage the sentries and give cover to the other to get into the GHQ and take hostages. It didn’t really work out entirely that way after four terrorists were taken out at the gates. The other six managed to get into a side building and did take hostages but failed to reach any high-value target. The SSG operation was clean and highly professional and they managed to rescue all the hostages except three,killed four terrorists and managed to capture a wounded Aqeel.

The degree of difficulty for a neat operation was very high since the attackers were carrying IED belts,explosives,mostly anti-personnel mines,and had managed to take into the building enough ammo to last them a protracted gun battle. The SSG had the unenviable task of taking them out while rescuing the hostages. Going in with first light they completed the first phase in an hour and had the leader neutralised by 9 am.

To the extent that the attack created big news; to the extent also that the TTP signalled to everyone its will and capacity to plan and attack the army’s COG,it might be called audacious and,at some level,tactically good. But it hasn’t rebounded to the TTP’s strategic advantage.

South Waziristan has been blockaded by the army for two months now. The operation,technically,is already on. Efforts to isolate TTP fighters have largely succeeded. The organisation’s ground establishments,when identified,have been — and are — targeted from the air. Intelligence assets have been embedded in the area and they are the primary reason for successful drone attacks meant to degrade the TTP leadership. The ground is being prepared for a ground assault. The GHQ attack has only firmed the army’s resolve to expedite the ground assault in South Waziristan.

That is sensible because even with the pre-ground attack softening and degradation,the ground battles are going to be tough given the terrain and the ferocity of Mehsud and Uzbek fighters in the area. For the Uzbeks it will be a do or die situation. They have already lost their top leader,Tahir Yuldashev,and they know they have nowhere to go.

The army is preparing for an advance along multiple axes and for lateral sectoral battles,SSG operations to secure heights and other nodal points,as well as mopping up as the advance proceeds. It does seem like the tactical audacity of the TTP may prove a strategic minus for it. There is only so long that one can keep mopping the floor. The tap must be closed. That is where South Waziristan comes in.

The writer is Op-Ed Editor,‘Daily Times’,Lahore. The views expressed are his own

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