Saturday, October 17, 2009




Reports from Pakistan indicate that about 30,000 troops of the Pakistan army and Frontier Corps launched on the morning of October 17,2009, the long heralded offensive against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan. The ground offensive was preceded by sustained air strikes against the suspected hide-outs of the TTP in the area.

2. The TTP is a hotch-potch of the myriad Pakistani insurgent and terrorist groups, which were trained and armed in the past by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Special Services Group (SSG) for use against India and for supporting the Afghan Taliban headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, its Amir, now sheltered in the Quetta area of Balochistan. Most of these groups have since turned against the Pakistani State, which they look upon as apostate because of its co-operation with the US. The fighting capabilities imparted to them in the past by the ISI and the SSG have since been supplemented by the capabilities imparted to them by Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, another Uzbek group, and by small numbers of Chechens and Uighurs.

3. The element of surprise, which is important in any such ground offensive, has been lost by the long time taken by the political and military leadership of Pakistan to launch the offensive. It is a face-saving offensive forced on the Pakistan Army by the series of spectacular attacks launched by the Pashtun and Punjabi components of the TTP on the General Headquarters of the Army in Rawalpindi and on prestigious police establishments in Lahore, Peshawar and Kohat. It is an offensive , which seems to focus only on the Mehsud component of the TTP based in South Waziristan.

4.The Mehsuds are the sons of the South Waziristan soil, but have repeatedly demonstrated a capability for action outside South Waziristan in areas such as the Orakzai agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in the Peshawar, Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan areas of the North-West Frontier Province. Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was chosen as the Amir of the TTP after the death of Baitullah Mehsud in a US Drone strike on August 5,2009, is reportedly still based in the Orakzai agency, where he has been supervising operations against the NATO's logistic convoys to Afghanistan while at the same time co-ordinating operations in Peshawar, Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan.

5. Waliur Rehman, a confidante of Baitullah, who is in charge of the Mehsuds based in South Waziristan, will be organising the resistance against the Pakistani forces in South Waziristan with the help of the forces of Serjuddin Haqqani of the so-called Haqqani network. The Pakistan Army seems to have launched the offensive without factoring into its planning the lessons from the recent attacks in Rawalpindi,Lahore. Peshawar and Kohat. While the attacks in Rawalpindi and Lahore were spearheaded by the Punjabi component of the TTP, which calls itself the Amjad Farooqi group and has shown a capability for SSG-style commando operations, the attacks in Peshawar and Kohat were carried out by the suicide bombers of the suicide squad trained and motivated by Qari Hussain Mehsud.

6. The TTP will seek to counter the offensive on three fronts---- insurgency style operations against the advancing troops in South Waziristan similar to the operations of the Afghan Taliban in Afghan territory, more suicide attacks by Pashtun suicide bombers of Qari Hussain Mehsud in Peshawar and Kohat and more terrorist attacks---some of them of a complex nature in Punjab, including Rawalpindi as well as in Islamabad. While the Pakistan Army has prepared itself well for the counter-insurgency style operations in South Waziristan, its ability to prevent attacks behind its back in the NWFP and Punjab is doubtful. Despite the spurt in suicide and commando-style terrorism in the NWFP and Punjab and even in supposedly well-guarded cantonments since the Lal Masjid raid in July,2007, the Pakistani
counter-terrorism machinery has not re-fashioned and re-tooled itself to meet this threat.

7. In South Waziristan, the Mehsuds will follow the same tactics that the Pashtuns have been following for centuries against invaders of their territory---- avoid a frontal confrontation, split into small groups and harass the strangers to a terrain which the Mehsuds know well. Their tactics will be not territorial domination, but dispersal of their presence and operational focus. They will try to deny to the Pakistan Army the advantages of a well-focused assault, by harassing it here, there and everywhere, without allowing it to get its bearings in a hostile terrain.

8. As the Army carries forward its offensive, US Predators will be looking for Serajuddin Haqqani, Waliur Rehman, Hakeemullah and Qari Hussain Mehsud.If they succeed in eliminating one or some or all of them, it could be a morale-booster to the Pakistani troops. Otherwise,their difficulties could increase.

9. Pakistan's counter-terrorism mechanism is in a shambles. It does not know who is a friend and who is a foe in Punjab. It does not know who is a terrorist and who is a serving or retired serviceman. It does not know who is an ally against India and who is an adversary of the State of Pakistan. There is a danger of the NWFP and Punjab becoming the failed provinces of Pakistan if the Army's offensive does not
succeed. (17-10-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary(retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )