Holding Pakistan

The Second Phase of Pakistan's Counterinsurgency Operations

Courtesy Reuters

Last summer, Pakistan's military launched counterinsurgency campaigns against the Taliban throughout northern Pakistan, in Bajaur, the Swat Valley, and South Waziristan. As I wrote last July, the strategy succeeded because the military was able to minimize collateral damage, maximize precision, boost troop morale, and create better intelligence networks. As a result, the Pakistani Taliban are now weakened in the north and are moving south into Pakistan's central and southern provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan. But the military should not rush to pursue them -- instead, it must hold the territory it has already captured and, in so doing, maintain stability in the rest of the country.

Over the summer, plans to hold embattled territories were already emerging, focusing on the temporary resettlement of refugees, the creation of reconstruction teams, and the reintegration of certain Taliban leaders and soldiers. The first initiative, resettlement, was a response to the waves of refugees who fled their homes as the army moved into densely populated areas in Bajaur and Swat. To be sure, the movement of civilians out of the conflict zone had some benefits: in early campaigns, only about 20 percent of the population remained behind, most of which turned out to be Taliban supporters. This gave the military an immediate advantage in clearing and policing cities. As one military officer explained, "We wanted to drain the swamp, sanitize it, bring back the people, and then hopefully turn it into a nice lake." Although some Taliban did escape as the swamp drained, upward of 7,000 were killed or captured.

But the cost to ordinary civilians was also high. The fighting in Bajaur alone displaced 300,000 people. In the Swat Valley, the military faced an urban population of four million people interspersed with around 10,000 Taliban fighters. About two million refugees fled their homes during the battles there, and yet the government had no relief plan. "The fate of the internally displaced was the Achilles' heel of our mission," said one senior military officer involved in relief efforts. "

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