The Pakistan government may win the limited war but, are bound to lose the unlimited peace. As the war in South Waziristan prolongs, cold weather, rugged terrain and emotionally hostile local tribesmen will come into play.
THE WAZIRISTAN war has reached a virtual stalemate. With the Pakistan Army neither winning nor losing, many doubting Thomases surmise that the officers and soldiers are not fighting with the “right” spirit as they perceive the Taliban terrorists as their kith and kin. The other view is that the Army is fighting its battles professionally and while they are killing the tribesmen, they are saving their own comrades-in-arms and pulling them out of the jaws of death.
In any case the military situation is not clear. The rumour mill is working overtime because not much news is doled out in official press briefings. Will someone from the fourth estate please impress upon the Army spokesman that the Media – both print and electronic - is a force multiplier. Embrace them and shun them not.
The reports trickling from the battle front mention that, the Army is using heavy gunships to pound the tribal terrorists from the sky and light tanks in the frontal attack on the plain and smooth ground. The battle is a kind of modern Mahabharata where the righteous have to kill the wayward ones to uphold the Dharma, the sacred duty to the state. The Army is tasked to do that against the Taliban.
In the plains and later, in the rugged hills or jungles of Waziristan, an outright win is next to impossible. One knows that the Army has big guns and can effectively neutralise long distance targets. What will they do thereafter? It is holding the ground by the infantry or the Special Forces. The local tribesmen who have resolutely refused to support the central forces or provide a back-up to the Army, will start harassing soldiers and not let them plan anything anytime. In fact, the British saw a similar situation in the Anglo-Afghan wars. The Soviets in 1980s fared no better. The tanks then and the heavy tanks now, will do no better facing anti-tank rockets or rifle propelled grenades. Seeing a burning tank with the crew inside is very demoralising for regular army soldiers.
Winter will soon usher in to browbeat the army sepoys, who are mostly from the plains of the Punjab. The snowfall in Waziristan is a phenomenon not witnessed by an average Punjabi from Lahore or Multan and he is likely to get unnerved. Assessing the terrible winter situation, the Pakistan Army is racing against time. The present fight to finish must be really finished before the first fall of snow. The military historians may recall the sad plight of the Napoleonic army in Moscow and that of the German soldiers in Stalingrad after the heavy snowfall in severe winter. The battle hardened French and German soldiers could not take it then, will the Pakistan army sepoys be able to bear it now?
Unable to face the heavy weapon system and terrible fire power of an organised Army, the Taliban terrorists will melt away and merge into the common crowd as they did in Afghanistan in 2001. But they will resurface and bring down harassing fire on soldiers every now and then. No rest, no relaxation and no peace of mind would exist for soldiers who will suffer from battle fatigue and the Taliban will tire them out, paving the path of their exit from the battle zone.
The Pakistan government may win the limited war but, are bound to lose the unlimited peace. As it is the people of the tribal areas of Pakistan, who feel alienated from the people of Pakistan, a shooting war will make matters worse. Residents of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) feel that they are second class citizens. No serious effort was ever made by Islamabad to emotionally integrate them with the rest of Pakistan. Now a military action will further alienate them.
As the war in South Waziristan prolongs, cold weather, rugged terrain and emotionally hostile local tribesmen will come into play. The army generals and the Taliban terrorists will perhaps have no alternative but to sit at a round table and negotiate peace leading to possibly a second dismemberment of Pakistan.