The attack on the police academy on the outskirts of Lahore on 30th March, bore the hallmarks of the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine: Professionally executed by highly trained, well equipped and highly motivated personnel. Unlike the earlier attack against the Sri Lanka cricket team in the same city, this time the police fought back bravely and suffered over 30 causalities. Yet it was clear from the television coverage of the battle that the police alone could not have managed to overcome the attackers. It needed the high quality professionalism of the military to get the job done. The presence of a Senior Military Officer from the Lahore Garrison in the battle field at the Police Academy was re-assuring to the police as much as the public. As the guns fell silent and the public voiced their euphoria, a number of sobering lessons at the strategic level emerged.
It is now clear that Pakistan is fighting a war of survival against the Taliban/Al-Qaeda combine, who seek to topple the State. The Taliban/Al-Qaeda have captured large swathes of Pakistan’s territory, its political and social structure. They are at the gates of Peshawar and at the same time have established strong holds in Lahore, the cities of Southern Punjab, Quetta and the port city of Karachi. The Taliban have thus developed the capacity to wreak violence and resultant anarchy in key cities across the country. Once these cities are set aflame, they expect these local fires to coalesce into a wide spread conflagration as a prelude to their takeover. Their objective is to capture large parts or the whole of a nuclear armed Pakistan and to impose their particular version of barbaric governance.
Defending Pakistan clearly involves seven dimensions of national effort:
Seventh, to create an economic base for winning and maintaining popular support for the war. This would involve embarking on a new economic growth path which involves the rapid reduction of poverty and the provision of basic necessities to the people. A new institutional structure needs to be created through which the people of Pakistan, rather than just a small elite, can participate in the process of investment and growth. The people as a whole must become both the subjects and the beneficiaries of the growth process. It is important to realize that political democracy as indeed the war effort can only be sustained by achieving economic democracy that would give a stake in citizenship to the people.
First, it is now necessary for all democratic forces to unite to provide the political consensus for the mobilization of the national will and all elements of the security apparatus working in consort with the single objective of saving the state.
Second, the institutional structures of democracy must be quickly established to ensure the necessary balance between the supremacy of Parliament in law making, an independent judiciary in interpreting the law and finally, the Executive Authority tasked with enforcing the law and conducting democratic governance according to the Constitution. The establishment of the democratic structure is vital to mobilize the popular will for the war effort.
Third, a clear military strategy for defeating the Al Qaeda-Taliban, must be devised by the government in close consultation with the Army Chief, the Intelligence Agencies and the Corps Commanders.
Fourth, clear disavowal by the military and its agencies of the old and dangerously flawed doctrine that the Taliban are a strategic asset to be used for installing a pro Pakistan government in Afghanistan when the Americans leave, and as force multipliers in a war with India.
Fifth, a programme with financial and technical support from Pakistan’s allies to undertake a major programme of reconfiguring parts of the military that are not needed for defence against India, to fight the war against extremists. This would involve restructuring the relevant military units, equipping them with state of the art counter insurgency weapons, training and motivation.
Sixth, a foreign policy focused on bringing together Pakistan’s neighbours as well as Western allies to provide coordinated support to Pakistan’s war effort. In this context peace with India and Afghanistan are strategic imperatives for Pakistan’s defence.