By Manzar Zaidi
Feb 25, 2014
Insurgency can be contextualized as an organized set of subversive and violent activities geared to control, nullify or challenge political control of an area by the insurgents. In other words, it can be defined as a struggle to achieve political space by armed means in order to implement political, economic and ideological agendas. An insurgency may involve a myriad of actors, some of which jump onto the ‘bandwagon’ at varying stages with different agendas. This is exactly the threat facing Pakistan in its Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This threat does not emanate from one cohesive insurgency, but from a number of disparate and distinct locally-oriented groups, many of whom are ‘franchise’ holders of the ‘Taliban’ brand. Many of these groups seek to displace the state from a particular homeland territory than replace it outright. In this sense, the U.S. State Department’s definition of insurgency, which places emphasis on anti-state groups to “seize, nullify, or challenge political control over a region” is applicable in Pakistan’s context. It is more apt than the more sweeping generalization utilized by the US Defense Department, which defines insurgency as attempts to “overthrow… a constituted government”.
Successful insurgencies may require many factors: charismatic leadership, supporters, recruits, supplies, safe havens and funding. They may only need the support of an active minority, but passive acquiescence of a large proportion of the contested population tends to give a higher probability of success. It is also important to remember, that concentrating alone on the
religious and ideological drivers of an insurgency diverts attention from its political aspects, and to the nature of state response to insurgency. Socio-Political analysis digresses from root causes, while ideological analytical models do not elucidate the political and social trajectories of ideologically motivated insurgencies. Insurgencies are usually a mix of the above mentioned factors, which gives direction to the methodologies utilized by insurgents. Thus, when a political cause exerts a strong religious, tribal or ‘local identity’ appeal, a typical method utilized by insurgents is a combination of persuasion, subversion and coercion .This is supplemented by guerrilla tactics to offset the strengths of government security forces, which are intended to bring the opposing state to a state of exhaustion, thereby leading to political accommodation. The ultimate aim of such guerilla activities is postulated to bring about a state of security exhaustion, political confusion and economic failures. Thus, the endgame of an insurgency is political, which is achieved by strategies intended to exhaust the state in a ‘war of the flea’ to reach the desired political goal.
Counterinsurgency (COIN) is the coordinated set of civilian and military activities which tackle insurgency, with non-military means often being a primary element of COIN regimes. COIN requires a broad understanding and experience of several disciplines, along with a minute comprehension of the specific situation on ground. COIN regimes should have the ability to ‘push’ the insurgency away from the contested area, simultaneously ‘pulling’ the target populations towards the state in terms of loyalty, nationalism or patriotism. It is a misconception that military might, and capturing or eliminating insurgents, will provide effective in curbing an insurgency in the long term, as is revealed by a look at the US Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual. Written under the leadership
of General Petraeus, it stipulates that the ‘kill-capture model’ has not succeeded during the earlier days in Iraq, and may be even more unsuitable in Pakistan’s troubled areas. This strategy tends to create more enemies than it eliminates old ones. Even the vastly superior US forces had to resort to protecting the population centers in Iraq to improve the COIN profile of the US forces stationed there.
Conventionally, COIN regimes are said to be 80% political and 20% military in nature. A note of caution however needs to be sounded here; the presumptions above relate to the initial phase of a COIN regime, where political as well as ‘harder’ means to contain the insurgency are being tried. When political reconciliation with the insurgents is no longer on the agenda, as in Pakistan’s attitude towards the Taliban currently, the 80-20% doctrine may not be valid in the initial phases of a COIN regime. Its utility in medium to longer term COIN regimes though, is indisputable in order to re-stabilize troubled territory, and to maintain peace. Protracted use of a firepower-intensive approach is a classic flaw in counterinsurgency campaigns, and indiscriminate use of it can alienate the target audience like nothing else. It needs to be remembered that, historically, COIN campaigns have almost always been more costly, more protracted and more difficult than was initially anticipated at the planning stage. Consequently, a constant process of review must be an essential element of COIN campaigns.
Negotiations with insurgents, as a result of which concessions are made, present a problematic issue in COIN literature. It is generally held that concessions to nationalist grievances prevalent in the insurgents’ community have the potential to reduce popular support for further terrorism, making further indoctrination difficult. It also improves the standing of more moderate nationalist elites, who are in competition with the insurgents. This
is however only possible, if concessions provide remedy to genuinely held grievances, and the approach is non–incremental and holistic. Public indicators are a critical driver of any COIN regime. For instance, when the Taliban started gaining footholds in the country, they were not as unpopular as they are now. Debatably, this has helped the Pakistani Army in stepping up the intensity of the operations. A COIN regime which does not cater for a public backlash, or potential for subtle escalation through radicalization, is bound to eventually fail in its long term goals. The end game of a COIN regime which is almost always up against political, ideological or economic agendas of the rival insurgency is about providing better opportunities for the people; whosoever does so wins.