The new Pakistan Army chief, General Asim Munir is confronted with an immediate and vexatious challenge to the army’s authority by two of its proteges, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a terrorist organisation protected by another terrorist entity, the Afghan Taliban, both for long dependent on the army’s material and moral support.
Munir can no longer ignore the legacy of his predecessor, Javed Bajwa, who dismissed reports of the regathering of TTP militants in Swat and other areas in Pakistan in a bid to cover up his singular failure in defending the territorial integrity of Pakistan. Bajwa, during his tenure, had started a peace dialogue with TTP and even struck a secret pact with the militant leadership to hoodwink the people, with the active connivance of hisi another protege, Imran Khan as the Prime Minister. Khan has for long been known as the Mr Taliban. It is not surprising that as soon as Bajwa exited, TTP called off the ceasefire agreement and ordered its militants to attack “whenever“ and “wherever“ in Pakistan. The beheading of a police officer in Bannu recently showed how serious the terrorist group was in implementing its threat.
Pakistani newspaper Business Recorder termed “ these are consequences of the appeasement policy adopted by the state until recently“.
The beheading and other series of killings of police and security officials by TTP and various other outfits recently sent General Munir to the border area of Tirah of Khyber district to assure the troops and promise a hard push to the militants. Munir’s words ring hollow as TTP’s rise is principally due to the support it draws from the Afghan Taliban. Munir will have to relook at the age-old patronage of the Taliban and find a new way to deal with both the militant groups, militarily as well as politically.
This is something easier said than one. The political leadership in Pakistan is divided among themselves–one is more interested in prolonging their rule in Islamabad and others want to return to Islamabad by hook or crook. There is no dispensation which will lend support to Munir’s mission in the tribal areas, and Afghanistan. Munir faces two other complex challenges here–one, people of Swat and other regions, who have suffered terrorist onslaught in the past, are angry at the army’s failure to come to their rescue despite persistent protests and warnings. Second is how to deal with a nascent Pashtun movement against army for killing innocent civilians in the name of terrorism. These are Pakistani citizens and any military action in the area therefore should take into account the possibility of civilian casualties. In the past, several hundred local men and women had died in military operations and even more fled their homes to cities like Karachi, a key factor in the civil Pashtun movement against the state, especially the army, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. Munir’s predecessor, Bajwa, tried to hammer the protest by locking up protesters, mothers,wives and sisters or eliminating them. Munir cannot afford to go that blood path because it is the local community which will act as a bulwark against the growth of terrorism in the region and not the military alone.
Then comes no less tougher problem in Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Army’s traditional ally and key strategic instrument against India’s expansion in the region. It is the Taliban which is protecting the TTP and the army cannot launch a war against its own principal ally which it aided and abetted to come to Kabul. Without dealing with the Afghan Taliban, TTP cannot be pushed back. General Munir has its hands full with TTP-Afghan Taliban, politics and internal dynamics of the army leadership. Only time will tell whether he can measure up to these tough challenges while restoring the prestige of the Pakistan Army.