INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.400
Twenty-seven persons----13 of them members of Pakistan's Frontier Corps, including a Major--- are reported to have been killed in an air strike by US Air Force planes on a check post of the FC located near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the Gora Parao area in the Mohmand agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan on the night of June 10,2008.
2. While a Pakistani army spokesman has condemned the US attack as cowardly and unprovoked, Pentagon spokesmen in Washington DC, while not denying the attack, have justified it as a legitimate act of self-defence.
3. The check post attacked by US planes was manned by the Mohmand Rifles, a unit of the FC, which consists mainly of local recruits. The Mohmand Agency is one of the preferred infiltration routes of the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan. In recent months, tribesmen from Mohmand Agency had also repeatedly attacked trucks transporting logistic supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port.
4. Pakistani media accounts as well as reports from independent police sources indicate that the incident was provoked by a joint attack launched by the Neo Taliban and the TTP on a recently-opened post of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Afghan territory just across the Gora Parao check post of the FC. When the ANA soldiers were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by the Taliban attacks from the Pakistani territory, they sought the assistance of US troops. When the ANA and the US troops faced difficulty in countering the Taliban forces, who were supported by cover fire from Pakistani territory, they asked for air support. US planes then bombed the area in the vicinity of the FC check post. The air attack killed a number of Taliban cadres, but at the same time, it also destroyed the FC check post.
5. The incident once again underlined the difficulty faced by the ANA and the US troops in countering Taliban intrusions from Pakistani territory. These intrusions often take place through areas manned by the FC. The FC consists almost completely of tribals recruited locally, though some officers do come on deputation from non-tribal areas too.
6. While senior officers of the Pentagon and the State Department refrain from criticising the FC of complicity with the Neo Taliban and the TTP, US and Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan do not make any secret of their conviction that there is considerable sympathy for the Taliban among the tribal members of the FC and that they often facilitate infiltrations by the Taliban into Afghan territory. A recent report of the Rand Corporation of the US, which highlights the collusion of many serving and retired Pakistani personnel---from the Army as well as the FC--- with the Taliban largely reflects this conviction of the Afghanistan-based US troops. The US soldiers and their officers in Afghanistan consider retaliatory attacks on FC personnel and check posts aiding the Taliban as a legitimate exercise of their right of self-defence for which they require no clearance from Washington DC.
7. The fact that the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the TTP have been demanding that any peace agreement with the Government should provide for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army troops from the tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan and their replacement by FC personnel reflects their confidence that the FC personnel will be more friendly to the Taliban.
8. The US faces a dilemma in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. The FC's tribal recruits, with their considerable local knowledge, can be an asset in the operatins against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, provided they co-operate sincerely. At the same time, their sympathy for fellow-tribals serving in the Taliban comes in the way of such sincere co-operation and reduces their reliability. It has not so far found a way out of this dilemma. Its plans for a modernisation of the FC are unlikely to produce results so long as this sympathy for the Taliban among the recruits to the FC persists.
9. One way out of this dilemma could be by using the FC units for internal security duties in other parts of Pakistan and using regular Pakistan army units consisting of non-tribal soldiers for counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency duties in the FATA. This is already being attempted for sometime now, but the regular army units, who were raised and trained essentially for duties on the Indian border, find themselves ill-adapted for duties in the tribal belt near the Afghan border.
10. Though Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), has reportedly been talking of the need to retrain the Pakistani army troops for counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency duties in the tribal belt, he has not taken any action to implement his idea because the Pakistan Army gives more importance to its role against India than to its role against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. (12-6-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )