The US administration in a a report on Tuesday gave Congress a highly critical assessment of Pakistan`s efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and other militants, saying that after years of work with the Pakistan military "there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency" that, what it claimed, thrives in the country. The semi-annual report noted a deterioration of the situation in FATA, adding that operation in Mohmand Agency and Bajaur has not yielded any tangible result for the third time in two years.
On Afghanistan, the report says bloodshed, particularly of civilians, is rising because the insurgents are increasingly turning to soft civilian targets. Pakistan’s sustained pressure on the Pak-Afghan border and the denial of safe havens to Afghan insurgents remain crucial to efforts to defeat al Qaeda. Progress in the relationship with Pakistan has been substantial over the last few years, but uneven. On the other hand, absenteeism and attrition pose great risks to the quality of the Afghan national security forces, whose development is central to the US/NATO plans to begin withdrawing troops starting this June.
Meanwhile, in a reminder of the nature of guerrilla warfare, the Wall Street Journal has reported that al Qaeda is gradually returning to eastern Afghanistan, setting up bases for the first time in years in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops from the area to more populated centres. In stark contrast to the hope of the US command that the insurgents would follow the withdrawing troops to engage them in and around the more populated centres, the insurgents have stayed put and expanded their territorial influence in the vacuum left behind by the US troops.
The two reports above point to the same phenomenon: the protracted nature of insurgency and counter-insurgency, involving many such see-saw changes of control between the contending sides. If the White House report criticises Pakistan for having to conduct operations again and again in ‘cleared’ areas as evidence of a lack of ‘hold’ strategy, the same could be ascribed to the Petraeus strategy of retreating from isolated outposts to more populated centres, thereby ‘abandoning’ huge swathes of territory to the tender mercies of the insurgents. Guerrillas rely on the inherent contradiction between holding territory and conducting pro-active operations against insurgents by a conventional army. The insurgents in Pakistan’s FATA and eastern Afghanistan have imbibed this lesson well.
The White House report makes no mention of the repeated demand for an operation in North Waziristan, considered the last remaining solid redoubt of the insurgents. However, it also tilts against the civilian government, calling it weak, divided and inefficient. Combined, the strictures of the report against Pakistan’s military and civilian government will no doubt add fuel to the fire of the already troubled relationship. The military has already expressed its irritation at factual and conceptual errors it sees in the report. The civilian government so far is practising a diplomatic silence. Where this latest episode will lead is anyone’s guess. Both sides are joined out of necessity in a symbiotic embrace that does not easily lend itself to disengagement, while continuing to suffer the slings and arrows of outrage at each other’s perceived failures.