Jaffer Abbas Mirza: Strategizing The War Against Extremism

Historically, the aftermath of the Cold War presented a number of challenges to existing international hegemony. A subsequent variant of such challenges is the rise of international terrorism. Traditionally, wars were mostly considered to be “inter-state” conflicts. But in our unipolar world, wars have been transformed into an “intra-state” phenomenon. Moreover, traditional theories on war fail to address this non-traditional phenomenon which is also increasingly being described as “asymmetric” warfare. Although some theoretical approaches seem valid in light of the above, they need to be modified to properly construe the nature of current wars and conflicts.  

Celebrated military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s work is influential in the field of warfare. In his work On War, von Clausewitz maintained that the best way to weaken your enemy is to attack or capture his “centre of gravity”. From Clausewitz’s perspective it may be argued that, if any state gets the control of the enemy’s centre of gravity then, ultimately, its peripheries will also capitulate. Hence, defeat is inevitable.

Now, if we apply von Clausewitz’s theory to the current imbroglio confronting Pakistan, then it is imperative for the state is to determine the ‘centre of gravity’ of the terrorist organizations operating on Pakistani soil. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operates in many regions of Pakistan. As an umbrella organization, it shelters many large and small militant groups. With this disparity, von Clausewitz’s theory proves to be invalid in this context as it is difficult to ascertain enemy’s centre of gravity.

Cutting the enemy’s communication or supply lines is another traditional method of warfare. For example, strategic thinkers consider that Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815 was achieved by virtue of such means. They argue that when Napoleon’s forces arrived near Waterloo, the Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and broke the communication lines between Napoleon’s forces and the base. Consequently, the French forces were not able to get assistance from the centre. In the cold weather, Napoleon’s forces therefore surrendered and lost the battle.

Like the shady origins and development of the Taliban (which many commentators say were created by the CIA and the Pakistan Army), a lot can be said about the TTP’s funding. Some analysts believe that, intelligence agencies like CIA, Mossad and RAW are funding these extremists to destabilize Pakistan.

On the other hand, some people argue that TTP finances itself through illegal activities, robberies, kidnappings and extortion. In the TTP’s case, cutting enemy’s communication lines seems quite logical.

If Pakistan’s intelligence agencies place greater emphasis upon eliminating TTP’s shady businesses and blocking its financial sources, such action will drastically weaken the militant organization. Unfortunately, owing to the Pakistan government’s impotence, this counter-measure has not yet been taken.

So, in this ‘war against extremism’, in order to achieve a strategic advantage over the TTP, Pakistan needs to employ the important strategy of cutting enemy’s communication lines to undermine the enemy’s position. And to my mind, such a measure must be taken before any talks between the government and militants take place.

Otherwise, terrorist attacks such as the one on Peshawar’s All Saints Church – where dozens of minority Christian worshippers were murdered – will continue to occur.

And that must stop right now otherwise Pakistan will be left licking its wounds forever.

The author is a researcher at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs and a student of the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi. He can be followed on twitter @mirzajaffer

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Filed under Al Qaeda, Discussion, Pakistan, Politics, Taliban

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