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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2528

Retooling Pakistan Army

By Adnan Gill

One doesn't put a call to a blacksmith to get a piece of jewelry fixed, because blacksmith’s sledgehammer lacks the precision achieved only from a jeweler’s craft hammer. Similarly, it's a mistake to send an army to put down highly elusive and mobile terrorists. For the last 60 years, Pakistani Army had been indoctrinated and trained to fight a foe six times larger of its size. But the rules of the game have changed: ‘real-time intelligence’, ‘speed’, and ‘precision’ are the reigning principles modern armies live by now.

Fairly or unfairly, the rules of game have been changed by the terrorists. The Pakistani Army will have to start carrying jeweler’s craft hammer in their toolkit too, right next to the sledgehammer. The terrorists operate in fluid situations and rely on toxic mixture of ambiguity, guerrilla warfare, modern communications, and most importantly their ability to blend in with the civilians.

In 2002 border standoff with India, Pakistani Army proved beyond any shadow of doubt that it was prepared to rise to the occasion even if challenged by world’s 4th largest army. Then came the long simmering Lal Masjid standoff. Army was called upon to clear the mosque from well-armed and heavily barricaded militants. To add to the complexity, the militants thoroughly blended themselves with the odd population of some 2,000 students, including women, and children. It was an intelligence nightmare. Unfortunately, the Pakistani Army found itself thrown in a situation where identifying and isolating the enemy was next to impossible. It was well trained and well equipped to flatten the mosque, but it was ill-trained and ill-equipped to conduct hostage rescue operation of such proportions. In the ensuing cleanup operation, massive loss of life and property on both sides exposed the soft underbelly of the Pakistani Army. While it was ready to give a run for its money to the Indian army, it lacked the sophistication required to conduct antiterrorist operations.

Pakistan Army’s critical deficiency is not a secret anymore. Americans Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates publicly exposed its weakness. He said, “The Pakistani army is an army that essentially has been trained and equipped to potentially fight India. They are now going to have to reorient themselves and figure out how to do counterinsurgency.”

Ironically, Americans are also relatively new players in this deadly game of cat and mouse, but their unlimited resources and their constant quest to overcome the odds have become their saving graces. Since 9/11, US dove headfirst into the uncharted waters of global terrorism. They learned hard lessons from the experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have already reoriented their Cold-War military into a nimble and extremely flexible war machine; that can simultaneously fight at two fronts, while successfully executing multiple covert and overt military operations worldwide. Its warbirds can deliver nuclear weapons, shoot down enemy airplanes, and still stealthy loiter over the areas of interest to eavesdrop on the elusive terrorists only to finish them off with a precision weapon. U.S. Navy now ferries around Navy SEALs more often than the nuclear tipped missiles. SEALs have mastered in conducting real-time intelligence missions, designating targets, training foreign operators, and executions of targets of opportunity. Similarly, US Army has transformed itself into a highly nimble and lethal war machine that mostly revolves around its Airborne Brigades and Green Berets. They along with the US Navy SEALs and the US Marines have become America's first line of defense, rather offense, to deal with crisis anywhere on the globe within the 36 hours of notice.

Thankfully, Pakistani military doesn't have to reorient and retool itself to the levels of what the US had to, because its mandate doesn't require global presence or global rescue missions. Nevertheless, the internal threats to Pakistan’s sovereignty have risen to a level where status-quo is not an option anymore. Pakistani Army is in dire need of sophisticated real-time intelligence gathering platforms like longer-range and long-endurance unmanned aircrafts, which can provide a constant stream of actionable-intelligence. It needs to secure precision weapons and a generous supply of air assets at its disposal, like military helicopters configured for night operations. Most importantly, it needs to exponentially increase the numbers of its Special Services Group(SSG); specializing in real-time intelligence gathering, close-quarters combat, hostage-rescue operations, and neutralization of threats through covert means.

Luckily, at this time of need, Pakistan has an ally who is more than keen to retrain and retool Pakistani Army. Americans have also offered to step up its training of Pakistani forces as part of a new $750 million program. It's Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict, Michael Vickers said, “Sites [in Pakistan] are being chosen for a five-year program to train and equip the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary unit, to confront al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region.”

According to Mr. Vickers, there are already fewer than 100 American personnel present in Pakistan. They are focused on what he called "targeted training." He further elaborated, "It's been ongoing for a while... They're expanding their capability substantially; they're essentially doubling their force. So we're helping them with that expansion and trying to improve their capabilities at the same time. There's also some aviation training. It's been ongoing for several years." The training includes teaching SSG specialized fighting techniques, such as helicopter assaults. The US military advisers are helping the Pakistanis double the size of its elite commando force to blunt the rising threat of terrorism and anti-government militants.

It's not a coincidence that the Americans are in the mood to retrain and retool the Pakistani Army, Americans are doing it to prepare a proxy force. Nonetheless, there should be no shame in learning from the best. Besides, it's not like terrorists are going to vanish into thin air, once the Americans leave Afghanistan and the Iraq. Lal Masjid fiasco should have served as a wake-up call to the Pakistani planners as to how ill-prepared Pakistani Army was to deal with the faceless modern enemy that can come from any direction, at any time, and worse, in any appearance. The terrorists have no regard for age or gender of civilians, but the Army cannot afford flattening whole neighborhoods. The key to success lies in actionable intelligence, intelligence, intelligence, and lightning fast response.

As apparent from the fighting in the NWFP, the retooling of Pakistan Army has to be done on war footings. Another Lal Masjid fiasco could turn out to be one too many.

- Asian Tribune -

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