The killing of 23 FC soldiers by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (Mohmand Agency) has raised many questions.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he self-styled amir of Tehreek-e-Taliban (Mohmand Agency), Omar Khalid Khorasani (real name Abdul Wali), has issued a statement and also released a video, claiming that his faction has killed 23 Frontier Corps soldiers in retaliation to the killing of Taliban prisoners. According to Khorasani, these soldiers were captured by him in June 2010. If his statement is correct, then questions abound. [NB: in the video Khorasani promises releasing the video of the killings shortly.]
The foremost ofcourse deals with how his men managed to capture so many soldiers from a post he has identified as Shonkrai and did FC/Army try to get them released? If yes, why could these troops not be freed; if no, why was no effort made to secure their release? What was happening when the post came under attack? Was there a fire fight? How many soldiers were killed? Was there any provision for calling in air support?
Taking 23 soldiers prisoner means they were left with no option but to surrender. Did they run out of ammo? Did they despair of any ground reinforcements and air support? How much time does it take to send in gunships or ground support? Surely, such a large post, possibly a platoon, may be two, could not be an isolated one. What is the distance in time and space between such posts?
These questions also become vital because keeping prisoners requires elaborate logistics, as does mounting an attack on a large post. If the Army’s claim that it has cleared Mohmand Agency is correct, then we need to ask the question of where these prisoners were kept. Capturing and transporting 23 soldiers to a safe house is not an easy task and while large areas in Mohmand in 2010 were under Taliban control, multiple Army operations, big and small, since then should have helped in recovering these soldiers.
Or are we saying that the Taliban while relocating in the face of the threat from the Army also managed to take these prisoners along?
If yes, then it is safe to surmise that the military push failed to put the kind of squeeze on them that would have prevented the Taliban from any orderly withdrawal from the area. Withdrawal, it must be noted, is a tactical operation and in that is distinct from retreat which presumes a haphazard running away from an area under tremendous pressure from an adversary.
The Army/FC has to come up with viable responses to these questions. For too long has the conduct of operations remained shrouded in secrecy. And while operational secrecy is important, equally crucial is studying them to see how they were conducted and what lessons learnt. Moreover, why has the Army/FC been quiet about 23 soldiers who had been in captivity for almost four years? Clearly, there are many more. It is important for the Army and the FC to inform the people of the number of soldiers currently held by the Taliban.
It has become a norm for both arms of the government, civilian and the Army, to talk about speculation in the media, formal and social. If there is any such speculation, the fault lies with the government which is always reluctant to share information. If Khorasani’s statement is correct, the people have ended up getting information from the terrorists rather than the government. Would anyone dispute the point that this is not the best way to get information and in fact gives to the Taliban the psychological edge that must be denied them?
That said, there is an interesting aspect of the video which shows Khorasani and Ihsanullah Ihsan. The video is in Pashto. It’s heavily edited with editing jumps. Why is the video in Pashto if the message is meant for Pakistanis in general? We know that both Khorasani and Ihsan can speak Urdu and have often recorded their gruesome messages in that language.
Could it be that the video is for the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the FC rather than the Army and the rest of Pakistan? From what Khorasani says and what he details in the letter, it is clear that he is holding the government and its intelligence agencies responsible for what he claims to have done – killed 23 FC soldiers, all of them Pashtun. Is he trying to tell the Pashtun that the continuation of violence against their kith and kin is the responsibility of the government, not him?
There’s a strong possibility of that. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which rules KPK has, obliquely, managed to introduce this sentiment. It is voiced by the PTI-affiliated Pashtun youth on social media – i.e., it is the Punjabi-dominated Army that is responsible for continued bloodshed. Another possibility could be that Khorasani, as a Pashtun, is putting a context on why his men have ended up killing Pashtun FC troops.
There could be another possibility yet. If it is accepted that some of these groups have a line to the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence, then the video’s being in Pashto begins to make sense. Be that as it may, the question remains: where is Khorasani if Mohmand has been cleared by the security forces? Also, if he has indeed killed 23 FC soldiers, regardless of the talks, how should the state respond to this act? Also, if Khorasani has done this without a nod from the Taliban committee (not the intermediate one), what is the chain of command, if any? And if the Taliban HQ is prepared to bless ex post facto what he has done, is there any point in creating the myth of a central Taliban shura with which the government can talk and which can, or does, control actions by its affiliated groups and chapters?
All these questions, and more, are not only important in understanding what’s going on but are also crucial in figuring out enemy actions and motives. Without that clarity the people will remain confused and we know that without the public’s support there can be no effective operation. If it is accepted that the use of force is just one fraction of the national effort in countering this threat, then the government will have to give more to the people than it has been prepared to do thus far.