The strategic environment in the Af-Pak Region (APR) is evolving rapidly. The US/NATO/ISAF Combine, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban (including the TTP), are all vying to shape it to suit their respective interests in the pre and post December 2014 periods.
Peripheral India, too, is endeavoring to find relevance and somehow influence it through its linkages with President Hamid Karzai and the NDS-RAW Combine. It’s clearly a spoiler’s role.
A clash of interests, divergent and vital for each belligerent as they might be, is so evident. It will get deadlier by the day!
The US/CIA has taken the lead by taking out Hakimullah Mehsud, the Ameer of the TTP. The timing of this drone attack has several far reaching strategic connotations. First, it fulfills US/CIA’s public pledge to avenge the loss of seven CIA agents in Khost, Afghanistan by the TTP through a Jordanian double agent. Second, it destabilizes the TTP as it selects a new leader who in turn would expend vital time and efforts in establishing himself, his writ, his own team and in reorganizing the terrorist outfit.
Third, it has already created fissures within the TTP ranks as its leadership moves out of very reluctant Mehsud hands and Waziristan for the first time. The resultant power struggle is seriously challenging Mullah Fazullah’s credibility and acceptability as a commander, amongst other factors.
Fourth, it has scuttled for good Pakistan Government’s (naïve) attempts to engage the TTP in negotiations.
Fifth, it ensures that TTP remains engaged within Pakistan thus obviating its interference with the US/NATO/ISAF’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Sixth, it may have pre-empted a Taliban-TTP strategy of fighting on two fronts; holding the Pakistan front through negotiations first, while freeing up assets to maneuver itself into a position of strength in Afghanistan as the US/NATO/ISAF egress from it. Thereafter, they would have turned their attention back to Pakistan!
Mullah Fazullah sought refuge in Kunar-Nuristan after he was hounded out of Swat by the Pakistan Army. He has apparently been cultivated, maintained and bankrolled all along as a joint Indo-Afghan venture. His (s)election as the new Ameer of the TTP is apparently the handiwork of the NDS-RAW Combine. The CIA, MI6 and Mossad might not be too displeased with this development either. (No drone attacks in Kunar and Nuristan!!).
Mullah Fazullah has spent his time to rest, recuperate, reorganize, re-equip, recruit, re-train and operate from his Afghan Government supported bases in Kunar and Nuristan. His group has emerged as one of the larger ones and that factor may have helped him in getting the mantle of TTP’s leadership, too. Mullah Fazlullah’s (s)election as the Ameer of the TTP thus becomes quite understandable. He has arrived here as an asset of the Indo-Afghan/NDS-RAW Combine; to further their interests and concomitantly those of the US/NATO/ISAF.
As the TTP is undergoing a change of command so is its main adversary - Pakistan. Pakistan will get a new CJCSC, COAS and a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the next few weeks. Similarly, Afghanistan will have a new President and Government sometime in 2014. This makes for a very critical change of commands in the Af-Pak Region (APR) as the Afghan Endgame enters into its most sensitive and critical stage. (By delaying the nominations of the new COAS and CJCSC the Nawaz Sharif Government has as usual shot itself squarely where it hurts most; losing critical and vital time in the process!)
A thorough strategic appraisal of the situation will bring out certain areas for the Pakistan Government and its Armed Forces to exploit.
Mullah Fazullah’s foremost dilemma should be the location of his main Base of Operations and his HQs? If he maintains these in Kunar-Nuristan to get uninterrupted and intimate support from the Indo-Afghan/NDS-RAW Combine then that would leave it too far away from the main battle fields in FATA and the settled areas of Pakistan right up to Karachi. His Main Supply Routes would be too long and subject to easy interdiction. He cannot shift it to Swat, his erstwhile home territory, because of the Pakistan Army’s presence there. Furthermore, he would have lost much of his clout amongst the people there. He might be forced to base himself in FATA; somewhere in North Waziristan, Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber agencies etc. Here too he is likely to be viewed as an outsider and would not be able to get the respect and unstinted intimate support of the locals, especially from the Mehsud and Waziri tribes as Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud did. His (s)election is already causing fissures and frictions within the ranks of the TTP; divided loyalties might lead to its fracturing and dissipation.
Mullah Fazullah’s elevation as the Ameer of the TTP might turn out to be that critical turning point in this war that could eventually define his and the TTP’s future.
The Government of Pakistan must seize the opportunity and act boldly and expeditiously now. It must desist from meekly beseeching the TTP for negotiations or pleading for Mullah Omar’s benevolent intervention. It is a sure sign of weakness. And the meek have yet to rule the world or even their own territories. Pakistan must never cede the stronger negotiating position to the TTP, ever.
It must exploit the emerging fissures and not allow the TTP to settle down. It could drive a wedge between the Mehsuds and Waziris on the one side and the outsiders from Kunar-Nuristan-Swaton the other. It should divide and defeat them piecemeal. Their links to and their logistics supply chain from the NDS-RAW Combine needs to be severed immediately.
Pakistan must employ all elements of its national power to move into an unambiguous and unassailable position of strength. Thereafter it may hold an All Parties Conference and offer the TTP two choices - either to submit to the writ of the Government or face the consolidated political and military might of a unified and united nuclear Pakistan.
There is no other way out of this morass!

The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ in Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).

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