For Pakistan, sub-conventional threat is a reality of present time. This, however, does not mean that the conventional threat has receded. It will be an overstatement to consider sub-conventional threat as existential. It is transient in nature and would pass by when its string pullers abdicate mischief. The country is certainly pitched against a nebulous enemy; and alongside this, the conventional threat has also grown manifold. These threats could only be defeated through collective national will and multi-dimensional efforts in which the armed forces have a critical role to play; they have to act in harmony with other instruments of the state. However, political leadership has to take the lead.

Much hype has been created about an addition (read revamping) of a chapter on “Sub-conventional warfare” to the Green Book, or the ‘Army Doctrine’. By all counts, it would be naive to call it a major shift in the doctrine. While living in a global village, it would be improper to assume that any internal threat could sustain itself without external linkages like indoctrination, logistic facilitation and even active intervention.

Though the, contour and magnitude of internal threat has changed, no military can ever overlook that the easiest way for the external threat to succeed is to come riding on the shoulders of internal disorder. There was no angry Bengali sitting between the two generals when surrender document was signed in Dhaka on 16 December, 1971; nonetheless Indian aggressors came in on the pretext of liberating that invisible angry Bengali—missing from the historic ‘Niazi-Arura’ frame.

Pakistan’s military is watchful of the actors causing internal strife and is also mindful of their external string pullers. Its ultimate objective is to remain fully prepared to engage and defeat the external enemy, should it embark on exploiting internal disorder through direct intervention. Chief of Army Staff General Kayani had already articulated the newly promulgated doctrine in his well-known independence night speech at the PMA Kakul: “No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force...otherwise we’ll be divided and taken towards a civil war. Our minds should be clear on this.”

Pakistan continues to face numerous external threats as well. Speaking about one dimension of these threats, Pakistan’s secretary of defence has recently acknowledged an open secret that the US and Britain were (and are) against Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Pakistan’s nuclear programme has remained an eye sore for the West, especially the United States, since its formulation days. Further elaborating on external threats, the secretary also pointed out that the US had also used other (undeclared) intelligence networks against Pakistan. Moreover, the involvement of nearly half a dozen foreign intelligence agencies in fermenting and sustaining the unrest in Baluchistan has often been acknowledged by high-ranking Pakistani leaders and independent analysts.

It would be a misperception to assume that military leadership now come to regard internal threats as the biggest danger to the country’s security and has brought a major shift in its operational priorities, as has been widely misconstrued by foreign and national media. Reportedly, the new doctrine has been added to the Green Book under the chapter “Sub-conventional warfare”. It describes the guerrilla activities on the country’s western borders and tribal areas, and the bombings carried out by various organisations on some institutions or citizens, as the biggest threat to the country’s security. The theme is a part of a publication which is updated by the army on a regular basis to review its operational preparedness and professional capabilities.

In an overstatement, the BBC reported (on Jan’ 02) that: a new ‘Army Doctrine’ – shifting focus off the conventional enemy on the east to some organisations and individuals within the country and their associates across the western border – comes after some eleven years of war against terror. It further stated that Pakistan has been treating its eastern neighbour as its enemy number one, and this is the first time that internal security hazards have been dubbed as more serious threat to the country’s sovereignty, which is a significant shift in the army’s doctrine; without naming any militant outfit, the new chapter also talks about the militant intrusion in Pakistani areas from across the border in Afghanistan. The BBC quoted a senior army official, as saying that the purpose of adding the new chapter to the book was to prepare the military to fight the new ‘internal’ threat and to get the required popular and political support.

All militaries are trained to counter insurgencies and so is Pakistan’s military. Successful operations in Swat and Malakand indicate superb handling of the military aspect of insurgency. Where we have faltered is the lack of robust political processes to convert tactical gains through military action into strategic peace via political integration. Nonetheless, reclamation of Swat is a success story which has many lessons for the contemporary militaries dealing with insurgency. Moreover, Pakistan’s armed forces have the full capacity to launch an operation in North Waziristan. However, this operation would not be successful till the Pak-Afghan border is sealed; otherwise the terrorists would run away to Afghanistan; rest, rearm and come back to fight on another day.

Success of Pakistan’s military in dealing with internal threat can be measured from the fact that militant leaders in their back-to-back statements sent to the media last week have offered ceasefire and negotiations. Rhetoric attached to these offers aside, militant outfits only offer for talks when they are under severe pressure. While military action has exerted appropriate pressure and brought the militants to this point, it is for the political leadership to seize the moment and capitalize on it. Pending the decision, military operation should continue. Political leadership needs to weigh the offer and take the decision. If the talks are to begin, then conducive environment should be created for their success, while watchfully observing and ensuring that militants do not exploit the parleys as a mean to gain time to consolidate their position militarily. Militant outfits have a poor track record of honouring their commitments; they also lack a centrally responsible leadership that could own and implement the decisions of any agreement. Presumably, the interior ministry has shown government’s inclination to consider the offer made by Hakimullah. Gradually, other factions could also be taken on board. If Americans can talk to Afghan Taliban, why can’t we? Apart from the contents of the new chapter in the Green Book, terminal phase of the strategy to handle sub-conventional threat is negotiations and political processes backed by robust deterrence. Military has forced the militants to ask for negotiations; ball is now in political leadership’s court.

The writer is a retired air commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.