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Irregular Warfare for Militants in Pakistan?
by Neha Kumar Bookmark and Share

Pakistan has been a major ally of the US in its war against terrorism. But the happenings since 2007 have shown that Pakistan is emerging as 'safe heaven' of terrorist activities. It was proved that militant activities were growing under the disguise of madrass and jihad. The assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto confirmed that even the then ruling government under President Musharraf was not able to control the increasing terrorist activities in Pakistan. It was hoped that situation in Pakistan will improve after Feb 2008 elections but that has not happened. There has been cross border LoC firing on Indian side leading to breakdown of ceasefire agreement and rise in terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan. This was alarming, particularly for the US, because Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state and it is feared that nuclear weapons may fall in the hands of militant groups. The border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan has become a heaven for terrorist groups where they are having there centers for achieving their aims. The US interest in Pakistan and Afghanistan is in danger as it can also destabilize government in Afghanistan.

One of the Pakistani analysts, Khaled Ahemed has summed up the whole situation in Pakistan into three parts. First, there are group of people who believe that Pakistan has become the epicenter of jehadi terrorism and 'ground zero' even for getting Osama Bin Laden. Second, there is opinion in Pakistan that the US is the enemy of Islam and its definition of terrorism is wrong. Thus, the US is also an enemy of Pakistan. Third, there are groups of people in Pakistan who are 'Indian driven' and are backed by 'Pakistani army.' They regard India as 'only threat to Pakistan' and that India is collaborating with the US and Afghanistan to harm Pakistan interest. This analysis shows that Pakistan is considering India and the US as its enemy and is trying to harm their interests by militant activities. Therefore, it has become important for the US to come up with the strategy against militants in Pakistan.

Links between ISI and Militant groups in Pakistan: Effecting the US interests

The US policy has been failed to control terrorism in Pakistan tribal areas or terrorist activities sponsored by Pakistan. This has been reflected by recent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report, published in New York Times on 30 July 2008. According to this report, the Director of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan has links with militant group led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani. ISI, a government agency service, is an important part of Pakistan army and has been described as 'state within state.' CAI reported that Maulvi Jalauddin Haqquani has close links with Al Queada. ISI and Maulvi Jalauddia were possibly involved in bomb attacks on Indian embassy in Afghanistan which killed 58 people and two senior Indian diplomats. The report also mentioned that these allegations were based on communications between Pakistan intelligence officers and militants who carried out attacks on Indian embassy in Afghanistan. However, President Musharraf has denied these charges and described ISI as 'the first defense line of Pakistan.'

The relationship between ISI and militants is not new. The first major involvement of ISI in terrorist activities came into light after Soviet Union invasion in Afghanistan in1979. ISI have provided weapons, money, intelligence and training activities to mujhadeen for fighting against the Red Army. India has also mentioned repeatedly about relationship between ISI and terrorism, but it was never taken seriously. It is only now, when the interest of the US is affected in Afghanistan, it has said that it could take strong action against Pakistan if there are any other terrorist attacks in any part of the world having Pakistan connections.

No doubt, the US has now taken it seriously because Pakistan terrorist activities could give a serious blow to its interests. Although Pakistan official policy supports stability and peace in its neighboring country, Afghanistan, its unofficial policy is to support terrorist activities so as to appease political forces within Pakistan. Maulve Jalauddia Haqquani is carrying out repeated terrorist attacks in Afghanistan so as to destabilize their government. This is also resulting into death of many American and NATO soldiers. It is also feared that militant groups in Pakistan border areas could also launch another attack on the US or on its allies, similar to 9/11. The link between ISI and militant groups proved to be stumbling block in the US fight against the terrorism. CIA report mentioned that members of the Pakistan intelligence agency were increasingly providing information to militants about the American campaign against them. The US gives atleast one hour notice to the Pakistani government before launching a predator missile strike against terrorist groups in border areas. This information is shared by the ISI to the militants groups, thus, providing them escape from American strikes. Therefore, the link between ISI and militants and growing militant activities in Pakistan has created difficulties for the US to have its war against terrorism.

2008 National Defense Strategy of the US and waging war against terrorism

Now the question is what should be the US policy against the Pakistan growing terrorist activities? Whether the US should depend upon the newly elected democratic government or should take help of international players to control the situation? The National Defense Strategy of Robert Gates came up at the time when terrorism has occupied the centre place in the US policies. The National Defense Strategy laid emphasis on irregular warfare against extremist groups in place of conventional warfare. While recommending other measures, Robert Gates, mentions:

The use of force plays a role, yet military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies.

If we evaluate, the US has already adopted these measures so as to handle terrorist activities in Pakistan but failed to control terrorist activities. Since its inception, Pakistan government has refused to work according to the US wishes. The new government has mentioned that it is committed to fight against terrorism but also asserted its right, as the representative government of a sovereign nation, to be solely responsible for its own policy and decision making. Even Pakistan government has a peace deal with the militants despite of the US opposition. The US considers them as 'irreconcilable elements' and no deal is possible with them. Also, this deal will prohibit militants from taking violent actions against Pakistan but do not prohibit them to take violent actions against America, India, and Afghanistan. This shows that local government is not cooperating with the US to act against the terrorism. The second option of economic development in the areas affected by terrorism was also not effective. The US has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001 so as to fight its war against terrorism. However, Pakistan has used this money to modernize its defense forces against India. This clearly shows that such policies of the US have totally failed and now it needs to give a new approach to tackle this issue. In other words, the opinion of Robert Gates as mentioned above, no more stands helpful to carry on the interest of the US under the prevailing situation.

Irregular War against terrorism

As per the new strategy, Robert Gates in the National Defense Strategy has mentioned to wage Irregular War (IW) against terrorism. IW could be defined as a violent struggle between state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population. IW favors indirect and asymmetric approaches through it may employ full range of military and other capabilities so as to erode an adversary's power and will. Unlike traditional wars, the aim of IW is not to win territories but to undermine credibility and legitimacy of adversary and to isolate them from the relevant populations and their relevant support systems, both physically and psychologically. In turn, the other party will bolster its own legitimacy and credibility over the same population. Department of Defense (DoD) of the US defines irregular warfare as follows:

Warfare that seeks to erode an adversary's power and will primarily by applying or countering indirect, nontraditional means, such as forms of combat involving peer-to-peer fighting between the regular armed forces of two or more countries. ... Irregular warfare encompasses many operations and activities which can and will occur, either by themselves or within traditional conflicts in either shaping, decisive or supporting roles. ... The following, though not all-inclusive, occur within irregular warfare: insurgency/counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, terrorism/ counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, stability operations, psychological operations, civil military operations, information operations, intelligence / counterintelligence operations.

The proposal of fighting irregular war against terrorists is seen as shift in the US policy from conventional war. However this method would be advantageous in tackling terrorism but has its own shortcomings. IW depends not only on military but on the understanding of social dynamics, tribal politics, social networks, religious influence and cultural moves. In order to win IW, the US must have capability to identify, locate, track and engage individual enemies and their networks. In other words, the US should have effective intelligence services, surveillance and communication systems. Here emerged problem. It is possible to have accurate information about military forces of other leading nations, their topological features, the communication systems and their military resources. But it is not possible to have accurate information of wide range of terrorist networks and their capabilities. Militants carried out unexpected attacks at unexpected places. The strength of an enemy, his weapons and fighting qualities can only be imperfectly gauged.

Army faced many difficulties in waging irregular war. Armies are trained to fight with other armies of the world having same characteristics and do not have much experience in waging IW. IW requires high level of strategy but the US army does not spend too much time on building strategies. They shift quickly from policy to operations and tactics. British Strategist, Collin S. Gray, said that American way of fighting is apolitical, impatient, a-historical, culturally ignorant, technologically infatuated, firepower focused, profoundly conventional and sensitive to causalities. The American way of fighting does not fit into the Clausewitz notion of war. He described war as continuation of policies by other means. In his words, 'it is the policy that creates war. Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa.'

The US attacks on the terrorist organizations must be carefully calibrated and controlled. The challenge for the political leaders is to resist the temptation to use America's overwhelming military strength. The US has to prevent the rise of anti-American sentiment among civilians and so must prevent their physical and financial loss in a fight against terrorism.

American defense forces have never considered irregular warfare as an important component. Also, it is difficult for the defense forces to decide a strategy through which they can win irregular warfare. They have to completely place their mind in different perceptions for which armies are not well prepared. Another major problem is that there is difficulty in recognizing the difference between the agencies fighting regular or irregular war against the US. The reason is the state involvement in irregular war which led to mixing of regular and irregular forces. As in case with Pakistan, it is now proved that state agencies are also involved in terrorism. Similarly, Iran is sponsoring terrorist activities of Hezbollah. It is not clear that what method should be adopted to deal with such conditions.

Last but not least, the US could not win IW alone. Even National Defense Strategy mentioned about the advantage of coalition forces and necessary partners to extend the US operational tasks. In case of terrorist activities in Pakistan, its neighboring countries can be helpful in waging IW war against terrorist's organizations.


IW is a long term war against terrorism and the US must have patience in waging such wars. It needs integration of mind and power. Sam Holiday, in his article 'Irregular Warfare in Nutshell,' rightly said that 'we have strategies for achieving victory in conventional war and strategies for achieving agreement in peace. We need strategies capable of maintaining stability in irregular warfare. The Department of Defense has the military and hard power of war and the Department of State has diplomats and soft power of peace.' It is the diplomats and senior level military experts that can define the strategy to be adopted in irregular warfare. The US should combine both of them so as to deal with militants and to control situation in Pakistan.


In order to win irregular warfare, American defense forces must be given proper training. The US should adapt following principles of irregular war. It should adopt a good strategy; develop high level of patience and should be ready to withstand causalities. The other important principle of irregular warfare, which should be kept in mind by the US experts, is that there is no single and symmetrical planning in irregular warfare. The defense forces should be flexible enough to adapt their strategies according to the circumstances. These principles should be combined by the US technological superiority in weaponry system. The US is superior in conventional weapons and its adversaries lack the capability to develop such weapons. The US should not leave a chance to use this superiority and should implement it forcibly in the disturbed regions. This will give to rise of 'advanced irregular warfare,' which will be in the interest of the US. 

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