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New Pakistan Army Chief upholds commitment to COIN

The new Pakistan Army Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, affirmed his commitment to the country’s longstanding counterinsurgency (COIN) effort.

In a press release issued by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani armed forces’ media arm, the Pakistan Army stated: “Appreciating the gains of counter terrorism operations so far, he [Gen. Bajwa] said that focus must remain on indiscriminate [intelligence-based operations and combined operations] for stabilization and consolidation.”

Gen. Bajwa added that cooperation with Afghanistan on controlling the mutually-shared border will be essential to the success of the wider COIN effort.

Notes & Comments:

While General Qamar Javed Bajwa possesses considerable command experience in regards to the Line of Control (LoC), the marker dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, it is evident that Bajwa is opting to maintain a strong measure of continuity (in COIN) from his predecessor, General Raheel Sharif.

In 2014, the Sharif-led Pakistan Army launched Zarb-e-Azb, its first concerted long-term COIN campaign in FATA, specifically in North Waziristan. In the lead-up and in parallel to the campaign, the Army instituted several key programs to directly feed into its COIN effort.

Most notable among them was the establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which has been responsible for imparting the requisite skill-sets and expertise for combat in built-up areas and in small teams. As of September 2016, the NCTC had trained 231,000 armed forces soldiers and nearly 3,500 officers as well as personnel from Pakistan’s law-enforcement agencies and Ministry of Interior.

Gen. Bajwa may work to build upon Raheel Sharif’s efforts by strengthening the use of intelligence assets to “sever” the “nexus between terrorists in remote areas and their facilitators in urban centres.” This may refer to attacking supply and management channels (e.g. funding for arms).

Post-Notes: Pakistan-U.S. ties

With Gen. Bajwa maintaining continuity on COIN in FATA, Islamabad’s relationship with Republican-led Washington will be significant. Although the Obama Administration had sought to maintain U.S. foreign policy interests in Pakistan through minute defence overtures, such as a proposed subsidized sale of eight new-build Lockheed Martin F-16s, the White House kept Pakistan at arms-length.

This was done to cultivate strong ties with New Delhi, which is now a Major Defence Partner and, considering recent controversies surrounding President-elect Donald Trump and China, could figure prominently in Washington’s maneuvers in Pacific East Asia.

Nonetheless, U.S. Congress passed the 2017 National Defence Authorization Act earlier in the month with the aim of providing Pakistan up to $900 million U.S. in aid to support its COIN campaign. Granted, $400 million U.S. is conditional on the Secretary of Defence certifying that Pakistan is substantively acting to curb the activities of the Haqqani-network, but it is an explicit sign of Republican Washington’s intent to maintain its COIN relationship with Pakistan. In September, Quwa argued that Washington will push for continuity, especially in regards to aid, where Quwa noted:

“Where COIN is concerned, a subsection of America’s policymakers and policy thinkers will also advocate for targeted assistance and support in that direction, even if it means agreeing to big-ticket arms sales (when they align with that objective).”

Senator John McCain appears to be at the forefront of building a slightly warmer bridge with Pakistan.

McCain called upon American and Pakistani policymakers to ensure that “ambivalence and suspicion” do not induce gaps and shortfalls in bilateral defence ties, especially in regards to promoting efforts in “counterterrorism, nuclear security, and regional stability” (Dawn News).

McCain added that “limitations on US assistance to Pakistan and congressional reluctance to approve subsidies for the sale of defence articles have added to tensions between the two governments” (Dawn News). How this translates practically remains to be seen, but previously, Quwa maintained that the release of COIN-relevant systems, including big-ticket items (such as the AH-1Z Viper), could be expected.