VIEW: Of apologies —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

Courtesy to "Daily Times"

There is a need for close cooperation not just between the different intelligence agencies and the security forces but, most importantly, between the locals and the agencies. For there is no substitute for local knowledge and information gathering

The army chief has rendered an apology. The apology was made for the loss of 70 lives of Kuki Khel tribe of Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. The people of the tribe were understandably upset when 70 innocent lives were lost when the Pakistan Air Force fighter planes, on the directives of the Pakistan Army, hit the civilians incorrectly believed to be extremist elements. In addition to the tragic loss of 70 lives, dozens have been injured too.

The army chief apologised but what is even more important is that this apology was accepted. During this week, the main English and Urdu newspapers carried advertisements by the tribesmen of Kuki Khel acknowledging the thought behind the apology, accepting it and offering assistance in terms of intelligence. This is the key to moving ahead. No amount of apologies can bring back those 70 lives that were lost. However, if we are serious about the apology and wish that such a gigantic tragedy never be repeated, we should ensure that the factors leading to this unfortunate event must be addressed.

What were these factors? Why did the army make the mistake? It was certainly not wilful. For, if it were wilful, General Kayani would not have apologised. Come to think of it, if the tribesmen even slightly suspected that this was a wilful mistake or one that was based on faulty judgement or even intelligence, they would not have accepted the apology. The fact that they accepted the apology and even ran advertisements in major newspapers is proof that the apology has been accepted in the spirit in which it was rendered.

The main factor behind this was a communication gap in intelligence sharing. In fact, it was, tragically, an excellent example of it. If we are serious about not repeating this tragedy, this gap needs to be addressed.

The army’s intelligence was that there were miscreants and the Pakistani Taliban were amongst the group. Acting on this intelligence, the army ordered the attack with tragic consequences, as we later saw. The attack was not the army following blindly intelligence tip offs. It was part of a wider operation. As a fellow columnist put it, “The Sra Vella aerial bombardment was conducted as part of a larger campaign of ground and air assaults on terrorists that began in Orakzai Agency and is called Operation Khwakh Ba De Sham. The Pakistani military has expanded the theatre for the operation into Khyber because it offers an easy secondary position for terrorists to escape to. Khyber is the strategic depth that terrorists in Orakzai enjoy. From a classical counterinsurgency perspective, there is nothing controversial about the expansion of Pakistani military operations into Khyber.”

However, there was gap between local intelligence and the forces. The guerrilla warfare that the army is confronted with and engaged in requires intelligence sharing, which is dynamic in nature. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has, in recent months, had their key leaders taken out. Thus, now they are on the run constantly and intelligence reports of even three hours back in some cases are too old. This apparently seems to be the case in Tirah Valley. Therefore, there is a need for close cooperation not just between the different intelligence agencies and the security forces but, most importantly, between the locals and the agencies. For there is no substitute for local knowledge and information gathering. It would not be incorrect to state that previously locals were not fully on board against the Taliban. There were local communities who perceived the army to be the enemy rather than the Taliban. One would come across locals condemning the TTP for their actions against girls’ schools for instance, but remarking on the fact that the TTP provides ‘speedy justice’ through indigenous courts, etc. However, after a sea of people were displaced out of their homes at the hands of the Taliban, after their gruesome acts were experienced and recognised by the people, the Taliban have lost ‘public support’, so to speak. This has actually resulted in more cooperation with the security agencies and it is this cooperation that needs to be cultivated and enhanced.

The Taliban recognise this too. Initially, the TTP was quick to assume responsibility for bomb blasts and other heinous crimes. However, now they seem to be indulging in marketing for themselves. For instance, just this week, in the aftermath of the Qissa Khwani blasts where the Jamaat-e-Islami was holding a protest rally against frequent power outages in the country, the TTP denied having anything to do with it. In fact, it came out with a statement distancing itself from the blast. The TTP spokesperson Mr Azam Tariq, during his media interaction, actually said, “We never strike in cities and public places as we know only civilians become victims of such actions.” Communication analysts while analysing this statement would not be wrong to conclude that this statement could not have been issued by an extremist guerrilla group. For guerrilla groups are quick to assume responsibility for actions not their own, if it adds to the general fear associated with their name. However, here we have a bizarre situation where the TTP is actually distancing itself from such incidents, primarily because of the public outrage that they are increasingly faced with. The wrath of the government they can and have been dealing with. However, they seem to be retreating in the face of public wrath.

It is this public wrath that might prove to be the end of groups like the TTP. The public wrath has to be channelised towards a close relationship of intelligence sharing between them and the security agencies. This is essential so that military interventions are based on correct facts.

Speaking of correct facts, let us also refrain from confusing issues. The TTP, while denying the Qissa Khwani blast, has instead declared that Blackwater, in cohort with two political parties, was behind the blast. An atmosphere of distrust born out of such statements has to be avoided like the plague.

According to news analysis, in the first three days of the present week, about 70 people have lost their lives. Let us be clear on this: it is the Taliban who are to blame for this loss. Not anyone else.

The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at