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Intelligence, psy-ops & the Fata war – By Naeem Sadiq

One need not destroy one’s enemy. One need only destroy his willingness to engage. — Sun Tzu

WITH the truth coming first in the line of fire, the stories of any war are often carefully prepared half-truths, selected truths and non-truths delivered in a psychologically accommodating manner to an information-starved audience.

Psychological operations or psy-ops have now acquired an essential status in the conduct of war. They involve conveying selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately the behaviour of groups and individuals. Psy-ops exploit the adversary’s psychological weaknesses to create uncertainty, fear and confusion, thereby lowering the enemy’s morale and the will to fight.

Leaflets distributed, pasted on walls or dropped from aircraft, FM radio broadcasts, vehicle-mounted loudspeakers, release of carefully constructed audio tapes and videotapes, wall-chalking and face-to-face rumours are some of the standard techniques used in psy-ops.

Some 29 million leaflets were dropped by coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf War, with some estimates suggesting that 40 per cent of all surrenders and desertions were due to psy-ops tactics. The same was done in the Iraq war with even better results. From whom did the Taliban learn these techniques? Any observer of the war in FATA would readily recognise the effectiveness with which the Taliban, supported by their foreign patrons, have successfully used psy-ops to gain an advantage and to create confusion, uncertainty ad fear amongst its opponents. The fact that the entire population of Pakistan is gripped with anxiety on account of an unknown fear, unknown future, unknown enemy and even unsure friends speaks volumes about the manner in which the Taliban have deployed these techniques in Pakistan.

Maulana Fazlullah of Swat was one of the first to put psy-ops to practical use. He not only converted the youth to his brand of jihad, but also convinced people about the ill effects of female education and the impact of polio drops on future generations.

Single-handedly he defeated the WHO’s $196m anti-polio campaign and made sure that 160,000 children did not receive polio immunisation. His message, a fine blend of religion and chemistry, that “polio immunisation is a conspiracy of the Jews and Christians to stunt the population growth of Muslims” was targeted at the psyche of the religiously inclined, emotionally charged, illiterate masses.

As a result of his teachings, thousands of inhabitants voluntarily destroyed their electronic goods, disconnected their cable TV, stopped sending their girls to schools and took up arms. Psy-ops produce outstanding results when whatever you say is believable and also contains a small element of truth.

The Taliban have effectively used many other psy-ops techniques. They distribute dos and don’ts leaflets, send messages through local mosques, use loudspeaker-mounted vans, hold well-advertised press conferences, induce soldiers to desist from fighting, send strong messages through brutal killings and lower the soldiers’ morale by meting out insulting treatment to prisoners.

Even the rapid-response justice system (executing either the accused or the complainant) is intended to send a message of control and power. The Taliban groups enforcing amr bil maroof wa nahi anil munkar (promotion of virtue and suppression of vice) operate freely, execute punishments, burn shops, shut down schools and force people to revert to an archaic way of life.

Pakistan has put up a brave front against the Fata militants, but has maintained a low profile in its intelligence and psychological operations. It could undertake many activities to pressurise and influence the militants. It could airdrop leaflets asking militants to surrender, highlight the losses, injuries and dislocation caused to innocent citizens, create incentives for surrender and warn of strong retaliation against those who insist on fighting.

Pakistan has not done enough to expose the facts, pictures, captured militants and weapons that are supplied by other countries for fighting against Pakistan. These facts and pictures should be sent to the world media to expose those who ask us to ‘do more’ on the one hand and directly or indirectly supply weapons, vehicles, money and techniques to the militants on the other.

Pakistan needs to do better than Maulana Fazlullah at sending correct, educational and informative messages to the public at large in Fata. The public needs to be clearly told of the size and nature of the insurgency, how it has destroyed the lives of millions of innocent citizens and how it is sponsored by foreign powers. The Taliban create terror and fear by publicly executing those who report on their whereabouts. How does Pakistan protect its citizens against such punishments and how does Pakistan create its own friendly informants?

Intelligence and psy-op play a vital role in modern warfare. To use them effectively could save many lives and a lot of fighting. We need to know more about who we are fighting, what is the source of their weapons and supplies, and their locations, hideouts, electronic signatures, movement patterns, local contacts and foreign sponsors.

Engaged in a complex war that threatens our very survival, we cannot hope to win unless we adopt more serious and scientific techniques that combine dialogue, force, technology and incentives that are significantly superior to the one offered by the enemy. (Dawn)

naeemsadiq@gmail.com