ISLAMABAD — Two senior Pakistani army officers were among those killed in a weekend IED attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in the restive area along the Afghan border. The attack comes as peace talks with the TTP are being pushed by the government.
Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan, Lt. Col. Tauseef Ahmed and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar were killed Sept. 15 when an IED targeted their convoy in the Upper Dir district near the Afghan border.
Khan was commander of 17 Division, operating in Swat, formerly a stronghold of the TTP before they were ejected by the army in 2009. The general was returning from visiting troops in the region.
Earlier IED attacks the same day on posts along Miranshah Road near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a terrorist stronghold, killed a soldier and a member of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. An attack on members of the Khassadar — the government-allied tribal militia — in the early hours of the morning killed one and injured four.
The attack that killed Khan comes after the Sept. 9 All Parties Conference (APC) hosted by the government to establish political a consensus to tackle terrorism in the country. It unanimously adopted a resolution for unconditional talks with all terrorists, including the TTP.
Claude Rakisits, an associate professor in strategic studies at Deakin University in Australia, is one of several Pakistan analysts who are skeptical about talks with the TTP.
Killing Khan “only days after the APC resolution gives a clear indication that negotiating with the TTP is bound to be a recipe for disaster,” he said.
The deaths of two high-ranking officers “will be taken very badly by the Pakistani army,” he said.
He foresees “increasing pressure on the government to demand pre-conditions before starting formal talks, including an end to TTP violence. ... Anything less than that would mean that the military would be negotiating from a position of weakness.”
During the past 10 years there have been nine agreements with militants, but none lasted more than several months, noted Salma Malik, an assistant professor in the Department of Defence & Strategic Studies at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University.
“Each time the government has faced embarrassment and lost more maneuvering space against the [non-state actors],” she said. “Ironically the accords have always been breached and unceremoniously dumped by the [non-state actors] than the government, further weakening latter’s case.”
The possibility of talks aside, the attack again raised the question of Pakistan's response to IEDs.
The deaths of two senior officers are unlikely to spark a change in thinking on better-protected vehicles, said Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad.
“This won't mean a change of direction to acquire these vastly expensive protected vehicles,” he said “Even if the army got them for nothing from the US ... the operating costs are horrendous and simply could not be afforded by Pakistan.”
Pakistan's own indigenous Burraq mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle has still not been officially unveiled despite claims earlier this year by officials from state-owned manufacturer Heavy Industries Taxila that it would be soon.
And despite an order for an undisclosed number of Type CS/VP3 MRAPs from China’s Poly Group Corp. in November, none have been seen in Pakistan so far.
Analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said it is unclear why the military is seemingly dragging its feet on the acquistion of a suitable MRAP, but said the reason could be purely financial.