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Intelligence,  psy-ops and the war in  FATA



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 projected as   carefully prepared  half truths, selected truths, and no truths, delivered in a psychologically accommodating  manner, to an information thirsty audience.   The Psychological Operations or PSYOPS 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.  Psyops  exploits 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 broadcasts, vehicle mounted loudspeakers, release of carefully constructed audio and video tapes, wall chalking and  face-to-face rumors  are  some of the standard techniques  used in the psyops.


Some 29 million leaflets were dropped by coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf War, with some estimates suggesting that 40% of all surrenders and desertions were due to psy-ops tactics. The same was done in the Iraq war with even better results.  Where did the Taliban learn these techniques from?   Any observer of the war in FATA would readily recognise the effectiveness with which the Talibans, supported by their foreign patrons  have successfully used the psyop to gain advantage and to create confusion, uncertainty ad fear amongst its opponents.  The fact that the entire population of Pakistan is gripped with  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 psyops to practical use. He not only converted  the youth to his brand of Jihadism, but also convinced people about the ill effects of female education, and the impact of polio shots on future generations. Single-handedly he defeated the WHO’s $196 million anti-polio campaign and made sure that some 160,000 children do not receive polio immunization. His message , a fine blend of religion and chemistry, “polio immunization 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 televisions, stopped sending their girls to schools and  took up arms.  The psy-ops produces outstanding results when  whatever you say is believable, and preferably also contains a small element of truth.

Talibans have effectively used many other techniques of psy-ops.  They distribute do’s 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 harsh and brutal killings and lower the  soldiers’ morale by insulting treatments 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  like ‘Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahi Analmunkir’ (Promotion of virtue and prevention 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 with the FATA militants, but has maintained a low profile in its intelligence and psychological operations. It could undertake many activities to pressurize and influence the militants.  It could air-drop leaflets asking  militants to surrender, highlight the losses, injuries and dislocation caused to the  innocent citizens,  incentives for surrender and strong  retaliation for those who insist on fighting.  Pakistan has not done enough to expose  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 for massive publicity to expose those who ask us to ‘do more’  on one hand and  directly or indirectly engage  in supplying  weapons, vehicles, money and techniques to the militants on the other.  Pakistan needs to do better than Maulana Fazlullah at sending correct, educational and informatory messages to public at large in the FATA areas. Public needs to be clearly told on 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 Talibans 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 with, what is their   source of weapons and supplies,  their locations, hideouts, electronic signatures, movement patterns,   local contacts and foreign sponsors. Engaged in a complex war that threatens our very survival, we can not hope to be winning unless we adopt  more serious and scientific methodologies  that combine dialogue, force, technology and incentives that are significantly superior to the one offered by the enemy.

 October 2008