North Waziristan operation

Updated June 16, 2014

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AT long last, the operation the country has needed against militants in North Waziristan Agency is under way. According to the ISPR, Operation Zarb-i-Azb has commenced and the goal is to “eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and colour, along with their sanctuaries”. The military’s press release came yesterday after an intense round of bombing of targets in North Waziristan had been reported all day. Reportedly, the focus of the targets were Uzbek and some Uighur militants, though because of the cross-pollination and overlap between the local and foreign militant groups in the Agency, striking against foreigners would inevitably include taking out local militants, and civilians, too. Now, the press release has confirmed that the operation is designed to strike against both foreign and local militants. At this early moment, there must be hope that finally the government has accepted that dialogue with the outlawed TTP has run its course and that the army-led security establishment has abandoned its good Taliban/bad Taliban dualist policy, meaning that the country can begin to move along the long road towards normality and stability once again.

Perhaps this may be the time to examine recent history on the security front. While the army has over the years described most of its actions — full-scale and lesser operations — in grand terms, not all operations are necessarily the same. The present year had seen a number of so-called retaliatory actions whose efficacy was questionable at best and may in fact have compounded the problems that have to be contended with. North Waziristan in particular has been a problem for many years — and has only grown in size and complexity as the state has vacillated on what needs to be done there and how. Ultimately though, indecision only puts off the inevitable: there are militant groups inside Pakistan whose express purpose and meaning of existence is to violently overthrow the Pakistani state. Until they are dealt with — and military approaches alone cannot ensure victory — Pakistan will remain deeply insecure. If that realisation has at last dawned on the civilian and uniformed powers, then this is surely the time for the country to unite against a common enemy.

There is another, important aspect to the present operation: as the ISPR press release itself mentions, there will be need for “coordination with other state institutions and law enforcement agencies” to ensure that “these enemies of the state will be denied space anywhere across the country”. But saying something is needed is very different to ensuring it is implemented. Certainly, there have been enough meetings between the civilian and military principals in recent days to have chalked out plans for defending against the near-inevitable blowback in the big cities and against security targets. But meetings do not make for a workable plan that will involve energising all the levels down the chain of command to approach their job with an urgency and seriousness like never before. For that, surely, the political leadership needs to take centre stage. A speech to the nation by the prime minister, a clear set of objectives laid out before parliament by the prime minister, a series of visits to the frontline forces in the fight against militancy by the prime minister — all of that would go a long way in letting everyone know that this time the state means business. The country needs leadership, it deserves leadership — will the prime minister step up to provide it?

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2014