There is nothing extraordinary about the press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Monday. “Security has been beefed up in all major cities and towns and at sensitive installations across the country by civil administration,” it reads. Such an assurance is much needed by the people of Pakistan as security forces move into North Waziristan to launch a military operation against militants based there.
Analysts and political parties representatives, however, point out that the assurance should have instead come from the federal government and that too before the start of the operation. This, they say, indicates that the government has failed to act through civilian institutions created with the specific purpose of discussion and taking decisions on issues of national security.
“There are institutional mechanisms in place to do just that,” says Khalid Aziz, a former bureaucrat who has supervised government functioning in the tribal areas for many years. “The government should have mobilised those institutions prior to the announcement of the operation in order to better coordinate security and humanitarian challenges, including displacement of people, which may result from the operation,” he says.
Peshawar-based Aziz points out that the Cabinet Committee on National Security, which includes the senior-most civilian and security leadership of the country, should have met with participation from provincial governments to deliberate the pros and cons of the operation. “This has not happened,” he tells this writer. The government, on the other hand, only accepted what the military had already done. When the military saw that the government is not doing anything, it decided to take action on its own,” says Aziz. “This shows the government’s inability to handle security issues and the military’s frustration with that,” he adds.
Aziz also says the militant attack on Karachi airport earlier this month is not the only incident which prompted the military to finally launch the operation. “Many attacks in China and Afghanistan have been carried out by terrorists who have been operating with impunity from North Waziristan. Such incidents have become an international liability for Pakistan even when the Pakistani state has no writ in this region,” he says. “These attacks have been putting the authorities in Pakistan under tremendous pressure to do something but the government seemed to be incompetent,” says Aziz as he explains why the available civilian and constitutional mechanisms were eventually left out of the decision to start the operation.
Parties in the provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh also say the federal government told them nothing before the military launched the operation even though it is the responsibility of the provincial government to cope with the possible blowback of the operation in North Waziristan. “The federal government did not take the provincial government into confidence,” says Shabbir Ahmed Khan, the provincial secretary general of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) which is part of the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Senator Farhatullah Babar, who represents the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has a similar complaint. “During the past few weeks, we have been asking the government to draw a line beyond which talking to terrorists would be unacceptable. The government has been unable to do that, let alone take political stakeholders into confidence over the possibility of a military operation,” he tells this writer from Islamabad. He also verifies that his party’s government in Sindh had received no intimation from the federal government about the imminence of the operation before the military moved into North Waziristan.
This puts the ISPR press release about the tightened security in a context where different parts of the civilian administration, starting from the federal level down to provincial and district levels, are not even communicating as per standard operating procedures and appear wholly unprepared to present a coordinated response to problems and challenges that may arise from the operation. “Meetings, summaries and reports always precede big decisions. In the case of the military operation, however, none of this seems to have happened,” says Aziz.
In order to rectify the situation, almost everyone is demanding a place on the table to decide how to proceed forward. “The government has made a huge mistake by not taking political leaders and political parties into confidence about the start of the operation. It should now avoid repeating the mistake and immediately call an all parties conference to set the agenda for the future,” says JI’s Khan.
What sort of a consensus should the political and military leadership now look to create? For Malik Muhammad Iqbal, a retired police official who has held many senior police and intelligence posts in the recent past, the only consensus that is required is to back the operation wholeheartedly. “It is a do-or-die situation,” he says. “Stakeholders should stop talking at each other and start talking to each other,” he suggests.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2014