THE launch of ground operations against militants in North Waziristan is a relevant time to reiterate why a military operation is so necessary. Militancy is spread across Pakistan and there is no real, physical centre of gravity anymore — but that should not in any way diminish the importance of North Waziristan to militancy of every stripe. To begin with, virtually every major attack inside Pakistan in recent years has been traced back to planning and organisation in North Waziristan. In addition, virtually every high-profile victim of kidnapping is smuggled into the area. Then there is the reality of doing business: the militants’ control of large swathes of an agency populated by hundreds of thousands of people meant a lucrative fiefdom feeding the militancy machine and becoming a justification for it. Moreover, there has been the intense problem of cross-pollination and the mixing and matching of extremist ideologies in North Waziristan, which produced a lethal cocktail of militancy posing a threat to Pakistan, Afghanistan, the region and even the world at large.
Yet, necessary as an operation in North Waziristan is, an old problem seems to be once again reasserting itself: the tendency for military strategy to overwhelm and be put ahead of a national security strategy. To make Pakistan internally safe and secure, military strategy — ie battles, operations, troops, bases and the like — alone will not suffice. There seemed to be some awareness of this problem with the drawing up by the interior ministry of a National Internal Security Policy, but not much appears to have come of that. And where there has been work on the non-military aspects of the internal security policy, it has come in the form of the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, a piece of legislation set to be approved by parliament in a somewhat diluted form but still with deep and very problematic issues from a rights perspective. In essence, the overall thinking on fighting militancy still appears to come down to eliminating militants with guns and bullets and little attention is paid to the causes of militancy and how to begin rolling back the infrastructure of jihad that has proliferated across Pakistan.
Nor are the trade-offs involved seemingly ever considered. If a military operation was necessary, did it make sense to botch the handling of IDPs? If the security forces need protection in the cities when they take on militants, does it mean giving them near carte blanche as the PPO has? Finally, there is the problem that even when the country’s security architects purport to think strategically, they make disastrous choices. If, as claimed by former military sources, the North Waziristan Agency operation was in part delayed by concerns about the Haqqani network, can anyone explain what rational national-security cost-benefit analysis made putting it off for years a worthwhile choice?
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2014