WITH Operation Zarb-i-Azb under way in North Waziristan, Pakistan can draw some important lessons from Operation Rah-i-Rast aimed at clearing Swat of the Mullah Fazlullah-led militants in 2009. True, that operation had a number of lacunae, but there were positive aspects that could serve as a political, strategic and operational model to help the present civil and military establishments take informed decisions.
The political governments at the centre and in KP, after coming to power in 2008, found themselves under immense pressure. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had virtually captured large swathes of land in Malakand division, including Swat valley. Bomb blasts, suicide attacks, throat-slitting and floggings by militants were routine.
The party chiefs of the ruling governments at the time (Awami National Party and PPP) and their ministers, especially the federal and provincial information ministers, played a critical role in promoting the ‘dialogue, development and deterrence’ concept. KP formed a committee for dialogue with the Taliban that included the provincial ANP president, the information minister and local ANP MPAs.
The dialogue process started in February 2008 leading to a truce and then a deal a year later after several ups and downs. The government accepted the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation (a system of Sharia justice) as part of the deal. The jailed head of the Tehreek-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), Sufi Mohammad — Mullah Fazlullah’s father-in-law — was released to ensure the smooth implementation of the deal. Swat Valley, Buner district and parts of Shangla and Dir districts had by then fallen to the TTP.
The state can learn a lot from the 2009 Operation Rah-i-Rast.
Sufi Mohammad was expected to ask the TTP fighters to lay down their arms after the regulation came into effect at a large gathering in Mingora in April, 2009. Instead, he declared the country’s superior courts un-Islamic, that they could not hear “appeals against decisions of the newly set up qazi courts” and that parliamentary democracy itself was un-Islamic. In other words, the TTP had made it clear that it was for taking over the entire country.
On April 24 2009, the KP government called a multiparty conference in Peshawar and passed a resolution asking the militants to “leave all the areas currently under their control and lay down their arms in the wake of the acceptance of their demand of Nizam-i-Adl Regulation in Malakand Division”. In response, the TTP asked the government to quit within two weeks.
On May 18, 2009, the federal government called an all-party conference which ended “in favour of the Swat military operation and reaffirmed its commitment to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and sovereignty of the state”. The local administration and military field commanders exhorted the people of Swat to leave the area. Though some 2.5 million people went through severe hardships, they were given timely warning to avoid the crossfire.
The federal and provincial governments developed a plan for the rehabilitation of the displaced people from Swat. The governments encouraged and motivated civil society groups and the residents of Malakand, Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi and Peshawar to host the displaced persons. KP established several large camps with basic amenities.
The centre on the one hand coordinated closely with KP, and on the other hand mobilised the diaspora and international organisations to come to the IDPs’ help. Also, an informal committee consisting of provincial and federal officials coordinated with the military establishment for timely information.
After Rah-i-Rast was formally launched in May 2009, the army’s media wing and the federal information ministry briefed the media daily on political and operational issues.
The IDP challenge was divided into three parts — relief, recovery and rehabilitation. The provincial and federal departments responsible for disaster management, in consultation with the departments of information technology, NADRA, and the State Bank, developed a mechanism whereby each IDP family would be issued an ATM card through which it could initially obtain Rs25,000. Some Rs30bn were thus transparently distributed among the IDPs.
The Zarb-i-Azb operation can learn some important lessons from the Swat model. In the present case, the dialogue with the TTP was left ambiguous, and when the decision to use force came, all stakeholders were not taken on board. Now, planning the operation and political discourse should be in sync to support the use of force. Second, effective communication strategies must be adopted to win the people’s trust. Three, operational details should be transparent. Four, coordination among central and provincial departments to take care of the IDPs is necessary. Five, coordination of government departments and civil society groups for IDP relief is needed as is institutional relief management. These will help the authorities in the war against terrorism.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd , 2014