AS the one-year anniversary of the launch of Operation Zarb-i-Azb approaches, it is helpful to recall just how much has changed inside Pakistan over the last year on the security front — and how much has not.
Consider first consecutive ISPR press releases. First, speaking on Sunday in Colombo to a group of Sri Lankan soldiers trained in Pakistan, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif had this to say: “Referring to the ongoing operation Zarb-i-Azb, COAS said … we have successfully dismantled their infrastructure and created significant effects. We as a nation are determined to take this surge to its logical end, whatever it may take.”
Then, yesterday, an ISPR press release had this to say: “19 terrorists were killed including five of their commanders in an intense exchange of fire with security forces last night in uncleared pocket along NWA-Afghan border.”
While the two claims are far from contradictory, together they underscore that the challenge in North Waziristan is far from over (as Sunday’s killing of seven soldiers in the area shows) — and that for all the gains there, militancy and terrorism are far from being in terminal decline.
Perhaps one of the biggest ongoing concerns about North Waziristan is how little has changed in terms of the media and the public’s access to information from the region.
Before Zarb-i-Azb, when large swathes of territory were effectively ruled by militants, it was apparent why there was, by and large, a news blackout and only rare access to independent information.
Then, as the military leadership pushed the political government to abandon its campaign to try and secure a peace deal with the banned TTP, there was, for a brief while, a window provided in the military mindset and the strategic approach to North Waziristan. Quickly enough, however, that evaporated.
Today, for example, how many can be sure about the operational endgame in the tribal agency? Has the military or political leadership provided any timelines, however loose, for when the much-expected-but-yet-to-materialise push in the Shawal region will begin? Also, what are the measures being taken to secure the Pak-Afghan border to prevent militants from re-entering?
Finally, and perhaps most critically, what efforts are being made to track down and capture or eliminate militant leaders from North Waziristan whichever side of the border they may be?
In asking these questions, military officials tend to be aggressive in response or dismissive all together.
Clearly, the present army chief did well by launching Zarb-i-Azb. It had been delayed too long under the previous military leadership and the political government’s strategy of first trying to secure a peace deal with elements of the TTP had only given the militants yet more space and time to consolidate and regroup.
But if an operation was needed, that surely cannot mean no further questions should be asked. A militarised strategy in North Waziristan or Fata does not appear to have within it the seeds of long-term peace in the region.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2015