ISLAMABAD: Soon after the unconscious teenage activist, Malala Yousufzai, flew out of the country for treatment in the United Kingdom, all the hype about long anticipated North Waziristan operation surreptitiously began to dissipate.
Expediencies, both on civilian and military side, emerged as the roadblock to any major operation for clearing North Waziristan — home to a variety of terrorist groups where the army had all through the decade of war on terror avoided going on one pretext or the other.
But, strikingly the military looked to be passing the buck for the crunch time dithering to the civilian leadership.
Talking to journalists on Monday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik conceded that no operation in the area was being planned.
His response followed military’s statement over the weekend that a political decision was needed to launch the offensive for dislodging Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TPP) and its local affiliates from their headquarters in the tribal agency, where they moved in 2007 after being targeted by the army in South Waziristan and elsewhere in Fata.
The army, while putting the ball in the civilian leadership’s court, had noted that its commanders had time and again reiterated their resolve to rid the country of the menace. No mention, however, was made to the longstanding stance of the army that it would enter North Waziristan at a time of its own choosing or whether the moment had arrived.
Back to back statements by Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, after Malala shooting, on carrying on the fight against terrorism were taken as a pointer to a looming operation in Waziristan.
What missed everyone’s sight while reading the army’s new found resoluteness was that beyond the rhetoric timed to match the national angst, nothing was said of the army’s assessment of the situation crossing the threshold.
Erroneous as it may be, the obvious inference drawn from the arising situation is that the government ultimately balked at the proposal for going all out against virulent militant groups holed up in North Waziristan.
Sceptics, however, say the military didn’t at any stage unequivocally indicated that North Waziristan operation was inevitable.
Had it done so everyone would have fallen in line, they observed and pointed to previous military offensives in Swat, Bajaur and elsewhere.
The government’s disclosure that it wasn’t contemplating North Waziristan operation coincided with a resolute fightback by the right wingers to regain the space lost due to sudden outpouring of sympathy for Malala after the TTP attacked her in Mingora last Tuesday.
Military-backed groups like Difa-i-Pakistan Council, which had been hibernating since the impasse over Nato supply routes was resolved in July, suddenly sprung back into action to oppose the proposed military operation. Some analysts believe that the DPC’s return itself suggested that either there were differences within the army on the issue or the army through its tough statements only meant to mollify revulsion against Taliban.
A military commander, who previously served in the region, insisted that it was only the political will that was lacking and there were no other operational obstacles.
He pointed out that despite overwhelming grief and anger over the assassination bid on Malala, a national consensus could not be achieved.
“It’s not only about the operation. There have to be large number of IDPs (internally displaced persons) and other implications for which there should be clear political backing.”
Asked what was preventing the political parties from agreeing on the military operation, he said it were only the political expediencies. “You know we are into the election year and no political party wants to hurt its prospects.”
He emphasised that once the political decision is in place other challenges could be addressed.
The army, which for long avoided taking on militants in North Waziristan because of strategic compulsions, doesn’t want to be seen as obstructing the operation in view of the world’s anti-terror resolve.
In addition to TTP, which is based in and around Mirali, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, North Waziristan plays host to Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda and a number of other foreign fighters mostly from Arab and Central Asian countries.