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In the balance

October 17, 2012

THE will-they, won’t-they pendulum on North Waziristan seemed to momentarily slip towards the possibility of a military operation but it appears, in fact, to resolutely be stuck on, no, there will be no significant military operation in North Waziristan any time soon. The army claims the launching of an operation is a ‘political decision’ thereby seemingly tossing the matter into the civilians’ lap, while the political leadership hems and haws and occasionally deploys Interior Minister Rehman Malik to add to the confusion. In theory, the decision to launch a full-scale military operation in North Waziristan ought to lie with the civilian leadership. In acceptable practice, the decision ought to be taken by the civilians in close consultation with the army. In reality, the decision will be taken by the army itself.

That reality is very significant in the context of the ‘national consensus’ that the army insists must be created before an operation in North Waziristan can be launched. But what has the army-led security establishment done to try and create the much-touted national consensus? Not very much — unlike during the run-up to earlier military operations in other parts of the north-west. If North Waziristan has militants of every stripe projecting power from there into Pakistan proper, Afghanistan and beyond, it is also a black hole of information — nothing really gets out. Privately, senior security officials admit that the panoply of militant groups must be taken on sooner rather than later if the security situation in the country is to slowly be pulled back towards normality. Privately, senior security officials admit that from Al Qaeda to the Haqqanis and from Punjabi Taliban to foreign militants from countries as diverse as the Maldives — yes, the Maldives — to Sudan and groups such as the Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, North Waziristan has become a global hub of terrorism and militancy. But next to nothing has been done to educate the Pakistani public about the nature of the threat in North Waziristan and what the proper response to it is. How, then, will the national consensus for a military operation in North Waziristan be developed?

And if the mapping out of the threat has been poor enough, even less is known about the army’s strategy to eventually fight it. Are the Haqqanis eventually in line for some kind of financial and military squeeze? Is the policy really to slowly win over some groups temporarily to clear the way for a fight with others? Is there a plan to prevent militant leaders from escaping the battle zone as they have in operations elsewhere? If Pakistanis are told nothing, not even the barest details, how can they form a consensus?