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Waziristan offensive and nurseries of militancy

October 18, 2012

DISCOURSE about military operation in North Waziristan Agency has again picked momentum in the power corridors and media after attack on Malala Yousufzai. According to our security wizard Rehman Malik, the government and military leadership will make a joint decision about operation in North Waziristan, while army spokesman Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa has passed the buck to political leadership for taking such a decision.

Perhaps, this debate about military action in the volatile area is not happening for the first time. Operation in North Waziristan has been impending since 2007 when the government signed a six-point peace agreement with the elders of Utmanzai tribe with the consent of local Taliban.

People sitting in the power corridors have realised that delay in action is providing opportunity to militants to multiply their strength and gain political support. “The more the government delays operation in North Waziristan, the more militants gain space and strength,” remarked an official in the tribal administration.

Opposition to military action by right wing groups including Pakistan Muslim League, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf and religious parties proves that militant outfits in North Waziristan have strong political support and sympathies. Taliban have intensified media campaign after attack on Malala to justify their action.

This is an undeniable fact that North Waziristan is a safe haven for militant groups and has become centre of gravity. Will the operation be sufficient to wipe out this syndrome from society or the state will have to take extraordinary measures to find a durable solution to the menace and to rid its citizens of terrorism?

Geographically North Waziristan (4,707 sq kms area) is land-locked and lies on the border with Afghanistan’s Paktika and Khost provinces where Nato forces have strong presence. Drones and other surveillance objects are flying over the area round the clock. On this side, Pakistan Army has deployed more than one division troops.

The checkposts, set up on main roads leading to Miramshah, have been properly manned by Frontier Corps and Khasadar Force, the untrained tribal police. They have been assigned the duty to check national identity cards of every person going to or coming from North Waziristan.

People travelling on the main roads can’t enter the area without proving their identity. Human intelligence is on the ground. In short North Waziristan has been sandwiched between our security forces and Nato troops.

Despite that the area has become a safe haven for all kinds of militant groups. Different outfits from different regions including Mehsud, Punjabi Taliban, Turkmen, Uzbek, Chinese and even Europeans have presence in this small territory where they are enjoying all types of facilities. The very emboldened TTP claims responsibility for almost every attack except the suicide attack on the US Consulate vehicle in Peshawar on September 3.

Uninterrupted flow of money, supply of trained manpower, food rations, weapons, uniforms and other hardware required for guerilla warfare is continued. This complex situation creates confusion in the mind of common people.

Will military operation in North Waziristan resolve the issue of militancy across the country or the government should take actions elsewhere before launching offensive in the lawless tribal borderland?

This is a fact that North Waziristan or any other part of Fata has been used as a sanctuary and launching pad for subversive activities. The problem is not rooted there. Factories producing and training combatants exist somewhere else. Military action can dislocate militants from North Waziristan, but can’t provide durable solution to the problem. Foot soldiers and their commanders will go back to their place of origin or relocate to other places. And this had happened in Malakand, South Waziristan and other parts of Fata.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa former governor Owais Ahmad Ghani had asked Punjab government to take action against militant outfits in southern Punjab. Place of origin of majority of banned groups and other militant organisations is Punjab, but the provincial government is reluctant to take action against them.

This scribe remembered when University of Peshawar was closed for summer vacations in 2009 and students were going to their native areas. A religious outfit brought commuter coach to a hostel and 18 under-graduates were stuffed in it. They were taken to a training facility in Margala Hills where they attended three-day “physical course” programme.

“It was day-night physical training programme and lectures about safety tips,” said one participants of the course. Instead of taking cosmetic steps, the government should close all nurseries of militancy in settled areas, stop flow of money and ammunition to militant groups and outsiders.

Superficial action can cause collateral damage, killing of non-combatants, destruction of houses of common people and increase in the number of IDPs. Around two million tribal people have already displaced and expediency in Miramshah and Mirali can trigger another mass exodus. If these measures are adopted honestly and with dedication then the army may not opt for combat action in North Waziristan.