N Waziristan: why only the military option?
03 June, 2010
By Ayaz Wazir
Only one telephone call knocked our valiant Commando down. Without seriously considering the long-term repercussions of his action on the country, or taking the nation into confidence, Musharraf chose to become a close ally of the US in its war. He brought to our doorstep the war which, obviously, was not ours. Since then we are paying for his sins. The civilian setup that succeeded him has not only owned but continued with gusto the fight to which there seems to be no end.
On its part, to cover its failures in Afghanistan, the US government has consistently continued to increase pressure on us to extend military action yet further within Pakistani territory, on one pretext or another. Although our rulers acted like the proverbial obedient servants and carried out every military demand made of us, often to utter disregard for life and the safety of our civilian populations, but they have failed to win the confidence or approval of their masters in Washington.
Drone attacks within Pakistani territory further complicated the situation. Initially we tried to cover up these attacks by claiming that our own forces hit the militants in these incidents. It did not take too long for the lie to be exposed. The government`s asking for drone technology to be transferred to Pakistan further exposed its connivance in these attacks. Now even senior army generals are conceding on television talk shows that a number of our airbases have been handed over to the US for covert actions on our soil and our armed forces personnel are not permitted entry beyond the perimeters of these bases.
All hell broke loose, and the "good character certificate" we had earned after arresting Mullah Barader and other senior Taliban leaders was revoked when Faisal Shahzad, a naturalised American national, was arrested for an attempted car explosion at Times Square in New York. Reacting to the incident, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used harsh and threatening language for Pakistan. This was the most humiliating and embarrassing moment for a close ally. Our sacrifices were forgotten in no time.
US security agencies, meanwhile, claimed to have established Faisal Shahzad`s links with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan. This lent further pressure to the existing demand to our government to launch a military operation there. Two senior officials of the US Homeland Security and the CIA visited Islamabad and held meetings with the president, the prime minister and the army chief to examine how best the security environment could be improved to stop the TTP from causing loss to life and property in the US. It is generally believed that the government has agreed to launch the operation, and is weighing options as to the timeframe of its launch.
Whether or not the military operation is launched, the question that comes to mind is: will that serve our national interests? Is a military operation the only option? Will that bring peace and stability to the area, and to the country as a whole? Will it stop the bleeding of the country`s resources in terms of men and material? Have the military operations conducted in other parts of FATA achieved the desired results? If not, we have to take stock of the situation, and tell our friends that killing our own people on our own soil is not in our interest. If some of these people are misguided and do cross the border into Afghanistan to cause mayhem, then the NATO forces stationed there should take whatever action against the infiltrators they consider appropriate.
If the US drones can target wanted people on Pakistan`s soil in total disregard of our sovereignty, why do the Americans hesitate to take similar action when such elements cross the border into Afghanistan? We have rendered enough sacrifices. Both our armed forces and the civilian population have suffered a great deal, but that has hardly earned us any laurels from Washington.
People in the tribal areas have rendered the supreme sacrifice of abandoning from their hearths and homes for the success of military operations. They and their families suffered immensely as internally displaced persons wandering on roadsides and in camps in Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank. Nobody paid any real attention to their plight. Their sacrifices earned them nothing but lip service from the government or its functionaries who would turn up only for photo-ops.
Other equally important questions that come to mind are whether the countless operations conducted so far in FATA have earned a place of honour for us with the West? Have they eliminated militancy from the area or, to the contrary, contributed to the spread of the menace deeper into other parts of the country? If the reply to these questions is in the negative, then we need to look at the problem afresh and redraw our parameters. We should formulate and follow a policy which is not only in line with but also reflective of the aspirations of the general public. Unless we do that, we will be fighting successful battles but not a successful war.
Again, an operation in North Waziristan will not be that easy. This will require additional troops and equipment from an already overstretched army. Will we still be able to maintain an effective vigil on our eastern border? Will we be able to contain the spread of this battle to the border with Afghanistan which the army has not touched in all the operations conducted in FATA so far. Also, will the army be able to prevent it from spreading to other areas inhabited by the Wazir tribe (South Waziristan, as well as those across the border in Afghanistan). If launched, the operation is likely to become a bushfire engulfing the entire region of the two Waziristans and across the Durand Line.
Where will the IDPs go? Bannu, which is in close proximity to the east, remains mostly under curfew. Adjacent is South Waziristan, where a military operation is underway in the Mehsud area. To its north is Kurram. Kurram is already suffering from sectarian violence which has caused the closure of the road link with the rest of the country. Its inhabitants travel to Peshawar via Kabul. Unless special arrangements are made to open the roads for traffic in those areas, which is unlikely in view of the operation, people will have no choice but to cross the border into Afghanistan and take refuge there. Will we be able to effectively counter enemy propaganda that the Pakistani army has made its own people refugees in another country? How will the international community react is another matter. I do not believe these repercussions have been taken into consideration.
We have not yet rehabilitated the IDPs of Bajaur and South Waziristan. They are braving the summer heat in camps with only the barest possible essentials at their disposal. The operation will not only increase the number of IDPs but will also uproot those displaced Mehsuds who had found some shelter in the Wazir areas of the two Waziristans.
How many times are we going to conquer Fata? Each tribal agency has experienced at least two military operations in the last nine years. The people are fed up and have no capacity or patience left for any more sacrifices. The treatment meted out to the tribesmen so far is certainly not commendable. There is every likelihood of the same treatment following a fresh operation.
Let us reconsider our policy options if we really want peace and harmony to return to the area.