Categorized | South Asian Politics

FIGHTING TERRORISM IN NORTH WAZIRISTAN

Posted on 25 June 2014 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

Lahore

   The long awaited military action in North Waziristan was started by the Army on June 15, 2014. This was the decision of the Army top command, the federal government led by Nawaz Sharif went along with it. In fact, the federal government did not have any other option left after the terrorist attack on Karachi Airport a week earlier.

 The military authorities are relying heavily on air strikes by jet aircraft and armed helicopters to target the Pakistani Taliban hideouts, training camps and weapon storages.

Foreign militants, especially Uzbeks, are being targeted in air raids. It seems that the Pakistan Air Force has detailed intelligence about the Taliban hideouts and activity centers because the targeting was quite accurate, causing serious losses to Pakistani Taliban and their local and foreign allies.

  There was a limited use of ground troops in the first ten days. These were used to surround the Talban hideouts so that they do not run away. There were only a few direct encounters between the security forces and the Taliban. 

 Six Army jawans were killed from a land mine explosion and two were killed in exchange of fire with Taliban and foreign militants. Over 240 Taliban and their foreign allies have been killed and 23 hideouts were destroyed during the same period.

 The military plans to destroy the Taliban enclaves and hideouts by using airpower in the first two-three weeks before sending in ground troops to cleanse the area. This operation is taking place away from the settled areas which means that the civilian population has not been hit by air and ground strike. After initial consolidation the Army and paramilitary troops will move into mountainous areas to flush out the Taliban.

  The Army has also increased monitoring of the Pakistan-Afghan border so that there is as little movement across the border as possible. It is expected that the military will be able to assert its control over most of North Waziristan in 6 to 8 weeks. It seems that the military will stay in the area for a longer time so that the Taliban do not return and re-establish their hideouts and activity centers.

 The federal government has also launched efforts to let the civilian population leave North Waziristan so that the Army has greater freedom to take action against the Taliban and other groups. These internally displaced people are being accommodated in the Bannu area. Some are going to other areas or are moving-in with their friends and relatives. The federal government is registering these internally displaced people to keep their record which will be used for their return to their homes later.

In the initial days, the state machinery moved slowly. It did not have enough facilities to receive them and accommodate them for their registration and assignment to a camp. Some Pakhtuns from North Waziristan refused to live in tents. They were accommodated in government buildings, schools and hostels.

 The government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and societal groups were slow in providing humanitarian assistance to these refugees. Hopefully the non-governmental organizations, religious and political groups will soon join the federal government in helping the people displaced from North Waziristan. Around seventy thousand people moved out of North Waziristan in the first week of military action. Some had left the area before the start of military operation.

 The Army authorities wanted to start this operation in the middle of March but the federal government opted for a dialogue with the Taliban. The federal government spent over three months (March-June) but the Taliban were not showing any signs of coming to a political arrangement with the government.

However, Nawaz Sharif and his close associates were not willing to admit that the talks had failed. They continued to harp on the theme of dialogue and refused to support the Army for military action. This contributed to straining Nawaz Sharif’s relations with the military.

 The Taliban-Uzbek attack on the Karachi Airport on June 8 exposed the hollowness of the federal government’s effort to produce peace with the Taliban through dialogue. Though the federal government was still hesitant to go for military action, the Army top brass made it clear that they could not wait for an indefinite period on the pretext of dialogue which was going nowhere.

  The federal government reluctantly agreed to support the military action. The first information about the beginning of the operation in North Waziristan came through military sources. The Defense Minister’s supporting statement came later. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took one day to address the two houses of the parliament on the resumption of military action and his government’s endorsement for this action.

 All political parties, including Pakistan Therik-i-Insaf, announced their support for the military operation. The only exception was the Jamaat-i-Islami that criticized this decision. The JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rahman also did not take a firm position. It maintained ambiguity on this issue.

 The military action in North Waziristan is important because this tribal area had become the main source of terrorism in Pakistan and some of the neighboring states, including China. The Taliban had developed strong links with mainland Pakistan militant groups who used to get training in North Waziristan. It was also the main source of suicide bombings. If the Army is able to control North Waziristan and make sure that the Taliban and others do not return to the area to re-establish their main centers of activity, terrorism will be considerably reduced in Pakistan. This will also have a demoralizing impact on the mainland Pakistan groups that engage in violence.

 For dealing with extremist and sectarian groups in mainland Pakistan, a different strategy will have to be employed. In urban centers, the key role will have to be played by the Police, Intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces. The Army can be summoned if needed but it cannot be the main agency for controlling terrorism in urban populated areas. Further the civil government will have to take steps to discourage religious and cultural extremism, strengthen law and order and address the problems of the common people.

  The operation in North Waziristan is the first formidable step to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan. However, follow-up measures will be needed in North Waziristan and a comprehensive effort is required to eliminate terrorism from cities. These efforts cannot be launched successfully until the Army succeeds in North Waziristan.

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