What happened on May 2 is a classic example of how individuals and nations perceive events differently. Pakistanis thought that as their airspace was violated — an act of war according to international law — the US would at least apologise for what it did. However, the latter has a different perception of the event. For the Americans, their stand regarding the presence of al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan was finally vindicated. As a result, they have started pressurising Pakistan with their old demand of carrying out an operation in North Waziristan to flush out foreign militants residing there — to which the military has now responded by saying that it will launch it, if at all, at a time of its own choosing. America attributes the slow progress it has made in Afghanistan, in large part to North Waziristan. This is factually incorrect, given that many of its failures in Afghanistan are of its own making.
Pakistan entered into a secret agreement with the elders of the Utmanzai tribe of North Waziristan in 2008. Since its signing, an uneasy calm prevails in the agency. Violations of the reported clauses have been quite evident, yet Pakistan has been ignoring them. Terrorists caught elsewhere have confessed to receiving training in North Waziristan — though the agreement forbids that. However, Pakistan knew that foreigners were residing there when the agreement was signed. A clause reportedly puts the onus of making them leave the area on the tribes of the agency, but this overestimates their power eject these elements. We have examples in other areas, where villages and entire communities were helpless against a few organised Taliban members. The agreement also stipulates that the tribes will not allow their territory to be used for activities across the border. How this will be done has not been explained and those signing the agreement did not know the ground realities. The collective responsibility system of the tribal area had vanished much before that and eventually Pakistan lost control of the area due to Governor Ali Jan Orakzai’s agreements.
There was an operation but it took place in South Waziristan and forced many Taliban to flee to North Waziristan. Mir Ali and Miranshah are now infested with militants who escaped from other agencies or settled areas when operations were carried out — another violation. Though Pakistan has suffered a lot due to the activities in North Waziristan, is it wise to open another front just because the US wants it? There are two deviating views about this. Carrying out a full-scale operation in North Waziristan will be a hard fought battle, unlike in South Waziristan, because now the Taliban do not have a safe place to go. Presently, South Waziristan is already under army control, Orakzai is not fully under control and Tirah Valley is the hub of activities of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The Taliban will either have to fight in the north or shift to Tirah. Tirah means the outskirts of Peshawar. Thus, the operation in North Waziristan may result in increased militant activities in and around Peshawar. Though these areas have an adequate number of troops, yet, in this type of terrain, troops are never sufficient. So starting an operation means that almost the whole of Fata, from Wana, in the southwest of South Waziristan to Khar in Bajaur, could flare up. The second option is a limited, targeted operation against specific persons, or the Haqqani network. This raises many questions. Are we aware of their hideouts? If we have knowledge of their whereabouts, then what stopped us from taking action against them? Also, there are vast Pashtun-dominated areas in Afghanistan and Nato is still struggling to gain control over them.
Two days ago, the army removed or relocated the checkposts on the Bannu-Mirali road, which has created panic in North Waziristan. People fear that a South Waziristan or Malakand style operation is in the offing. Afraid of staying there but unhappy at the prospect of leaving the area and becoming IDPs has got everyone worried. The IDPs of South Waziristan are still reluctant to go back home. In this summer heat, living in tents in the plains of Bannu and Lakki Marwat will be a terrible experience. This is the human price which must be considered before launching any operation.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.
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