Pakistan is fighting a long war, and as of the last week has won a significant battle in that war — but it is far from over. A statement issued by the army coinciding with a visit to forward positions by Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, said that terrorists had been driven from their last redoubts in North Waziristan Agency. The operation has been ongoing since mid-June 2014 and terrorists that had been forced out of other parts of the agency had made a stand in the strategic Shawal Valley, difficult mountain terrain on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Around 800 square kilometres have been cleared and over 250 terrorists reportedly killed.
Whilst the announcement is welcome, the COAS was careful to append a caveat. Once again, the army has done the job it was asked to do and done it well, but Part two of the operation is in civilian hands, albeit with military assistance, and it is the resettlement of those temporarily displaced by the fighting (TDP) and that is a major task. Many have lost their homes and livelihoods, their flocks and the small bazaars they conducted daily life in. There has been considerable damage to the already threadbare infrastructure, which is going to need replacement and not just repair on the most urgent basis. The COAS also called for the “breaking of the nexus” between the terrorists and their facilitators which sit outside the tribal areas, and let it not be forgotten that there were anyway facilitators within the local population before the operation started, and it is unlikely that their sympathies will have swung 180 degrees in the period they have spent in displacement.
It is the failure to run a parallel operation to de-radicalise displaced persons that is the soft underbelly, the vulnerability that ultimately may determine the success or otherwise of Operation Zarb-e-Azb overall, and not only in the fastnesses of the Shawal valley. This was a job for the civilians and on the current evidence it is unfinished business — which may prove to be a costly error.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2016.
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