According to several news reports, the Pakistan Army has finally decided to carry out an operation in North Waziristan to flush out the various terrorist outfits there. It will be perceived by many that the military decided on the operation under pressure from the US, but that may not be strictly true: The position of the GHQ was that while it did not rule out the operation, it would decide its timing in the light of prevailing conditions.
It is not true that public opinion was totally opposed to this operation: A number of hardline, usually anti-US, analysts too had advised it each time the Taliban struck against military targets in Pakistan. It is also true that the US was insistent on this operation because the terrorists used North Waziristan as a sanctuary from where they attacked across the Durand Line to kill Isaf-Nato personnel.
In Pakistan public opinion has been united on the issue of sovereignty. However, this stand has in recent months become untenable when one considers the fact that North Waziristan has been used as a launching pad for terrorism and the state is reluctant to extend its writ there. The international community was right behind the US when it struck North Waziristan with drone attacks, thus weakening Pakistan’s rejection of them. Almost 90 per cent of these attacks have targeted the sanctuary of this tribal agency and according to a military commander of the area, most of those killed have been militants.
Pakistan’s misplaced label of ‘national honour’ was exposed when the world looked at the elements that killed Pakistan’s military personnel and innocent citizens under plans made in North Waziristan. The presence of foreigners has especially weakened Pakistan’s policy of ‘abstention’ and has made it look like a ‘double-gamer’ rather than a ‘game-changer’ in the war against terrorism. It has given rise to a dangerous mass psychology in Pakistan of ‘loving tormentors’ and rejecting friends.
Intelligence reports say as many as 10,000 battle-hardened militants are ensconced in North Waziristan. There are Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens, Indonesians, Tajiks and some European nationals affiliated with al Qaeda, while some Afghan terrorists such as the Haqqani network have, much of the world thinks, been used to target Indian installations in Afghanistan. Local tribal warlords like Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir, involved in dubious peace deals with the military that have been honoured more in the breach, have increasingly moved under the umbrella of al Qaeda.
It is said that Pakistan’s reason for delaying the operation in North Waziristan was logistical, that Pakistani troops were overstretched and that it was not possible to prevent the vast gathering of dangerous terrorists from fanning out into the rest of Pakistan after the operation was launched against them. This has simply increased the immunity of killers who destroy lives in the plains and then take refuge in North Waziristan. Instead of turning the people of Pakistan against the world, the military establishment should have leaned more effectively on international support against the heavy odds in the agency.
Doubts have proliferated. There are reports, also in recent days through WikiLeaks, about the Haqqani family being sheltered from drone attacks by being moved out of the agency to settled districts. The ‘confederation’ of the Taliban and other killers in North Waziristan has threatened to unleash a war against Pakistan if it is attacked, but the truth is that the terrorist headquarters located there has spared no stratagem to destroy Pakistan, including the poisoning of the public’s mind.
North Waziristan has done more to destroy Pakistan and create the psychology of defeat in its population than any other place in the world. The forthcoming operation will need global support and Pakistan can use it to break out of the isolationism unleashed by its unworkable unanimous parliamentary resolutions. Also, going after the terrorists is ultimately going to be in Pakistan’s own interest and it is about time that it stopped differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2011.