Back to the drawing board?

Published: June 21, 2010
The writer is executive director news and current affairs at Aaj TV (

The writer is executive director news and current affairs at Aaj TV (

Bajaur Agency, for long the showcase story of success against organised militancy in the tribal belt, has re-erupted in violence. Clashes between the Taliban and the Frontier Constabulary (FC) combine have been ferocious causing high casualties. The adjoining Mohmand Agency’s border areas with Afghanistan too have become hot. The reported raid on a Pakistani check post by the Taliban caused the soldiers to panic and cross into Afghanistan. Several are still missing. This is just one indication of the prevalent situation. In Orakzai agency forces continue to pound the militants, who while are taking the hits, are still far from being defeated. Khyber Agency has gone quiet but like most appearances in this part of Pakistan this is deceptive. The trouble makers are still out and about, only lying low to strike again. Kurram’s woes continue as the one road to its connection with the rest of the country has not been secured despite much official noise and fury. South Waziristan is in limbo, and even the most well informed optimists do not want to characterise it as a sure success. North Waziristan is hanging fire. As the debate rages in the decision making circles about the military operation there, public opinion trends do not suggest that if an operation is launched eventually it would necessarily fetch immediate popular backing.

All this does not augur well for the whole concept of war against terror on the Pakistani soil. If the findings of the Pew survey released last week are correct, the Taliban is a rejected commodity in Pakistan. But this does not automatically translate into continuing public satisfaction with the way things are shaping up in the tribal belt. In fact there is every reason to believe that resurgence of instability in the tribal belt may have contributed to the pervasive sense of dismay (84 per cent — the highest among the 22 countries surveyed). Renewed trouble in the tribal areas has begun to fly in the face of hope that even though these operations are expensive and bloody, they are producing measurable stability and progress.

These high hopes were premised on the constant official refrain that after wresting the control back from the Taliban the tribal agencies would become a model of success. Far from that, violence in Bajaur’s indicates that a great deal of work remains before celebrating any success.  The idea that Taliban are still lurking round the corner is the anti-thesis of the claim, that in this former Taliban stronghold a new beginning is about to be made. This disrupts the larger plan. Mohmand Agency was supposed to join the Bajaur victory parade, and together with the Swat triumph against terrorism, the entire area was to become an arc of stability. Released of pressure from the north, the army and the FC would focus exclusive attention on the rest of the trouble spots in the South, cleaning up the remains of the militancy either by using force of by using the threat of the use of force.

That strategic dream has not come true. Militancy has mutated into a cross border mobile enemy that strikes at a time of its own choosing. Militants have refused to disappear even though their central command system in some of these agencies has been destroyed.

The war in these areas was never meant to be a long-drawn affair. It was supposed to end in months rather than drag on for years. Killing in one’s own territory, even by the sanction of the political leadership, does not produce the environment for long-term peace. Also deeper and sustained military engagement that is unable to claim a clean, decisive and final success depletes more than just military reserves. It wears down the solider. It tears up morale. And no army can go on forever on the battlefield.

This not an argument for winding up the operations in these areas and offering a warm embrace to Maulvi Faqir Muhammad or Maulvi Fazlullah. That would be a disaster of monumental proportions from which the country will never rise again.

However, it is time someone explained the end goal in these tribal agencies to the nation. And when an approximate cut-off point can be determined for success. Claiming victory as dead bodies continue to pile up isn’t really convincing anyone. Will someone from the army please answer?

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2010.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • faraz
    Jun 21, 2010 - 5:59AM

    Army has only wrestled control of those area from taliban, they havent eliminated the taliban menace. Like the Srilankan operations against Tamils, it will take years but there is no other option. If we want to live as a stable functioning state, we have to eliminate these fanatics.Recommend

  • Yusaf
    Jun 21, 2010 - 6:05AM

    I don’t think any government can give clear indicators regarding successes in this struggle against terrorism. The only direct indication is going to be declining trends in the frequency of such terror attacks with in Pakistan. Presently, it seems that the terrorists have the upper hand as seen by the brazen attacks in Lahore. While physical force is a requirement of this war, the real war is going to be fought in the hearts and mind of the people. In the war for peoples minds; our media needs to ensure that they keep short term profits and sensationalism away from the real debate: extermination of all extremist ideas in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Farigh
    Jun 21, 2010 - 4:47PM

    And we thought we have a truly professional army? Dear Generals would you please return us the lion’s share you eat up every year from budget?Recommend

  • Nowsherwan
    Jun 21, 2010 - 6:32PM

    I totally agree that without knowing the ultimate end goal, any effort to prolong operation in the region will prove futile.We cannot deny the steady state of violence in the aforementioned areas and now is the time we alter our strategy. Using force will only help us attain temporal peace, we should definitely go for other options.Recommend

  • asad munir
    Jun 21, 2010 - 9:07PM

    No one from the Army ever claimed, that it is going to be a short war.What our forces have achieved in less than 2 years,the Coalition forces,comprising of the most modern armies of the world, could not achieve in more than 8 years.The NATO Forces have yet to secure a single Taliban dominated area.Bajaur is in the control of FC and Civil Administration.Swat,Dir,Buner,Shangla,South Waziristan,parts of Mohmand,Lower Orakzai,Parts of Darra have been secured.Army has never claimed clearing of complete Mohamand Agency.Nawagai Tehsil of Bajaur, where the recent incident took place, is almost in Mohmand Agency,next to Mammad Ghat.You can never lay a time line in unconventional operations.North Waziristan,Tirah,Upper Orakzai and part of Kurram have to be secured.Even then one may expect some incident of terrorism.I wish the media had educated the people,influenced their opinion, way back in 2004, about the real threat,the country faced from Taliban, and had not termed it as an AMERICAN WAR ,things may have been much different.Then the the Army had to clear only two tribal Agencies,now they have to secure 7 agencies and 6 FRs.Media should lay more emphasis on the strategic development of these areas.Things are difficult ,but are moving in right direction.A time may come, once government may announce amnesty to the young misguided foot soldiers of the Taliban.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jun 22, 2010 - 4:17AM

    The army is fighting the extremist forces that it nurtured for 30 years, now the chicken have come home to roost. Taliban were supposed to be our strategic assets. Is there any army in the world which recruits civilians to fight proxy wars? Mr farigh is absolutely right; our army is non professional, it lost all wars that it ever fought and now its fighting its own proxies in its own backyard. Recommend

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