Amidst a heightened sense of urgency surrounding Waziristan in recent days, a parliamentary panel will travel to the region – the first visit by an official political delegation to the restive, militancy-hit tribal area.
The Senate Standing Committee on Defence will make the trip next month to visit thousands of troops stationed in an area described as the ‘frontline against extremism,’ and comes on the invitation of army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The invitation comes on the heels of a heated political debate on whether the military should undertake another offensive in militancy-hit areas – particularly North Waziristan. While the government has insisted that an operation, if any, would be a joint decision between the military and the civilian administration, the army has said that it would be the call of the government. The opposition has opposed another military offensive, questioning the efficacy of another blitz.
The committee, headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, was invited by Gen. Kayani when he met members in Risalpur following a passing-out parade of Pakistan Air Force (PAF). According to an official handout, the committee chairman accepted the invitation and decided to visit troops at the front line in November.
Since Pakistan sent tens of thousands of troops to the tribal areas to flush out militants, non-locals and independent media have very limited access there.
Last month, cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan led a ‘peace march’ to South Waziristan by his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and foreign peace activists, but authorities stopped him from entering the troubled area, citing security concerns. The visit by the Senate committee will be the first time the military allows a group of parliamentarians to visit the area.
That was not the only good news for civil-military cooperation. It was also decided that the committee would visit the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi to get a briefing from top military authorities on important security issues facing the country. Senator Sayed said that, as part of their work plan, which started with a visit to the Naval Headquarters, the committee will visit the Air Headquarters in November and then the GHQ in December this year.
The chairman is said to have assured Gen. Kayani that the committee would act as a bridge between the army and other quarters. “The committee would also be the first line of Defence to protect and promote the professional role of the armed forces as an institution,” he told the army chief.
Meanwhile, addressing the PAF graduation ceremony at Rasalpur, Gen. Kayani said close coordination and cooperation between the armed forces is the key to success for the country’s defence. “In today’s warfare, joint-ness is the key to success. Joint exercises like PAF’s High Mark and Pak Army’s Command level exercises Azm-e-Nau, have helped us a great deal to synergise the efforts of Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force,” he said.
Kayani paid tribute to the PAF, saying that it had procured latest generation fighter aircraft and force multipliers to enhance its defensive as well as offensive capabilities. “This will require you to be fully abreast of the advancements in the field of aviation technology,” he told the young gradates. The ceremony was followed by an exhilarating aerial display by the PAF Academy Aerobatics team ‘Sher-dils’ and para-glider formation ‘The Eaglets.’
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2012.