No modern state can afford to have ungoverned spaces where the law of the land is not supreme and where armed bandits roam around freely
Dr Haider Shah
July 05, 2014
Operation Zarb-e-Asb now enters the ground forces stage after completion of the aerial and artillery bombing phase. Like any army operation, confidentiality is of paramount importance and hence we do not have access to finer tactical details. In this situation, only inferences can be drawn from the relevant actions of key players and their public statements. The military operation in North Waziristan would have been an insignificant anti-insurgency operation if, in the background, many important watershed activities had not been taking place at the highest level in the region.
On June 16, 2014, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Janan Mosazai, held an unusually important meeting with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif at General Headquarters (GHQ) in which the ongoing operation in North Waziristan and matters relating to security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were discussed. Similarly, on June 26, Nawaz Sharif and Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, agreed at a meeting to go after all terrorists without any discrimination and for that purpose a joint anti-terrorism working group was also established. In my previous writings I had been regularly advocating a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The prime minister-level declaration with the keen involvement of the army chief is a very encouraging development. It is worth mentioning that the joint working group will be co-chaired by Pakistan’s foreign secretary and Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister, and will have representatives from the security institutions concerned. We have been witnessing consistency in the discourse of Nawaz Sharif about boosting regional trade with improvement in security and mutual trust. Endorsement of this strategic objective from the defence establishments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan is a significant departure from our past.
The resolve of the government to go after the last terrorist also serves as a source of some light at the end of a long tunnel. In one of my previous writings I had referred to Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars where the development of the AfPak strategy was investigated by the author. It seems that Pakistan has finally paid heed to the prescription given by the author: “Pakistan has to end its complex, schizophrenic relationship with terrorists in which they are the patron and the victim and the safe haven all at the same time.” It seems that Pakistan has finally chosen the Sri Lanka model of dealing with militancy. No modern state can afford to have ungoverned spaces where the law of the land is not supreme and where armed bandits roam around freely. While some quarters oppose military action in the tribal area on affinity with the Taliban groups on religious grounds, some Pashtun nationalists express their unease on account of the destruction of the life and property of Pashtuns.
Unfortunately, states have to be at times ruthless in order to survive. Whether the D-day landings of the British and US troops or the Red Army’s march on Berlin, civilians are the unfortunate victims when a state wages a war to reclaim control of its territory. The national calamity in the form of internally displaced Pakistanis from North Waziristan needs our urgent attention. This is a good chance to educate our tribal brothers about the benefits of living in an urban society where the law, and not tribal customs, is the organising force. We can win the war against terrorist groups with better weaponry and our properly trained troops. However, winning the hearts and minds of the local population is a far more challenging task. We can declare the operation to be successful only if we are winners on both counts.
Sceptics are still not very convinced. They point out that all terrorists have already moved to safer places. They raise questions about the sincerity of the military establishment in ending their deadly embrace of the ‘good’ Taliban and other strategic assets. Given our indecent relations with terrorist outfits, such misgivings are not without merit. What happens in the coming months will prove whether the sceptics were right in invoking conventional wisdom or whether they misread the developments this time. Some positive indicators can very easily be sent out to calm the nerves of sceptical analysts. The security establishment must help in creating an enabling environment for regional peace. The biggest media group was leading a campaign for the promotion of peaceful relations between India and Pakistan. Hostilities with the media group must now end and no hindrances should be created for the media group to play its positive role in this key doctrinal change. Similarly, the army must show and prove the fact that it gives great respect to its oath of allegiance to the constitution and hence remains subservient to a constitutionally elected government, whoever might be the head of such a government.
The country can ill afford an environment of uncertainty at this critical juncture and hence the army should give the clear signal that it in no way is behind self-proclaimed messiahs and prophets of doom. It is also important that all public figures, whether the leader of a political party or a television anchor, are prosecuted under mutiny and treason laws when they openly incite people to remove a sitting government through unconstitutional methods. As I regularly say, the writ of the state must be enforced in our settled areas before we aspire to establish it near our northwestern porous borders.