Voices this Week draws together published material on an important strategic issue in South Asia. This week: commentary and analysis on the Pakistan Army’s ongoing operations in North Waziristan, Zarb-e-Azb, and its effects.
Nasim Zehra highlights four challenges facing Zarb-e-Azb: 1. maintaining public support for the operation, 2. protecting urban areas from retaliatory attacks, 3. responding to outflows of civilians from the area, and 4. “the Afghan factor.” She notes that of the four,
“the political challenge of unifying political forces and the people on the need of the operation is key especially given the fear of blowback in urban areas. Pakistani people, hit by hundreds of attacks every year have remained skeptical of the state’s ability to provide security to its citizens. Mindful of both the terrorist threat and the skepticism regarding the government’s track record, only a clear articulation of the problem by the Prime Minister will give the people the confidence that the risks attached to this military operation are worth taking.”
A Dawn editorial on Thursday highlighted the “unfolding crisis” of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and condemned the federal government and the political leadership’s response, saying they “would like the country to believe they are doing all that they can to ease the humanitarian crisis; but the facts, visible plainly to all, suggest that is clearly not the case.” Rafia Zakaria followed up with a piece terming the IDPs “disowned.” The editorial continues:
“Remember also the reason why these Pakistani citizens have fled their homes: it is the enormous price the state and the nation have asked of them in order to take on militants threatening the safety and security of Pakistan. Given the level of sacrifice that has been asked of them, it is surely not too much to hope the state took more seriously its responsibilities towards the NWA IDPs — especially since the state has gained significant experience in recent years in dealing with Fata IDPs displaced by military operations. Moreover, it has been known for years that some kind of military operation in North Waziristan would likely be required at some stage — so theoretically the IDP management in the present instance should have been the best managed and most thoroughly planned of all. Instead, it appears to be one of the more miserable and haphazard IDP management programmes in memory.”
In Foreign Policy, while Shuja Nawaz terms Zarb-e-Azb “likely to be the most ambitious Pakistani attempt in the past decade to control North Waziristan,” he argues that “Pakistan’s Taliban Offensive Will Fall Short.”
“One reason is that Pakistan still lacks any national strategy in which the government and armed forces together fight Islamist militancy and terrorism. In North Waziristan, the army is re-using the blunt force approach it has used before: clear out the local population, then use air strikes, artillery, and ground forces to clean out any insurgents that remain. This tactical, rather than strategic, approach means that the North Waziristan battle will not be definitive, but rather just another fight in Pakistan’s inconclusive long war.” To build a national strategy, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government needs to bring the military out of what has been a long silence to share with the Pakistani public its vision of what will work. The government must then include the military’s view in a way it has not so far.