One could sense that it was impending and it came with a bang! The civil-military schisms which had surfaced over negotiations with a non-state actor (NSA) which challenges the writ of the state as well as disputes over national security became a clouded affair as soon as the authorization of Operation Zarb E Azb in North Waziristan took place. It became a rallying cry from the civilian and military leadership to punish an entity which had wreaked havoc on peace and tranquility for more than a decade, no more so than the attack on the Jinnah International Airport, when ten militants armed with rocket launchers managed to penetrate the security apparatus and exterminate 36 Pakistani citizens.
While the Karachi episode may have been the stimulus for a stringent response, the operation was desperately needed for a nation which had rendered innumerable sacrifices in the line of terrorism in the post 9/11 era. What was heartening to see from a Pakistan perspective was that the joint military offensive aimed at targeting an array of entities which range from the East Turkestan movement stemming from Xinjiang in China to the IMU or the Islamic Movement from Uzbekistan. The Haqqani network was also on the hit list, as 30,000 soldiers brimmed with vigilance to ensure that the roots of extremism is exterminated after various rounds of controversial peace talks with the TTP had failed. As a Pakistani student of conflict resolution, this decision on part of the government to launch a comprehensive operation aiming at eradicating the menace terrorism is something I have become content with. I was vehemently opposed over the vacuum provided to these elements, particularly the TTP, to exhibit considerable clout and found it a deplorable tactic. It seemed as if an issue of gravity such as the JIA attack in Karachi would have prompted such a stringent response by the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistan Armed Forces. Several questions however continue to remain unanswered.
When Dr. Tahir Ul Qadri, a controversial Canadian cleric decides to return to a nation in a state of conflict and plans on instigating what he terms a ‘democratic revolution’ to uproot corruption, nepotism and cronyism in Pakistan’s bureaucratic set up, one wonders as to whether the strategic focus would shift from the technicalities of the operation to what a political showdown might actually entail. A well known Human Rights Activist on Saturday night lashed out at a private channel for not focusing on the ground realities of the nation being embroiled in a state of conflict and the issue of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) which will inevitably become a consequence of the military offensive. To come to think of it, the outcry was completely justified. A cleric’s arrival in Pakistan should really not be as significant as the pressing concern of the after effects of the military offensive in the NW as compared to the coverage that the Pakistan Armed Forces truly deserves as they continue to battle it out against an array of NSAs in a classic case of asymmetrical warfare. Similarly, solutions to the problems of IDPs are equally pressing, which will inevitably stem from the NW conflict and could manifest in the form of distrust in the Pakistan government’s response to their dire needs. This is a potentially dangerous implication as a lack of proper accommodation for IDPs could result in a potential breeding ground for the same terrorist groups which the Pakistani state aims to dismantle.
The IDP’s issue is just one of a number of challenges that this Nawaz government in the Abode of Peace would grapple with as the operation continues to yield positive results. However, as much as this operation should lauded for providing a salutary effect in mitigating the clout of extremism and warding off international pressure over launching a military option in a region known as the stronghold of the Haqqani network, the massive challenge of establishing the writ of the state in the NW, will be pressing. The area which is known for its tribal fabric must accept the state of Pakistan as its savior from the hardliner, puritanical demagoguery which has sought to dominate it.
This puts the country’s Prime Minister, who had initially considered negotiating with these elements, in the limelight. The civilian leadership must ensure that the operation is being owned by the people of Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s history of crippled democracies, the outright ownership of this operation is crucial to ensure that public support to eradicate terrorism can be garnered to further isolate controversial clerics who aim at derailing the progression of civilian democracies. By articulating the nation’s resolve in fighting the clout of extremism, the Nawaz-led government, which had previously been criticized for initiating a fragile peace process with the TTP, could allay fears of civil-military schisms which were to pepper news feeds throughout the nation as well.
Lastly, while the operation is being conducted in the hub of extremism in the country, the government of Pakistan must not be complacent in dealing with ‘blow-backs’ in the form of terrorist plots which could easily rock localities in each of the four provinces including the Capital. The fact that Rangers are on high alert in Islamabad is a testament of what such an operation might bring for common citizens in the country.
In a nutshell, this operation is a long awaited call by the government of Pakistan against elements which are non-negotiable, intolerant and puritanical in their disposition which pose significant regional and security challenges in South Asia. Given that this nation has rendered innumerable sacrifices, it would be a shame to see the aftereffects of Zarb E Azb fizzle out and compound internal security dynamics. Dealing with a threat as vitriolic as an umbrella of extremist groups, which is known for its asymmetrical tactics, mandates long-term strategic thinking from all the institutions in contention. Laxity over handling the IDPs and the failure to curb ‘blow-backs’ could prove to be pivotal factors in actually eliminating the scourge of terrorism from this country.
Image: Al Jazeera, Flickr