Backing the Operation
The Pakistan Army has, after much deliberation, launched a full-scale offensive in North Waziristan under the name of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. According to reports, the operation should have taken place in 2010 or 2011, as per advice of Pakistan Army commanders, but was held back because of the indecisiveness of the then Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Kiani. However, once the combined ground and air offensive was launched in June 2014, there was no turning back. While the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was said to be on board, after failure of talks between the Pakistan government and the terrorists, the decision to launch the operation was taken on the initiative of the Pakistan Army, supported by the Pakistan Air Force.
The operation commenced with a mix of ground and air attacks to initially soften the enemy. The underlying purpose was also to provide a chance to the civilian population to leave the area. Another reason was to give a chance to the terrorists to surrender though this was a long shot and not many miscreants laid down their arms. While North Waziristan was evacuated by most of the local population during this period, the ground forces also took the opportunity to surround the area from all sides and move in later, when the time was right.
In North Waziristan, the Pakistan Army is operating in one of the most difficult terrains in the country. The offensive presents more hardships than the earlier attacks in Swat and South Waziristan. Additionally, the terrorists have been allowed to spend more time here and have had ample opportunity to dig in, making permanent settlements, entering into long-term liaisons and proceeding to even set up factories to manufacture IEDs, suicide jackets and bombs. They have taken advantage of the Pakistan government’s inaction to organize themselves on more sustained lines and to plan attacks throughout Pakistan and even much further afield by turning North Wazirstan into a sort of ‘terrorism central’. They have assembled here from all parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and China and have used the territory to train men, smuggle them to various parts of the world and launch terrorist assaults.
With the commencement of the operation in North Waziristan, Pakistan has entered a state of war. The country’s armed forces must be supported in every way to make the operation a success so that the nation rids itself of the scourge of terrorism on a permanent basis. The people’s nerves are being tested to the fullest at this juncture, especially in anticipation of the blowback that may come from the terrorists as a result of the operation. The militants may resort to retaliatory tactics using civilians as human shields in the operation areas or strike other strategic parts of the country to show that they are still a force to be reckoned with. It was perhaps one of these groups that took potshots at the PIA aircraft coming in to land at Peshawar airport. The upshot was a woman killed, passengers wounded and suspension of flights by foreign airlines.
With troops on ground now, there are even greater chances of casualties and this is one factor that the army and the nation must be prepared for. Now that the operation is going ahead in full force, it is important that things be taken to their logical end and the nation fully rallies behind the army in the successful completion of the task. It is well understood that while no operation can succeed in completely wiping out terrorism and its perpetrators, the problem can at least be minimized and future terror elements discouraged from occupying parts of the country as land they could use as a launching pad for terrorist attacks.
The issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) must also be tackled more judiciously by the government. The IDPs are people who have abandoned their homes and moved out of the area to enable the troops to freely operate against the terrorists. They must be treated with sympathy by every Pakistani and accorded the necessary support. Government agencies appear to be awakening to the IDP situation rather late in the day. However, the effort must be supported by all citizens of Pakistan until such time that t a conducive environment is created for the displaced persons to return to their homes.