Back­ing the Op­er­a­tion

Southasia - - COMMENT - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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.

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