The Wrong Bat­tle Front

Op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb may be in full swing but the real bat­tle is far from be­ing fought.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Arsla Jawaid The writer is Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor, Strate­gic Stud­ies at the In­sti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies, Is­lam­abad.

Op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb may be in full swing but the real bat­tle is far from be­ing fought.

Amuch-awaited mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion tar­get­ing mil­i­tant hide­outs in the tribal belt, specif­i­cally in North Waziris­tan, has fi­nally been launched. Public opin­ion in fa­vor of the op­er­a­tion is at its high­est. The op­er­a­tion is in full swing and even the politi­cians, gen­er­ally, seem to be on the same page. Prime Min­is­ter Sharif, in a rare ap­pear­ance in the Na­tional Assem­bly, sought unan­i­mous sup­port when stat­ing that the op­er­a­tion “will not end un­til all ter­ror­ists are elim­i­nated.” While rhetoric cer­tainly helps to bol­ster, and in some cases cre­ate, public opin­ion it does not, how­ever, play too strong a role in ac­tu­ally ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.

Some key points are clear from the out­set. The gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy of ne­go­ti­at­ing and ‘giv­ing peace an­other chance’ has failed mis­er­ably. Per­haps this is what was ul­ti­mately ex­pected in or­der to cre­ate a push for a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion but in the process, the state has not only il­lus­trated its weak ne­go­ti­at­ing power to the mil­i­tants but has also ex­posed it­self to its own public. Fur­ther­more, Sharif is in­creas­ingly viewed as an in­de­ci­sive prime min­ster; one who is dis­con­nected not only from the so­cio-economic plight of his peo­ple but also the very real se­cu­rity threats his coun­try faces. The re­cent Karachi Air­port at­tack may have been the fi­nal straw for the mil­i­tary but Pak­istan has suf­fered tremen­dously at the hands of ruth­less mil­i­tants and the op­er­a­tion may have come too late. None­the­less, Op­er­a­tion Zarb-eAzb has com­menced and the mil­i­tary

is tak­ing full own­er­ship of it; as it should.

The tim­ing of the op­er­a­tion is also in­ter­est­ing. Pre­vi­ous re­ports of in­ternecine fight­ing within the TTP fac­tions sug­gested a di­vi­sion between the Khan Said Sa­jna fac­tion and the Shehryar-Mehsud tribe. Splits within the um­brella group between those who sup­ported and op­posed the peace talks with the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment were also widely re­ported in the me­dia. The TTP strived to down­play the in­fight­ing while an­a­lysts pro­posed that the best time to strike was when the en­emy was di­vided and was at its weak­est. While ar­gu­ments were be­ing made in fa­vor of launch­ing an op­er­a­tion, the Karachi air­port was at­tacked, lay­ing any claims of weak­ness within the TTP to rest.

The en­emy the Pak­istani state faces is ruth­less and elu­sive. It can­not be eas­ily iden­ti­fied nor can it be eas­ily elim­i­nated. De­spite ru­mours of in­fight­ing, the TTP re­mains strong with global re­cruits fe­ro­ciously ded­i­cated to its cause. Uzbek mil­i­tants at­tacked the Karachi air­port and North Waziris­tan, where the op­er­a­tion is cur­rently tak­ing place. It har­bors scores of lo­cal and for­eign mil­i­tants which in­clude the Uzbeks, Chechens, those linked to the Libyan Is­lamic Fight­ing Group and Chi­nese Uighur mil­i­tants, amongst oth­ers. The or­ga­ni­za­tion re­mains com­plex, which poses a tremen­dous threat to Pak­istan. More dan­ger­ous than the very ex­is­tence of ter­ror­ist groups is the goal that the state is at­tempt­ing to achieve through this op­er­a­tion. Will suc­cess be mea­sured through elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ist safe havens in North Waziris­tan or, as the PM stated, when ev­ery mil­i­tant is ex­ter­mi­nated?

If a limited op­er­a­tion in North Waziris­tan is at­tempt­ing to re­duce the in­ter­nal mil­i­tant threat, then the state must show in­creased con­fi­dence in its mil­i­tary that has shown re­mark­able suc­cess in the pre­vi­ous Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Ni­jat op­er­a­tions con­ducted in Swat and South Waziris­tan, re­spec­tively. If the pur­pose of this op­er­a­tion is grander, that is, if it aims to com­pletely elim­i­nate the ter­ror­ist threat, then the state must stop fool­ing it­self.

The mil­i­tants have in­fil­trated Pak­istani so­ci­ety too deeply, mak­ing them harder to iden­tify. They are in­creas­ing in num­bers and strength in ur­ban cen­ters where tar­gets re­main plen­ti­ful and more sen­si­tive. Mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions have been at­tacked re­peat­edly and air­port at­tacks gen­er­ate im­mense in­ter­na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion thus ful­fill­ing the goals of the mil­i­tants. Root­ing them out is dif­fi­cult and may well be near im­pos­si­ble. The state so far is at­tempt­ing to fight a lin­ear war by fo­cus­ing its strength in the tribal belt alone. This will be detri­men­tal to the se­cu­rity of the state as a vi­cious back­lash is ex­pected in ur­ban cen­ters where mil­i­tants have suc­cess­fully spread and set­tled. The Na­tional In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Pol­icy though am­bi­tious is yet on the right path but it is now dor­mant with no real, co­he­sive di­rec­tion on how to pro­vide in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity to ur­ban cen­ters. The ab­sence of a com­pre­hen­sive se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus that in­cor­po­rates dif­fer­ent ranks and cen­ters while del­e­gat­ing tasks is wor­ri­some and while the NISP was re­leased, no steps have been taken with re­gard to its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

It is not only the phys­i­cal pres­ence of the mil­i­tants that is cause for worry but, more im­por­tantly, the very ide­ol­ogy of ex­trem­ism, which will be where the real bat­tle is fought. The Pak­istani mil­i­tary may be fight­ing an op­er­a­tion for the long haul but the state can­not af­ford to sit back and watch the show. The ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy is so deeply embed­ded in the so­cial fab­ric that re­vers­ing it is im­pos­si­ble. The ab­sence of a na­tional nar­ra­tive on ter­ror­ism that presents a clear and uni­fied un­der­stand­ing of where the state stands and what it de­mands has cre­ated fur­ther con­fu­sion in an al­ready dither­ing state. The state it­self needs to be clear and must de­cide on a coun­tert­er­ror­ism nar­ra­tive that will not al­ter with suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments. This may per­haps be the most dif­fi­cult bat­tle the Pak­istani state may have to fight and one that will re­main longterm. This gen­er­a­tion of Pak­ista­nis is emo­tion­ally frag­ile and dan­ger­ously impressionable, thus mak­ing it ready fod­der for right-wing, con­ser­va­tive agen­das. A clear, counter-nar­ra­tive will not only al­low the state to unify but will also clearly iden­tify who the en­emy is and will il­lus­trate the state’s po­si­tion on is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity.

In the short to medium run, even if the mil­i­tary man­ages to elim­i­nate ter­ror­ist safe havens in North Waziris­tan, its suc­cess will barely trans­late in the ur­ban cen­ters if the state is un­able to guar­an­tee the se­cu­rity and safety of its cit­i­zens in the rest of the coun­try. A back­lash is in­evitable and pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures must be en­forced be­fore an un­wel­comed sit­u­a­tion arises. The mil­i­tary is do­ing its job but the state must do its duty to the cit­i­zens as well. In the long-run, the need for pre­sent­ing a counter nar­ra­tive will be im­per­a­tive if mil­i­tancy and ex­trem­ism is truly to be erad­i­cated from the state and the minds of its cit­i­zens. The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and civil so­ci­ety can sup­port a uni­fied, so­cio-po­lit­i­cal strat­egy to cre­ate a nar­ra­tive that can clearly ex­em­plify the vi­sion of a peace­ful, uni­fied Pak­istan. For this to oc­cur how­ever, the state it­self must be clear in what it stands for and what it wants. That al­ready seems like an up­hill task.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.