Monday, June 16, 2014

Daily Times Editorial June 17, 2014

Finally, the assault The attack on Karachi airport seems finally to have tipped the scales in favour of a full-blooded assault on the terrorist sanctuaries and bases in North Waziristan (NW). The military operation, named Zarb-e-Azb, involves a land and air campaign against local and foreign terrorists in NW regardless of ‘hue and colour’. This latter description in the ISPR’s press release on Sunday means that the whole binary of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban, ‘strategic depth’ and other shibboleths stands demolished in the aftermath of the determined terrorist attack on Karachi airport, signalling a declaration of war by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates in FATA. The first day’s operations on land and in the air produced anything from 105-150 casualties, most of them reportedly Uzbeks, with their commander Abu Abdul Rehman Almani believed to be amongst those killed. This Zarb-e-Azb will be the third major military operation after the Raah-e-Raast and Raah-e-Nijaat operations in Swat and South Waziristan respectively in 2009. All that can be said at this point is, better late than never. There is room to reflect on how many lives could have been saved and political, economic and social losses prevented had this operation been launched earlier. Previous and the present government must bear responsibility for the delays, including the military high command before the present one. If the military previously may have been restrained by the thought of the response from the terrorists and the possible uses of jihadi proxies in the Afghanistan context, it has been arguing since COAS General Raheel Sharif took over that eventually there is no escape from conducting military operations against the entrenched terrorists in the difficult terrain of NW. To the military’s credit, it has held its piece while keeping its powder dry, allowing the government all the room to try out its peace initiative through dialogue. That talks initiative never really took off, and after a long and ineffective process without result, it is the terrorists who turned the situation from all talk of peace towards all out war through their action in Karachi. These developments have overtaken the NW tribal jirga that was given 15 days to clear out the Agency of all foreign fighters, as well as the ‘peace’ agreement with Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Action against one set of terrorists is more likely than not to hit anyone and anything that stands in its path. To allow people who may wish to leave to save themselves and their families from what promises to be a fierce campaign, the military has isolated NW from adjoining Agencies, cordoned off known terrorist bases, set up internally displaced people (IDPs) registration points and camps, as well as surrender points for terrorists who may wish to turn over a new leaf by laying down their arms. Neigbour Afghanistan has been asked to seal the border to prevent terrorists slipping across and escaping and Kabul has also been requested to eliminate TTP sanctuaries in Kunar, Nuristan and other border provinces of Afghanistan. This translates into the long missing ‘encirclement and annihilation’ tactics that had been missing in earlier piecemeal campaigns Agency by Agency. In anticipation of the terrorist riposte throughout the country, the federal capital Islamabad has seen army units deployed, as have other major cities. Sindh province, particularly Karachi, is expected to see the greatest wave of IDPs fleeing FATA. The risk of terrorists slipping into the province and the metropolis under cover of this human wave has persuaded the Sindh government to set up vetting and registration check points on all the highways entering Sindh. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and some of his ministers have appealed to all the political forces and the country to stand behind the armed forces in this hour of trial. Interestingly, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has reluctantly decided to back the operation “now that it has started”, while the Jamaat-e-Islami remains the sole holdout against military action. There are two points remaining to reflect on. One, contrary to media reports about the operation lasting three weeks or a little longer, no one should be under any illusion that this will be a protracted struggle, given the elusive enemy, forbidding terrain and the proximity of a porous border with Afghanistan. Some of the terrorists may well live to fight another day despite the best efforts of the military and security forces. Second, Ramzan is looming at the end of the month. That will be an automatic damper on the full-fledged assault mounted from Sunday. If the terrorists are given space and time during Ramzan, they are likely to come back even more viciously after. The campaign must not let up now that it has finally taken the plunge.

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