Friday, August 1, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Aug 2, 2014

COAS in NWA COAS General Raheel Sharif made a morale-boosting visit to troops engaged in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) over Eid. Addressing the officers and men, the COAS ordered speedy and skilful action against all terrorists while praising the efforts and sacrifices of the troops. General Sharif dilated on the ongoing operation by saying that now that their command and communication infrastructure had been disrupted, the terrorists would never be allowed to return to Waziristan. While expressing his complete satisfaction with the achievements and progress of the operation so far, the COAS emphasised that only with the sustained focus of the entire nation could we jointly accomplish our objective of a terror-free Pakistan. However, one jarring note on the occasion was struck by the contrast between what the COAS said about the need to strengthen the border mechanism with Afghanistan to prevent any infiltration from across the border and the news that 70-80 terrorists carried out a cross-border attack in Lower Dir that was repulsed with seven attackers killed and nine injured. This incident highlights the concerns that the operation may have succeeded in ‘clearing’ NWA by and large of the terrorists but that may be due in considerable measure to the fact that the bulk of the terrorists had fled the area before the operation began to other tribal Agencies, safer areas such as Datta Khel and the densely forested Shawal Valley within NWA, or across the border to Afghanistan. Cross-border attacks therefore may well be expected to increase, while there is no guarantee the terrorists still within FATA will not be able to regroup and revive their campaign. A report in the Los Angeles Times quotes US administration officials as conceding that the operation is disrupting militant attacks but expressing concerns that unless the Pakistan army takes on all terrorists without discrimination, especially the Haqqani network, the operation could not be considered a success in terms of stopping terrorist attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This concern about the Haqqani network in particular is of long standing in Washington since it is this group, enjoying an apparent free run in NWA, that has emerged as the deadliest of the Taliban groups battling US/NATO forces in Afghanistan. With the withdrawal of these forces looming, the concern has grown that the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups should not find safe havens ever again in NWA or any other part of Pakistani soil, especially since by now events have moved on to expose the nexus amongst all the Taliban groups, Afghan and Pakistani. One illustration of this is the safe haven on Afghan soil that Mulla Fazlullah, chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has found with the help of the Haqqani network. While the eventual outcome of the operation in NWA remains to be determined over time, another dimension of the anti-terrorist struggle has been highlighted in a report in The Wall Street Journal that points to the increasing factionalism within the TTP having led over the past 2-3 years to their seeking funding through kidnappings for ransom in the rest of Pakistan, particularly Karachi. This may or may not indicate a reduction in the TTP’s funding from other sources. The modus operandi appears to be to kidnap rich businessmen and others to extract hefty ransoms, either directly by Taliban groups or by ‘outsourcing’ to criminal gangs who share in the loot and receive protection from the TTP. While it has always been a given that military operations of a counter-insurgency type in FATA would have to be accompanied by counter-terrorist operations in the rest of the country, particularly large cities, to avoid expected retaliatory attacks and the kind of criminal fund raising activity mentioned above, this so far appears the weakest link in the anti-terrorist campaign. The weakness lies in the government’s inability so far, despite the much trumpeted National Security Policy announced last year, to put in place the anti-terrorist architecture required to conduct intelligence-driven effective operations against the terrorists in the cities and other areas outside FATA. Apart from protecting wealthy citizens from the predatory activities of the terrorists (and Shahbaz Taseer is still in their custody), this could help squeeze their sources of finance and dry up their operational capabilities. As we have consistently argued in this space, without a holistic strategy and organisational means to combat the terrorists, complete victory may prove elusive, and even the gains made may not be permanent.

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