WITH districts around Swat seemingly falling like ninepins, the state has been shockingly ambivalent about it plans to restore its writ in northern Pakistan. But yesterday it appeared that the Pakistan Army has finally awoken from its slumber. The message from the chief himself, Gen Kayani: the militants will not be allowed to run amok and order will be restored. So far the army’s wait-and-watch policy in Malakand division has had dangerous consequences. Buner is now in the militants’ hands and IDPs are pouring into neighbouring districts, especially Swabi, Mardan and Haripur. Meanwhile, Shangla has been penetrated by the militants and Swabi and Mardan are the next likely targets. Shrewdly taking advantage of the cessation in hostilities in the valley, militants from Swat fanned out into neighbouring areas, expanding the theatre in which they will have to be taken on and ensuring that an even messier fight lies ahead.
Why has the army waited? It claims the ‘operational pause’ was meant to give a chance to the forces of reconciliation and not as a concession to the militants. Now that the army has sensed the panic among the people and seen the militants’ determination to expand their territorial control, it has pledged to achieve ‘victory’ against terrorism and militancy ‘at all costs.’ We hope this resolve will not melt in the days ahead. But two points regarding the overall war against militancy need to be flagged. One, the army has been particularly agitated by the recent spate of foreign comments that Pakistan is on the verge of collapse and that the army is unwilling or unable to defeat militancy. Gen Kayani’s forceful statement that the army ‘never has and never will hesitate to sacrifice, whatever it may take, to ensure [the] safety and well-being’ of Pakistan’s people and its territorial integrity should be noted in foreign capitals. Whatever the suspicions, the Pakistan Army is an indispensable element in any successful strategy against militancy in Pakistan and the region generally, and riling the army high command to score a few public points cannot be part of a sound strategy.
The second point concerns the political component here in Pakistan. While the Pakistan Army isn’t under the full control of the civilians, it has made it clear that it will only fight when there is a political consensus for it to do so. Thus far the politicians have been woefully divided; whether the dissenters blame America as the root cause of militancy or harp on about fuzzy ideas of dialogue, they have not been able to unite on the need to take on the militants militarily. That discord may finally be changing. The PML-N, the PML-Q and the religious parties have voiced concerns about militants on the march, while the MQM has come out as the foremost critic of the peace deal in Swat. It is not clear yet whether they will support the military option, but the army cannot fail to note that the politicians are at last beginning to agree on the seriousness of the threat of militancy.