Are the winds changing direction? New reports indicate that after tens of thousands of graves have been dug, the government is finally preparing to take action against jihadi militant groups. COAS has briefed the Prime Minister on action against terrorists, and PM has chaired highest level national security meeting to review the prevailing security situation, and Express News has now reported that ‘the government has decided in principle to launch a military operation against groups attacking the nation and killing thousands of citizens’. While this is a welcome development, it remains a decision in principle only, and many questions remain. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it remains to be seen whether we have reached a turning point, or whether this is another topi drama meant to appease certain superpowers and buy time.
The timing of the recent decisions must be addressed first. Jihadi groups have been attacking Pakistan since long, so what has changed? There are several interesting explanations being given, but each has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. Some are suggesting that recent attacks targeting military targets have awoken the officers anger. This is possible, but why did past attacks against military targets not awaken the same anger? Since the past few years we have suffered jihadi attacks against PNS Mehran, PMA Kakul, and the killing of Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Khan Niazi. None of these resulted in a decision to take on the jihadis.
Others argue that the recent change in leadership is the real reason behind today’s talk of anti-terrorist operations. This makes more sense, but it too leaves some doubts. Gen Raheel is considered as playing an important role in convincing his fellow officers that Taliban are a serious threat. This may have played some role, but it is hard to believe that it was enough to make such a quick change in direction. Gen Raheel’s predecessor, Gen Kayani, actually commanded the only major military operation against Taliban, Operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009. Since that operation, a troubling fact began to come to light, though it is still little discussed: Jihadi sympathies within the military that made a unified operation against militants nearly impossible.
This is the biggest question that remains to be answered: Have we actually reached agreement that Taliban is our enemy? This is not clear. Certain quarters of the media continue to project the false narrative of ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. Imran Khan also continues to blame the government, saying on Wednesday that war against Taliban cannot be won and accusing the government of not giving in to Taliban demands and accepting talks. Even the military leadership seems non-committal. If we are witnessing a change of direction, why is the military requesting ‘a few weeks time’ to come up with an operational plan? Is there really no such plan already existing at GHQ?
Finally, questions remain about what a military operation to take care of the jihadi militants once and for all will look like. Recent operations have consisted only of PAF air strikes. As much success as these have had, they have also been controversial in the past. In 2009, airstrikes intended to target militants killed dozens of civilians. Similar complaints have been made against this week’s air strikes also.
This is one indicator of how serious the government and military are about fighting back. Namely, do the military operations that have been agreed to in principle consist of air strikes only? Or will troops be deployed to fight the militants and protect innocent civilians? We stand by our armed forces and will support them in efforts to defeat the terrorists just as we did in 2009. There should be no reason to hold back our full power in efforts to defend our homeland. The Taliban certainly are not holding back in their efforts to destroy it.