What Happens After North Waziristan?

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As airstrikes continue to pound militant compounds in North Waziristan, media reports that a full scale military operation is finally in the works targeting militants in the region. Such an operation is necessary, but it is not sufficient to root out the problem of extremist violence in the country. Just as the 2009 operation in South Waziristan did not end terrorism, neither will a successful operation that only takes place in North Waziristan today.

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Taliban’s Greatest Trick

(A man takes a nap next to a poster of Osama bin Laden

It is said that Shaitan’s greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. After all, once you stop believing in him, it is easier for him to next trick you that your sins are not sins at all. Ironically, it can also be said that Taliban’s greatest trick has been convincing us that they are more powerful than they really are.

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New operations against terrorists: Proof of pudding is in the eating

national security meeting

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.

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The Reality of Civilian Deaths

Military operation in N Waziristan

Say what you will about Imran Khan, but at least he is consistent. The PTI chief opposes American drone strikes, but he opposes Pakistan Army operations also. Unfortunately, Kaptaan’s policy is based in the wishful thinking that the national defence can always be maintained without any civilian deaths. This is a fantasy, not a reality, and national defence requires facing the reality.

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Sovereignty Lost, Sovereignty Regained

Taliban

One of the most controversial topics in recent years has been the question of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Usually, this question is raised during discussions of drone strikes and the unilateral American strike that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Without saying that these are not important issues, there is another more pressing threat to our sovereignty that has gone ignored until it has reached a crisis point.

A new report tells how Afghan Taliban have actually taken control of Quetta.

According to the locals, the Quetta Shura has within the span of a decade gotten to the point where it “runs the show.” From managing neighborhood security and harassing those who oppose them, to investing in hospitals where militants returning from Afghanistan are treated and in real estate as far as Karachi, the Quetta Shura has not only become the face of insurgency in Afghanistan, but indeed, it has become the face of destabilization in Pakistan.

Several of the locals that I talked to suggested that Quetta Shura is openly collecting funds through its hoax Islamic charity fronts in major cities of Pakistan, and recruiting local Baloch to torch the NATO supply tankers. “They tell us that each truck that we will blow up will get us several ‘hoors’ in paradise. We don’t get fooled, but many do.”

As another local suggested, “[A] few years back, Quetta Shura was passive and was only urging people to wage war against the U.S., but now they are forcing people to wage war, not only on the US, but also on Pakistan.”

It is not just Balochistan where the Taliban appears to be seizing control of our territory. In an op-ed for Express Tribune, Ejaz Haider argues that the military should not go into North Wazirisitan. Even though “It’s our territory and we should be in control of it”, he says, “physical dominance of territory in irregular war is always of limited value.” He then explains that our security forces simply are not able to control our Western border or the areas of North Waziristan.

The Haqqani fighters will go into Afghanistan where they control large swathes of territory and where the bulk of their fighters are already based. Other groups will disperse inland: the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Punjabi Taliban and foreign fighters. The foreigners have nowhere to go and they will continue to operate against Pakistan until captured or killed.

At least in the short term this dispersal will result in heightened urban terrorism, though I am told by sources that the intelligence agencies have been more effective in busting urban terrorist cells and nabbing and killing their fighters. That may be so but all indicators tell us that our counterterrorism capacity — civilian law enforcement — falls short of what it will take to effectively neutralise urban attacks. The reprisals will take their toll.

In other words, according to Ejaz Haider, it would be useless to try to control North Waziristan because we can’t stop militants from crossing our border and our counterterrorism capacity is not up to the task of effectively neutralising urban terrorists. If Ejaz Haider is correct, the Taliban has achieved what India never could. They have effectively redrawn our border and taken over part of our territory. Perhaps this is why Sheikh Rashid appealed to Mullah Omar and not the Army to protect Imran Khan?

Some have found a clever way of avoiding this logical conclusion by demanding that it is America’s responsibility to secure the border with Afghanistan, but this is obvious nonsense. First, how can we claim to want no American military interference in our sovereignty and at the same time say that they are responsible for our border? Also, what happens when the Americans leave? Who will we demand to secure our border then? Either we can secure our own borders or we can’t secure our own borders.

Fortunately, I think Ejaz Haider and others are wrong and our security forces are up to the task of securing our border and controlling our territory. To succeed, however, the military leadership needs to take a strong stand against militants and their support networks, but armed and propaganda. The speech of COAS on the occasion of Independence Day was a good start, but it is not enough to stop there. Otherwise, what sovereignty will be left to defend?