Zarb-e-Azb and the limits of military power

Parachinar Lashkar-e-Jhangvi attack

Army’s anti-terrorism campaign has been a huge success. We know this because we are reminded of how successful the Army has been by their crack media team such as the series of Tweets from General Asim Bajwa declaring operation Zarb-e-Azb “a phenomenal success” further projected by media that has been recruited as just another wing of ISPR. Gen Bajwa’s Twitter profile proclaims that “Truth Prevails”, and as far as we know everything that the Army’s top PR manager says is the truth, and the successes and sacrifice of our brave soldiers should be appreciated. However, without denying the great successes of Gen Raheel and Zarb-e-Azb, if “Truth Prevails”, we must also face the limits of military power in finally ridding our country of the menace of terrorism.

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Time to rescue the people of Parachinar

The following article by MNA Farahnaz Ispahani (PPP) was originally published in The Express Tribune on 25 December 2010.

Farahnaz IspahaniParachinar used to be called ‘a paradise on Earth’. Despite its natural beauty and strategic importance, Parachinar is presently in a dire state due to sectarian violence initially instigated by the negative policies of former president Ziaul Haq. The residents of Parachinar, predominantly Shia, have been the target of jihadi entities and this has been the primary cause of sectarian clashes there. This violence has transformed the once beautiful land into ruins, completely destroying infrastructure. The main road connecting Peshawar to Parachinar has been blocked by sectarian extremists who have been brutally killing travellers to and from Parachinar.

Local people have been forced to travel through dangerous routes via Afghanistan and back into Peshawar just to purchase daily rations and essential items. Today, even that route has been closed, effectively cutting them off from the rest of Pakistan. This has caused local merchants to raise prices of staple foods such as flour, ghee, sugar and rice up to six times. There is also a tremendous shortage of basic medical supplies and essential life-saving drugs in Parachinar, in addition to a scarcity of proper medical facilities and staff in the area. The youth of Parachinar are worse off since the lack of even basic education has meant that most schools in the area have remained closed for a long time. In the past few decades, the Shias of Kurram Agency have suffered greatly. This started when General Zia relocated the local Kurram militia from Parachinar to other agencies, upsetting the century-old tradition of keeping a local officer in the militia’s hierarchy or as a political administrator.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, the situation got much worse for Kurram agency. And, after their defeat in 2001, a large number of Taliban, along with al Qaeda members, fled to the bordering tribal areas in Pakistan, settling in regions in upper Kurram dominated by Shia tribes. This resettlement became a flashpoint and the oppression of the locals multiplied when, five years ago, the Taliban blockaded the only road that connects Parachinar with Thal — the first town in the settled area. This affected trade and downgraded the social life of the people, strangulating their livelihood. Consequently, they found it difficult to safeguard their families and find jobs, decent food and sometimes even basic medicines.

The situation of Parachinar is only getting worse. The people of Parachinar still remember, with deep affection, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as they focused on the betterment of this desperately poor and deprived area in order to strengthen its resources by the rehabilitation of its schools, colleges, hospitals and medical facilities. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto also directed PIA to have a flight connecting Parachinar and Peshawar on a weekly basis at an affordable fare. This stopped during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s tenure and needs to be reinstated urgently. Currently, only a few wealthy residents of Parachinar are able to afford a flight to Peshawar through a private plane service and it charges a high fare. It is time for us to step forward to rescue the people of Parachinar.

Published in The Express Tribune December 25th, 2010. Farahnaz Ispahani is a MNA (PPP) and member of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights.