An irrevocable message of military command’s intention to establish the writ of the state in North Waziristan and rest of FATA, along with committing resources for the operation and pursuing it with vigour has changed the complexion of the war against terror that Pakistan has been waging for over a decade now. The credit clearly goes to General Raheel Sharif, the local commanders and the brave officers and soldiers who have laid down their lives to combat terrorism.
When the dastardly attack took place on Army Public School Peshawar, General Raheel Sharif realized that the most important requirement at the strategic level is a clear public declaration that there will be no mercy shown against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other militant groups.These will be eliminated and their sanctuaries wiped off. An irrevocable message of military command’s intention to establish the writ of the state in North Waziristan and rest of FATA, along with committing resources for the operation and pursuing it with vigour has changed the complexion of the war against terror that Pakistan has been waging for over a decade now. The credit clearly goes to General Raheel Sharif, the local commanders and the brave officers and soldiers who have laid down their lives to combat terrorism.
Pockets of resistance still remain in Shawal and Dattakhel in North Waziristan and in Khyber Agency and are to be cleared in final phase of the operation. A major impediment in completely eliminating the militants is the nature of the porous border and the inability of the Afghan forces to establish their writ in Afghanistan’s eastern and southern provinces that adjoin Pakistan’s border. The failure of Afghan forces to provide the anvil while Pakistan Army had launched Zarb-e-Azb allowed the militants to slip into Afghanistan. Finding a safe haven in several provinces close to our border they continue to infiltrate back and forth making it difficult to bring the military operation to its conclusion. Solution of this problem lies in strengthening border control on our side of the border and extending full cooperation to Afghan forces in managing their side.
The counter-insurgency operations will have to be followed up by building effective local governance and economic development. The civilian government as yet has not given sufficient attention to this aspect and seems to be relying on the army to undertake this task. Whereas it was expected that military would provide the necessary security and the civilian government would undertake reconstruction activities and establishment of a new administrative order in FATA. Introduction of reforms that largely meet the aspirations of the populace have been their long-standing demand. The merger of FATA in KP or creation of a separate province is essential to mainstream the area. For this soliciting the views of the tribal people through the traditional way of holding a grand Jirga or a referendum should be undertaken at priority. Other option would be to proceed along the lines on the basis of the introduced twenty-second amendment bill in the parliament. This would, however, require amending the constitution.
Whatever route for reforms is adopted it should have a broad consensus and dealt with a sense of urgency. Federal government cannot continue to vacillate on undertaking implementation of these reforms. The people of FATA who aspire to be equal partners with the rest of the provinces have suffered enough due to ineptitude of successive governments and deserve to get their basic rights. It is highly unfair to keep FATA in perpetual backwaters. Re-settlement of the IDPs is a major challenge that remains neglected. Compensation must be paid to those civilians whose property was destroyed or damaged and business ruined during this war insurgency. All these obligations need to be treated on priority otherwise it would lead to further alienation of the population and facilitate TTP and other anti-state elements to exploit their grievances. An overly narrow focus on counter-terrorism will be insufficient to win the hearts and minds of people. It has to be accompanied with rebuilding the infrastructure and introduction of major economic and political reforms.
More crucial, Pakistan is fully supporting efforts to stabilize Afghanistan in consort with the international community. The formation of the quadrilateral group consisting of US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan has already had its four meetings and hopefully efforts by Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table will materialize. As of now, it is not clear which factions of Taliban will be represented apart from Mullah Mansour’s group that has shown its inclination. The Hizb-i-Islami also seems willing. Even if the representatives of Afghan government and Taliban were to meet, expectations should be low. The gap between Taliban’s demands and the government’s position is too wide. Afghan government will like to negotiate while remaining within the bounds of the constitution, whereas, Taliban will want a fundamental revision of the constitution. Recent major attacks by the Taliban in Kunduz, Helmand and even in the heart of Kabul have emboldened the group to seek major concessions from the government, which it is not in a position to accept. A stalemate is a more likely outcome. As Taliban have remained very active in winter the summer offensive could be even harsher and bloody. Whether the Afghan forces withstand the invigorated insurgency depends on Afghan military’s professional competence, civilian leadership’s ability to mobilize the masses and international support.
The spillover effect on Pakistan could be serious if the civil war in Afghanistan intensifies. Pakistan has to continue pressurizing the Taliban to find a negotiated settlement but in case of a failure should take measures to reduce the fallout. The government and military leadership’s policy of developing a strong relationship with Afghanistan will largely depend on how the peace process evolves. This is despite the fact that Pakistan is making serious efforts in removing the misperception that it wants to promote the Taliban or any militant group. Its focus is to facilitate the peace process in its own and regional interest. If efforts to find a peaceful settlement fail and Afghanistan’s civil war intensifies during security transition it will have a spillover effect on Pakistan and the region. A continuous insurgency in Afghanistan will reverberate in FATA and given the historical and current linkages between TTP, Taliban and other militant groups, it will pose a serious challenge to manage its security. Already we are noticing that the Taliban are in control of large parts of Afghanistan’s southern and eastern provinces and have extended their reach to the northern city of Kunduz and other parts of Afghanistan.
While Pakistan has its own self-interest to pursue policies to stabilize Afghanistan, it is also concerned about the growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. And hopes Afghanistan to pursue an equitable foreign policy and reciprocate Pakistan’s sincere attempts at working with it for its own good and that of the region.
Pakistan has largely been able to contain the insurgency but will continue to face sporadic attacks in the foreseeable future. The situation in Afghanistan is likely to remain volatile and uncertain until a political solution is agreed between the government and Taliban. Some of these negative trends in the region can be neutralized by greater cooperation among neighbours, improved governance and sustained international support.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues. [email protected]
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