Long awaited army operation Zarb e Azb, named after the sword of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), has been launched to flush the terrorists from North Waziristan. The Prime Minister has directed to continue the operation till the elimination of last terrorist and establishment of complete peace in the tribal region. Prime Minister had shown lot of patience and exhausted all peaceful means to bring the terrorists to terms. He has said that all the resources should be utilized for eliminating terrorism from the country. There is a general political support for this military operation. PPP, PTI, MQM, ANP etcfavoured the operation whereas Jamaat-e-Islami and JamiatUlema Islam (F) abstained from approving the resolution in favour of the military operation. Opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah welcomed the military operation and assured his party’s full support to the armed forces. After Karachi operation the whole nation was upset and almost all segments of society have supported the operation in unison. So far, so good.
The fact is that even right and righteous steps can have adverse side effects. We should anticipate the likely rueful repercussions this war against terrorists can entail. First, it is going to be an expensive adventure. Army operation requires lot of resources. America is pulling out of Afghanistan therefore it will not be willing to foot the bill. It is clear that we will have to bear the expenses, which will be a strain on our economy therefore in order to avoid ‘bleeding wound’ syndrome we should try to wrap it up as soon as possible. Ideally it should not go beyond three to six months. The other severe side effect can be collateral damage. Aerial bombing and artillery fire can cause lot of undesired killings of non-combatants. British army had to be pulled back after thirteen Irish Republican Army supporters and bystanders were killed by the army at Londonderry in 1972. This incident turned public sentiment in favour of IRA; getting it more recognition and more recruits. The day is still remembered as ‘Bloody Sunday’. The moral is that extra caution must be exercised to use destructive force within the country.Rather prolonged military operation can result in more collateral damage, giving the antagonists an opportunity to pip down the government.One option can be to seek help of US drones for targeted attacks to avoid huge collateral damage. So there can be debate on the modus operandi of operation.
Expectation to eliminate each and every terrorist in military operation is not a realistic target. They are not huddling together at the same place waiting to be bombed. They are scattered and many have taken refuge in Afghanistan and within Pakistan. The element of surprise has been lost enabling them to take precautionary measures to avoid annihilation at the hands of the army. Earlier on in 2009 the militant leaders like Fazalullah etc had managed to flee away safely and are fighting with us five years down the lane. Earlier army operations like Rah-e- Rast, Rah-e- Nijat and a number of others managed to clear the areas but could not contain and control terrorism in the country.Lets learn lessons from the previous operations. It is prudent to strike at the top and second tier of militant leaders to cripple them through sustained intelligence backed targeted operations.
Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France (1906-1909) had some muses relevant to this situation. One is quite significant. He had said war is too important a matter to be left to generals or soldiers. This saying warrants continuousoversight of the operation through civil apparatus. So far only ISPR has access to the operation area. Even civil intelligence agencies do not have proper ingress there. Any intentional or unintentional misreporting or misinforming can keep the government in dark resulting in catastrophic fallout. It is suggested to establish Operation Monitoring Cell at the
Prime Minister’s Office (OMCPMO) to keep the PM abreast of developments on daily basis. Regular update should be ensured. The spokesperson of OMCPMO should give daily briefing to keep the media abreast of real situation. Of course military plans and
strategies ought to be kept under cover. The National Coordination Committee constituted by the Prime Minister to monitor the operation can oversee OMCPMO. Strangely Director General Intelligence Bureau is not member of this Committee. Emergency counter insurgency laws must be introduced so that due process and
oversight (parliamentary scrutiny, courts) are not undermined.
The parameters of success of the operation must be devised. For example there should be a comprehensive list of known militants so that we could know who has been eliminated, captured or fled away. It will not only help us know the rate of success or failure of the operation but also keep all other security agencies aware of the actual situation.
The residents of N.Waziristan are leaving their abodes to take shelter in safe areas like Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and as far as Karachi. About one million residents of the area of operation have already abandoned their hearths and homes. Internally Displaced
Persons (IDP) will be major sufferers of this operation. But they will have to bear it as there is no other option left to find a permanent solution for their peaceful existence. The Federal and Provincial governments should ensure provision of shelter, food, health and education facilities to IDPs. Moreover they should be properly registered too.
Some families have crossed over into Afghanistan at the ill advice and threat of Gul Bahadar who is so-called good Taliban. But he has abandoned the peace accord at a very critical juncture. The seed of failure is sown by exception of good Taliban. Nevertheless the army is determined to treat all of them alike. Gul Bahadar and Maulvi
Nazir groups will not be spared.
Are We Ready To Face the Blow Back:
Blow back is on the cards. Army cannot patrol and protect the cities for a long time. Their long time indulgence in protection of cities is not advisable. Ironically the Police and civil intelligence agencies are not prepared to handle the blow back. Their mood and preparation are problematic. Interrogations of TTP militants had revealed that
there are numerous sleeper cells, sympathizers and facilitators of TTP lurking in the cities. They may not be in a position to carry out spectacular attacks but they can definitely create serious problems and facilitate terrorists planning to mount a spectacular attack. High profile kidnappings like the sons of former Prime Minister and
the Governor Punjab can put the government on the back foot. The militants recently kidnapped one official of a sensitive agency who happens to be the relative of the Chief Justice of Pakistan on day one of the operation reportedly. TTP may like to follow the
strategies of Boko Haram and try to kidnap students especially female students to bargain with the government. They might strike at Multi National Companies and five star hotels, which will not only undermine the economic activity in the country but will also make headlines in international media. There are thousands of vulnerable areas, which must be fully protected immediately before the retaliation starts.
Last but not the least strangely enough there is still no Counterterrorism (CT) Strategy available to the civil agencies to move in a coordinated manner. How can we think of brining about coordination in all agencies without a formally articulated and officially announced CT strategy that assigns responsibilities to the agencies and departments to play their respective roles effectively to protect the cities from the terrorists? It is high time to formulate one and implement it before the blowback takes us by storm.