The many shades of anti-terror fight

Pakistan’s second-phase of anti-terror operations in North Waziristan is part of what many believe to be a fundamental pattern of playing the good versus bad Taliban game

July 07, 2014 12:53 am | Updated August 31, 2016 09:59 am IST

Pakistan army launched ground operation in North Waziristan tribal region, beginning a new phase in its major offensive against Taliban militants. File photo

Pakistan army launched ground operation in North Waziristan tribal region, beginning a new phase in its major offensive against Taliban militants. File photo

The Pakistan Army announced launching of the second phase of its operation in >North Waziristan on June 30 which means putting boots on ground. This development is meant as proof of the military’s intent to fight the >menace of terrorism and Talibanisation in the country, especially in North Waziristan. Some among the fledgling, urban, upper middle class liberals have heaved a sigh of relief at this development, as this group had always supported tough military action against the Taliban. But the operation has still not managed to dispel the fears of those who believe the operation is more of a hogwash, mainly meant to attract approximately $300-million — this was made conditional by the American Congress on the Army launching an attack in North Waziristan. Some suspect that this is a temporary move to avenge the deaths of soldiers in the area.

For years the Army has showed reluctance to launch an operation in North Waziristan, a territory known as a favourite rest and recreation spot for the notorious >Haqqani network which the Americans in particular find problematic. The Army’s main concern all along was to save the Haqqani network for a rainy day after post-U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army’s former chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had said Pakistan did not want to control Afghan territory but would like to see a friendly regime in Kabul to minimise threats to the country’s security. Since the Haqqani network was viewed as that essential security, GHQ, Rawalpindi even struggled to get the group accepted as part of the Afghan endgame plan. However, this proposition did not seem acceptable to many stakeholders.

Reluctance to launch operation But saving the network was probably one of the reasons that Gen. Kayani was reluctant to launch an operation. On June 30, the former DG, Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR) , the official PR agency of the military, Maj.Gen. (retd.) Athar Abbas claimed in a television interview to the BBC that the former Army chief was unable to implement a decision taken in 2010 to launch an operation in North Waziristan in 2011. He said it was the General’s own weakness. Notwithstanding the fact that Maj. Gen. Abbas was reputed to be part of the pro-Musharraf lobby in the GHQ and has his own axe to grind with Gen. Kayani who did not promote the General to three-star, the claim certainly tends to posit the new Army chief and his team as wanting to make a fresh start. In fact, the Army’s current DG ISPR, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, told the media that the military would fight all kinds of terrorists including the Haqqani network.

But this is not an impression one gets from local journalists from North Waziristan. They complain that while the local populace was not warned about a possible operation and given time to relocate, those that the military wanted to save had moved out. The reference is to Mullah Gulbahadur and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Many militants are pushed across the border into Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army believes that it is now the responsibility of Kabul to clean up the area. More doubts have arisen about the operation after a visit to a major campsite in Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the internally-displaced people (IDP) from North Waziristan. According to journalist Taha Siddiqui, incoming IDPs, whose number has ballooned to about 5,00,000, are welcomed by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jaish-eMuhammad’s (JeM) Al-Rehmat Foundation, which seem to be the only welfare networks to have established camps in Bannu.

These militant outfits are present with their full ideological regalia aiming at preying on the physical, psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of the IDPs. Reportedly, JeM is using camps to raise human and other resources for Syria. Non-religious non-governmental organisations find it difficult to get approval to set up camp for the IDPs. The Army helps militant outfits set up their welfare infrastructure throughout the country, especially in natural disaster prone areas. This has strengthened Pakistan-based militant outfits which use such opportunities to enhance their support base and recruit people for various fronts. In any case, the Army seems to have kept its hands off what it considers as the “good Taliban.” The emphasis is on fighting “foreign terrorists,” mainly the Uzbeks, who conducted a major terrorist attack on Karachi airport in June this year. Furthermore, foreign terrorists are viewed as a new buzzword to get good ratings from the American government which naturally links it with al-Qaeda. However, North Waziristan is not the only place where Uzbeks are present. They can be found in South Punjab and Karachi where no police or military operation has taken place.

Kashmir factor But Brigadier (retd.) Asad Muneer, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer currently working as a military-approved national security commentator, argues otherwise. He believes that the operation indicates a fundamental shift in the military’s approach towards militancy. The military is determined to clean up its backyard. The operation, hence, is one for the long haul and would be conducted in phases. Once Waziristan is settled, the Army will attend to Pakistan-based militant groups who will be targeted at a later stage of the military offensive. Places like Bahawalpur in South Punjab, which serves as the stronghold and headquarters of JeM, will be cleaned up. Such claims are doubtful considering that such groups continue to draw support from the Army due to the common interest in Kashmir. According to one source in the government, the LeT and JeM have become more active on the Kashmir front. This was a strategy adopted by the LeT during the 1990s to endear itself to the military. However, the LeT is deployed on other fronts as well such as in Waziristan where it is engaged in fighting unfriendly Taliban groups. JeM, on the other hand, is deployed in Afghanistan.

Nor is any action being taken against various Taliban groups that reportedly continue to travel to Afghanistan through other tribal agencies. Many believe that the fundamental pattern of playing the good versus bad Taliban game persists. In that case, segments of society are deeply worried that such a half-baked plan may turn Pakistan unstable in the future.

(Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. )

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