On ‘operation’ table, can Pakistan let itself down?

By: Rabia Alavi

The Italian historian, Niccolò Machiavelli spoke wise words when he said, “The Romans never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don’t just go away, they are only postponed to someone else’s advantage.”

Three weeks ago, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a much-awaited military offensive against the TTP, Al-Qaeda and their allies began in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, after all attempts to engage them in talks failed.

Despite a cease-fire, the militants continued with “business as usual,” launching brazen, ruthless attacks on both military and civilian targets, even as the talks were in progress. But it was an audacious, deadly (and embarrassing) attack by Tehreek-e-Taleban (TTP) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan on Karachi’s international airport last month that unified public opinion, and tipped the government to back the military insistence for a major offensive.

Success against the TTP and its allies will depend not just on whether the army is able to drive out the militants from North Waziristan, but also on how it will prevent future re-incursions, and ensure that fleeing militants do not regroup or find safe havens elsewhere in the country.

And then, there is more, for lets not be simplistic enough to believe that this operation will be enough to end this cycle of violence and rife — emanating from and striking in — Pakistan time and again.

What is required is a sound, anti-terrorism strategy that relies first and foremost on a national consensus among society. The people of Pakistan must acknowledge these terrorists as being a threat to Pakistan’s respect and standing in the international world, and more importantly, its own well being and very existence.

The government must spend more on the training of intelligence and security forces, as well as the local police. Improved coordination and cooperation between those who secure Pakistan’s borders and those posted on local checkpoints will mean they are better equipped to deal with those who disrupt the peace of the country — no matter where.

All key entry and exit points must be secured and important infrastructure protected. Attacks such as the one on Karachi’s international airport cannot be allowed. But perhaps the most important step — and this requires a strong will on our part, to educate ourselves first with the teachings of Islam — is to work toward dismantling the educational infrastructure that spews venom and hatred, preparing countless of young people to fight a battle that has little to do with Islam.

Religious seminaries form a vital part of Pakistan’s education system, but they cannot be allowed to be preparatory battleground for students who will eventually go out to fight somebody else’s war.

A revised curriculum in these seminaries that teaches them modern subjects alongside the true teachings of Islam can work wonders in providing a counter-narrative for Pakistani youth that is caught up in this standard education of militancy.

It would also do Pakistan good to rethink its foreign policy, which condones religious extremism as a suitable diplomatic tool.

Despite the fact that the Haqqani network or sectarian and anti-Indian militant groups disrupt regional peace, their presence is justified (or at least tolerated) because they are supposedly the “good” Taleban. This discriminatory stance harms the country’s already dithering international standing, confuses the masses and does little to curb the threat of terrorism from both within Pakistan and beyond its borders.

Meanwhile, with the military operation under way, Pakistan’s most daunting task is to deal with the humanitarian fallout of the Zarb-e-Azb operation.

The Pashtuns of North Waziristan were hardly given time to evacuate, but once the army planes flew in, they had no choice but to leave behind their homeland and move into makeshift camps that the government has scampered to set up.

More than 700,000 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) are already registered in these camps, and the onus is on the government to ensure adequate resources for them.

A community-based approach might help in these relief efforts. In fact, to ensure that terrorists do not infiltrate the camps, it may be a good idea to involve those living in the makeshift camps in the relief efforts.

Mercifully, the people of Pakistan are also rising to the occasion, with philanthropists and volunteers setting up small offices to arrange basic amenities for those living in camps.

But at the same time as good sense prevails, there are also irresponsible statements emanating from the provinces, seeking to brand these IDPs as terrorists and Taleban sympathizers.

As distressing stories pour in from those who have escaped the wrath of the Taleban — and especially of children who have witnessed beheadings, shootings, drone attacks and bombings, those reaching the camps need support rather than condescension.

Also, although donor fatigue has not set in yet, with this sort of apathy and disdain for the IDPs already rearing its ugly head, they might soon be turned into villains.

Because it is so difficult to draw a timeline for this operation, the IDPs might be accused of eating into the limited resources and disrupting law and order in the metropolitan cities if they decide to live off camp.

The government must work toward appeasing the worries of those who cast these victims as villains. Strict vigilance on check posts and the process of registration of all IDPs, already in place, will hopefully ensure that no harmful elements are allowed easy passage to other parts of the country.

If Pakistan allows its IDPs to become refugees in their own country, it will have no one but itself to blame for further sectarian, provincial and ideological divisions and intra-state violence in the future.

 
 
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