Future of Military Operations in FATA?

Editorial: Military operations and political parties
Daily Times, October 9, 2007

North Waziristan too has broken away from the “deal” made with it last year and gone on the warpath. A military operation that began after militants employed by Al Qaeda ambushed an army convoy in Mir Ali, 24 kilometres east of agency headquarters Miranshah, on the Miranshah-Bannu road, has ended with 65 militants 20 troops killed. Heavy artillery and air power was used and inevitably there was collateral damage when a house was hit, killing five innocent civilians. Al Qaeda also uses North Waziristan to fight its war in Afghanistan, and the dead bodies of a number of the “Taliban” were received and buried there the same day.

It is a tough war to fight because of the way it is being interpreted in Pakistan. All kinds of politicians tend to begin with the familiar “given” that the people of Waziristan are “loyal” Pakistanis and have rendered great service to the country in the past. This is said without distinguishing between the people in the Tribal Areas and the militants, who are paid to kill, and the suicide-bombers, who are indoctrinated through religion to kill innocent people, including women and children. The war is tough also because of the way disgruntled retired military officers often describe it as a conflict in which the national army is required “to fight its own people”.

It is moot whether the war in the Tribal Areas is tough because of the physical conditions or because of the statements issued as an interpretation of what is actually happening. One can say that some troops have been reluctant to fight because, among other persuasions, they have been listening to these statements. To make things worse, the religious parties, which have influence in the region, and PMLN, continue to charge that the war is actually ordained by the Americans and that the army command and the government in Islamabad are mere slaves of Washington, killing their own people to please the enemy of Islam, President Bush.

One would have hoped that the ruling PMLQ would keenly support the troops’ engagement in the Tribal Areas. But this is not as articulate as General Musharraf would like it to be. The support is carefully toned down with an ear cocked to the general election in January 2008 on the presumption that the masses are with those who defy America. The only coalition entity that openly supports the operation against the “Islamic” terrorists is the MQM. Because of its hold on its voters, the common man in the big cities of Sindh appears to be supporting the operation and condemning the terrorism emanating from there. That is why sometimes TV channels with pre-formed views against the operation are surprised to encounter this opinion during surveys.

From the opposition, the only party that supports the operation in the Tribal Areas is the PPP. Actually, one can say that it is the top leader of the party, Ms Benazir Bhutto, who really articulates this opinion, and less the party rank and file who say they are embarrassed by this “unwise” tactic. One has to make a distinction between the tightly knit structure of the MQM and the loose hierarchy of the PPP where mid-ranking leaders may actually defect in protest. Yet, the truth is that Ms Bhutto is genuinely under threat from the terrorists because of her “liberal” outlook, a characteristic that the party may not have internalised or may have forgotten because of eleven long years of being out of power.

The PPP-hating, dyed-in-the-wool Muslim Leaguers may not care for it, but President Pervez Musharraf’s war against terrorism in the Tribal Areas has now become almost impossible to prosecute efficiently, especially after the Supreme Court’s leaning in favour of the religious lobby by restoring the old ownership of Lal Masjid, a terrorist haven, in Islamabad. The army needs political support and has less and less of it as the elections draw near. Its need for this political support will increase after the elections, and the only parties willing to offer it will be the MQM and the PPP. Ms Bhutto knows that the killers will target her; and the MQM knows that it is in the cross-hairs because it has successfully counterbalanced the jihadi “madrassa” elements of Karachi, the Al Qaeda hinterland for two decades now. *

Also See: Pakistan Clashes Leave 175 Dead; AFP


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