The Bara Operation is a lie, plain and simple
The News, July 01, 2008
By Mohammad Malick
PESHAWAR: The so-called grand operation to "protect" Peshawar from the marauding troops of the Lashkar-e-Islami of militant leader Haji Mangal Bagh and others entered its third day today. The government has already claimed victory to the extent of ridding the Khyber Agency of the so -called criminal extremists who ostensibly have been sent scurrying to the farther valley of Tirah.
Security czar Rehman Malik and Prime Minister Gilani are patting themselves on the back for having restored the government's writ. TV audiences are being treated to a steady feed of images of paramilitary convoys whizzing around and security forces blowing up one 'militant hideout' after another.
The government is also crowing about the fact that its measures are so popular with the local tribal population and its power so awesome for the obviously chickened-out militants that not a single bullet has been fired at the security forces. A lot is being made out of the banning of Lashkar-e-Islami (led by Mangal Bagh), Ansar-Ul-Islam (led by Qazi Mehboobul Haq who is Mangal's sworn enemy) and Haji Namdar-led Tanzeem Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahi Anil Munqar. And if Islamabad's version is to be believed then it is only a matter of time before the rest of the tribal region starts toeing their line as well.
And now the truth: It's all hogwash. It's a drama being staged to placate a nervous public, please the cooperative militias by giving them sufficient advance warning, and confuse the Americans who of late have been displaying the audacity to ask for verifiable deliverables against all the money they have been pumping in for the last eight years. A desperate appeasement attempt for the visiting Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Boucher, if you may.
But we'll come to the causes later. First the happenings on the ground. The government can go blue in the face claiming otherwise but the fact is that the government's real writ does not extend beyond the last settled area police picket at the Peshawar-Bara sub-division border. And in some cases where it may appear to be present in any diluted form a little farther down the road, there too it is only a negotiated concession from the local militias and not the consequence of any so-called restored the government writ.
While enough evidence exists on the ground to back this impression it would not be irrelevant to narrate a pertinent incident which occurred only this afternoon while I along with A Geo TV crew were returning from visiting the site of the partially bombed out fortified Madrassah structure of Haji Namdar group in the area of Bur Qumber Khel which lies about 20kms from Peshawar. (By the way the credit is being given to a missile fired by a US drone and the claim also appears credible as it is the only real hit where seven militants actually got killed, this being the highest casualty in the entire operation). Anyway, in our attempt to take a shorter route back we took the Tirah-Jamrud road back but were stopped midway at a checkpoint manned by a small contingent of the Mehsud Scouts. While we were pleading to be allowed to go through, I managed to have a long chat with one of the officers (whom I shall not name for the obvious reasons) regarding the hollowness of government claims of having forced the militants out of the area as I informed him that I had just spent hours in an area which was teeming with armed members of the Haji Namdar group while dozens of twin-cab vehicles loaded with armed militants were calmly patrolling the entire area as if nothing extraordinary had happened there. And you know what? The officer actually let it slip that even if his own commandant had to go into the area "his security is provided by Namdar's men". So much for one banned outfit and the ongoing operation.
However, there seems to be a general consensus that the Namdar group is not viewed in the same negative vein as Mangal Bagh's and may have been banned only to give the impression of the administration playing even-handed and not singling out the much larger Lashkar-e-Islami of Mangal Bagh.
And if there are still any doubts on this front then let me share another incident which took place on our way in. We had barely entered Namdar territory when suddenly a Toyota twin-cab came after us at bullet speed, the headlights flashing in a signal for us to stop while a blue police light (incidentally mounted on all vehicles of Namdar and other groups operating in the area) for the added official touch I presume. The moment we stopped, six men jumped off the vehicle and surrounded us, their guns aimed at our heads. Their leader, hardly 19 or 20 years of age, demanded an explanation for our presence in "their territory". About 15 minutes and few reasons later we were allowed to move on after strong hand shakes, warm smiles, and the message to tell the world that they are only fighting against the Americans and for Afghan Muslims and not against Pakistan. As if we were going to argue with that logic. By the way, this incident took place barely three kilometers after entering the tribal area from Peshawar. Wasn't it close enough to qualify as falling in the jurisdiction of re-imposed state writ, one wonders?
Now to Mangal Bagh's people. While Mangal himelf had left for Tirah, where incidentally he is engaged in a bitter sectarian feud, his followers were not found lacking in numbers or visibility. The truth is that within minutes of the security forces moving out after blowing out the abandoned and vacated structures, the Lashkar-e-Islami militants could be seem calmly raising their black flags over the damaged structures and casually inspecting the damaged goods. The interesting part is that not a single militant of any group ever seems in a hurry to get away from the scene, or the area, and at least on three occasions I personally saw militant loaded vehicles drive by Levis and others with no reaction from the paramilitary forces. One amazing operation cleanup isn't it?