Operation Zarbi-Azab-Holistic Policy Needed
At last, much awaited ground and air Operation Zarbi-Azab has been launched in North Wazirastan against local and foreign terrorists. The whole nation barring two religious parties is behind the armed forces which is a good omen and will raise the morale of armed forces. The big question, however is, will the successful conclusion of the operation eliminate terrorism and extremism in the country? The answer unfortunately is in the negative because Operation Zarbi-Azab is just the military component of the many dimensions of terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. Other equally important internal and external dimensions seem to be missing since no comprehensive, all encompassing, holistic “Counter Terrorism and Extremism Policy” is being followed at national level. Terrorism is just a symptom and not a disease. The disease is the mind set of extremism as a whole in the society nurtured for the past 67 years by the selfish, corrupt and incompetent rulers.
Ongoing military operation will achieve its objectives of clearing North Wazirastan Agency within the stipulated time frame. It is just a military dimension of the larger conflict. In fact Pakistan is the victim of a grand design of de-nuclearisation, De-Islamisation and Balkanisation as the ultimate aim. Anyway, the degree of success of this operation will mainly depend upon the correct identification of terrorist hide outs/bases, their effective encirclement, isolation from the civilian population, effectively ceiling of borders by Afghan/ISAF Forces, cooperation of tribal people with the security/intelligence agencies and the management of IDPs by the government.
Terrorists have spread in the whole country especially in big cities and Southern Punjab and are likely to retaliate at an opportune moment. All provincial governments including Gilgit-Baltistan must protect the important installations, identify/track down the sleeper cells/handlers and launch a ruthless crack down operation against them to regain the initiative and space. The best strategy to minimize the chances of retaliation is to make them run for their safety, instead of being reactive after any terrorist incident. Village, Mohalla and Ward Vigilance Committees should be formed to monitor the undesirable/outsider elements in the respective areas. Local bodies could have helped in a big way in this regard. Additionally, SHO of the area must be made responsible and failure in this regard must be punishable at least by dismissal from service. Suspensions and transfers are no punishments.
A sizeable population in the country is sympathetic to the ideology and narrative of the terrorists which have not been effectively countered by a state narrative. The government must counter this with a credible counter narrative with the help of media, opinion makers, religious and political figures. However, to be credible, state policies must be reflective of this narrative.
Mere rhetoric and lip service has proved counterproductive. Education, Madrassa and Masjid reforms are essential in this regard in the long run.
TPP and other terrorist organizations are funded and supported by the foreign powers and hostile intelligence agencies. Selection of targets by the terrorists should be an eye opener for everyone in the country. They are also financed and logistically supported from within the country. Unless foreign and domestic support and funding is curtailed and stopped, the terrorism will continue even after the clearance of North Wazirastan Agecy by the armed forces.
Military will clear the area and establish the government’s writ there, after which area has to be handed over to the political administration gradually. All the required arrangements in this regard must be made by the government before hand to prepare for smooth transition. It should not be a repeat of Swat- Malakand operation where no such arrangements were made in advance.
Developmental and rehabilitation projects must be initiated in the cleared area as soon as possible with the consultation of the local people. These should not be forced upon them from Islamabad and Peshawar. Priorities may be given to the compensation of the losses suffered y the local populace, education, health, agriculture, communication infrastructure and sustainable job providing projects without political and commission making considerations.
Counter Terrorism and law and order is basically the responsibility of the police and civilian intelligence agencies with the help of armed forces where ever required and not other way round. Army is neither trained nor meant for fighting in the cities and villages. Unfortunately all the civilian institutions especially police and civil intelligence agencies have been destroyed due to political interference, nepotism and corruption. Government must make a comprehensive plan to reinvigorate all these institutions to shoulder their responsibilities effectively. Armed forces must be relieved at the earliest for their primary job. This is all the more important in view of the emerging security situation in the region.
Media’s role in the ongoing operation is critical. It should avoid sensational reporting and coverage and help in mobilizing popular support for the operation. Despite utmost care by the armed forces, collateral damage may occur. Media should not blow it out of proportion in the race of rating. Government should formulate a media policy or code of conduct in consultation with the media representatives in this regard.
Over the years state has lost space, credibility and authority to influence the public opinion by abounding the social responsibility especially education, health, job creation, civic services and population control. This critical space has been filled by the non – state religious and welfare organizations and international NGOs with their respective agendas and vested interests. This space has to be regained by the state through well thought out policy changes and allocation of resources to social sectors.
Pakistan Army with the help of PAF and other law enforcement agencies will clear North Waziastan sooner or later as has been done in other agencies of FATA and Swat- Malakand. However, remaining internal and external causes and factors responsible for terrorism and extremism in the country are required to be addressed within a comprehensive policy framework at national level. With the success of Operation Zarbi- Azab we may see a sudden decrease in the terrorist activities in the country. This could be a temporary phase and we must not become complacent. With the successful completion of Operation Zarbi-Azab we will only win the battle and not the war. The war will be won on ideological, economic and social fronts.
(The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com)