By S. M. Hali
Renowned English playwright William Shakespeare, in his epic Julius Caesar, has Mark Antony proclaim after Caesar’s murder, “Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war;” Here the expression implies the military order “Havoc” to be a signal given to the English military forces in the Middle Ages to direct the soldiery (in Shakespeare’s parlance ‘the dogs of war’) to pillage and chaos.
In Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a motley group of terror leaders, operating under an umbrella organization of various militant groups based in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Pak-Afghan border. They have varying agendas but converge upon wreaking havoc in Pakistan and creating mayhem and chaos. In December 2007 about 13 groups united under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud to form the TTP. Its current leader is Mullah Fazlullah, who has taken refuge in Afghanistan. TTP’s stated objectives are resistance against the Pakistani state and enforcement of their interpretation of Sharia. The TTP is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar and has defied his order of not targeting Pakistan; instead it is following the course charted by Al-Qaeda.
The devastation inflicted by TTP in Pakistan has taken a toll of 51,326 precious lives to date, out of which 810 have been killed in 2014; barely seven weeks into the new year. More ominously, after the Government of Pakistan’s announcement of peace talks on January 29, 2014 with the TTP, 370 fatalities have occurred till February 23, 2014. One would have expected the TTP to have ceased terror attacks once the peace dialogue was in progress but they threw caution to the wind and continued their course of destruction.
Perhaps the TTP were under a misconception that they were victorious and the government was on its knees and begging for peace talks, ready to capitulate; thus Mullah Fazlullah’s aspirations of becoming the first “Caliph of the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan”. Elections 2013 in Pakistan saw every political party vowing to end the terror attacks through peace talks with the TTP. Terror attacks continued during the electioneering process, claiming a heavy toll of lives. Even after the installation of the new government in Islamabad, the attacks did not cease. Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government had a two pronged approach. On the one hand, it was formulating an all encompassing National Security Policy, which would also take up the challenge of combating and eradicating the scourge of terrorism. While it was strategizing for tackling terror by use of military operations, it was also examining the option of entering into dialogue with the terror leaders through interlocutors. An All Parties’ Conference empowered the government to engage the miscreants into peace talks but the process got scuttled at the take off stage, because the TTP Commander Hakimullah Mehsud got eliminated in a drone attack.
Through fits and starts, the process was re-cobbled but the incessant terror attacks forced the Pakistani Parliament to seriously examine the option of use of force against the TTP. In a surprise move, the Prime Minister decided to give peace a final chance by announcing a government committee to parley with the TTP. The response of the TTP was duplicitous. It appointed its own team of interlocutors, who were not from the TTP but from mainstream Pakistani political parties or religious seminaries. The TTP dialogue committee was sans any powers to enter into a deal or pact to end hostilities.
The TTP, simultaneously, accelerated its terror attacks. The most ghoulish and macabre being beheading the 23 members of Frontier Constabulary, who are Army personnel, on secondment to regional law enforcing paramilitary agencies. These ill fated 23 FC personnel were abducted in 2010 and apparently they were being held in Afghanistan. Not only were they viciously murdered but a reprehensible video was deliberately released to Pakistani media, depicting the macabre visuals of their beheading, callous treatment of their corpses and the Taliban playing soccer with their severed heads. This was a grave error on the part of the TTP. Even the fractionally minor group of TTP sympathizers in the population, were shocked by the revolting behaviour of the terror mongers and turned them into backing the government for punitive action against the brutality.
The Government of Pakistan, after deliberation, launched a series of targeted operations against the TTP. In the first wave of precision attacks, the foreign elements in the TTP was targeted, while in the follow up raids, their training camps and weapons caches were destroyed. The aerial rain of death and destruction is aimed at eliminating the TTP leadership and through shock and awe, forcing them to come to the dialogue table after laying down their arms.
Unfortunately, the Afghan Government, which was formally requested to target the safe havens and training camps of the TTP located in Afghanistan, has refused to take action. This has created a serious crisis for the government in Pakistan. It gives credence to the information being gleaned from intelligence sources that foreign powers are using Afghan territory to launch a proxy war into Pakistan with a view to destabilize it and the Afghan Government is complicit in the odious plan.
Visiting CIA Director, John Brennan who called upon his ISI counterpart, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam was urged to support Pakistan’s request to Afghanistan in tasking its security forces in destroying militant sanctuaries located in Afghanistan, from where the TTP launch their attacks against Pakistan. Brennan’s visit was kept below the radar but reportedly, the CIA boss was sent to the region by US President Obama to get the latest security assessment of the war theatre and also to seek cooperation from his counterpart spy agency to increase the sharing of secret information and tracing the whereabouts of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was kidnapped by Afghan Taliban in June 2009.
Unless the TTP ceases its cry of havoc unconditionally and is ready to negotiate the terms of peace under Pakistan’s constitution, there should not be any let up in the aerial targeting.