By S. M. Hali

The atmosphere is rife with rumours that a military operation against miscreants in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) is in the offing. Soothsayers are even predicting the date and time of commencement of the action to crush the alleged harbingers of terrorism, who have wreaked havoc in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and are supposed to have taken refuge in the treacherous terrain of the mountains in the NWA. The inhospitable topography of NWA may be tricky for habitation and survival, but it affords perfect hiding places for miscreants, who can hold off armies, lay ambush and take cover in caves when air action becomes imminent. US and allied forces learnt the hard way during the 2001-2 campaign against Afghanistan, when Osama bin Laden (OBL) took refuge in the Tora Bora mountains and incessant air bombing failed to take out the world’s enemy number one. OBL managed to evade the US and all those hunting him for another decade.

Military operations in NWA will not be a piece of cake. The British Army, in the days of the Raj, got bogged down in the rugged mountains and for decades, lawbreakers and absconders have been seeking asylum in the NWA region since the tribal customs also provide support to refuge seekers. Military operations conducted by the Pakistan Army in Swat, Buner and South Waziristan Agency (SWA) have been successful from the military sense but have been unmitigated disasters in the real fight against terrorism. The terror mongers beat a hasty retreat when the military operations became imminent and escaped the dragnet. Acting upon the age old maxim of “he who fights and runs away—lives to fight another day”, the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity established camp on the other side of Durand Line and have continued to mount raids in Pakistan. Resultantly, the Army, which was supposed to have handed over control to the civil administration and other law enforcement agencies, remains engaged in maintaining law and order as well as in the reconstruction of bridges, roads and schools, because the civilian administration is loath to do so. The Army’s extended engagement in Swat, Buner and SWA mean that additional troops cannot be spared for opening new fronts.

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The aspect of a decision on military operation in NWA should not be taken lightly. To start with, it cannot be the Army’s decision to commence such an operation. Pakistan Army is subservient to the political dispensation. A decision, which has far reaching consequences like the NWA military operation, has to be taken by the Parliament after considerable debate. After all, NWA is Pakistan’s sovereign territory and any military operation taken, will also affect the civilians and may result in collateral damage, cause displacement of the populace as well as create severe upheaval. If the civilians are warned prior to launching the assault, the miscreants will be forewarned and escape the dragnet. The decision to be taken has to be evolved after political and religious parties develop a consensus. The opinion regarding a decision of Military Operation in North Waziristan Agency is already divided. Many politico religious leaders are opposed to the armed assault for varying reasons. They have to be brought on board after providing them the opportunity to present their arguments against the military operation. It has been a practice in the past that the political dispensation has looked the other way while the Army was forced to take the decision to plan and execute such attacks. In the past, the highhanded attitude of the Army is also to be blamed. However, since 2008, with Army’s withdrawal to the barracks and acting in accordance with its assigned role in the Constitution, the situation has changed.

Cognizance must be taken of the fact that Pakistan bordering Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan have become a hub of anti-Pakistan activities from where Maulvi Fazl-ullah and his militant group is operating. Recent incident of attack on Malalah Yousafzai is also pointing towards the militants operating from Afghanistan. The atrocious and cold blooded attack on the innocent messenger of peace and ambassador of female education Malalah has shaken up the whole world.

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But the story does not end with mere deploring the cowardly assault on the torch bearer daughter of Swat. The renegade Taliban, who are still operating in Swat and other settled areas are tasked to eliminate soft targets like medical facilities and educational institutions, especially girls schools. The atrocious acts of Maulvi Fazlullah are funded by Indian prime intelligence agency RAW while using Afghan intelligence-National Directorate of Security (NDS) as their front organization for activities against Pakistan.

The TTP elements are provided funds and training facilities through joint operations of RAW-NDS operatives for conducting operations on the Pak-Afghan bordering areas of FATA and other adjoining settled areas. This brutal incident of assault on Malalah can be viewed in the larger perspective of international conspiracies against Pakistan and handiwork of RAW. The Kabul government, though fully aware of the presence and activities of Fazlullah's militia in Kunar always turns a blind eye ignoring Pakistan's concerns. It appears as part of the nefarious game to malign Pakistan to the outside world. The guarded statements of Afghan leaders on Malalah episode will not serve the purpose, unless a visible response for eliminating the TTP sanctuaries inside Afghanistan is carried out.

While the US administration, NATO and ISAF pressurize Pakistan to do more in the war on terror, it is time the Government of Pakistan demands from ISAF and NATO to handover Maulvi Fazlullah and his ilk to Pakistan. By providing safe haven to the treacherous and wily characters, who are engaged in perpetrating the crimes against humanity, Mr. Hamid Karzai has lost the moral high ground of finding fault with Pakistan. Operations in NWA or other theatres of war cannot be executed under the whims of others or the diktat of any other power. Pakistan has paid a huge price for its commitment in the war on terror. Any future action must be taken with care and careful consideration.