Thursday, May 14, 2009

Curbing Terrorism: Difficult Fight Ahead by Khalid Khokhar

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, storming of Marriott Hotel, attacking a visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and assaulting a Police Academy Manawan have galvanized the PPP-led Government to embark upon a comprehensive and sustained campaign to flush the militants in Buner, Dir and Swat regions.

The people of Pakistan supports the ongoing military operation codenamed as “Rah-e-Haq Four” against the militants rebels in the Malakand division of country’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The “Malakand Peace Aggrement-2009” that was brokered on February 16, 2009, aimed to curtail militants' freedom of actions and wean locals away from hardcore militant Talibans. The peace accord was followed by Nizam-i-Adl Regulation-2009 (NAR) hoping that it was a regional remedy which should not be exported to other parts of the country. Soon after its implementation, the Swat Peace Accord suffered a violation committed by Talibans. The militants started intimidating people and forcibly recruiting young people to take them back to Swat for military training. The military was exercising restraint to honour the peace agreement in Swat, but the deal has only emboldened an export into other districts in the name of spreading Islamic law. The utmost restraint from Pakistan Army was misinterpreted as “weakness”. The militants moved south to occupy Buner, just few hundred kilometers from Islamabad. Taliban militants want to enforce own laws in the region, and have been attacking government buildings, courts and security forces. The militancy was further accentuated by the edict of TNSM leader Sufi Mohammad (who helped negotiate the peace deal in Swat) declaring that Pakistani institutions like Parliament and the High Courts are un-Islamic - a statement that reveals the militants’ broader goal of undermining Pakistan’s democratic institutions. It is quite alarming that insurgency-ravaged environment prevalent in Swat, Buner and Dir has created serious national security concerns for Pakistan, both internal and external which can be enumerated as under: - (a) Spill over of extremism and militancy in the settled areas. Incident of militancy in SWAT, Buner and Dir are a case in point. (b) Burgeoning trend of extremism which unleashed a spate of suicide attacks all over Pakistan. (c) Subversion of general masses through negative propaganda by militants against the Government, thriving on the common perception that Pakistan is fighting America's war. (d) Presence of foreign fighters has serious impact on the overall security situation in the country. (e) Demands from international community to "Do More" affect morale of our troops, who have given huge sacrifices. The continuation of unlawful activities even after the peace deal and enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl in Malakand and Swat areas, forced Pakistan Army to resume their operations on April 26 in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat. An all-out offensive “Rah-e-Haq-Four”, has been launched in Swat to flush out anti-state elements and terrorists from the restive valley. The militants entered Buner district in the first week of April and secured a firm control of the district after a clash in Gokand. The sources believed majority of the militants had come from Swat while they had also recruited locals in their militia. Pakistan Army is doing a commendable service and progress in controlling the Buner region. In Maidan area of Lower Dir district, the Army has been using gunship helicopters to pound the suspected positions of the militants. The operation would lead towards Sultanwas and Pir Baba. Militants’ strongholds in Mingora, Peochar, Kabal, Khawazakhel and Shangla had been attacked successfully. In Swat, the ground forces have moved towards the area which is considered to be the “rear base” of militant hideouts of Fazlullah, Muslim Khan, Shah Dawran, Mehmood Khan and Ibne Amin. The Government is likely to deploy two more division as part of contingency measure to eliminate miscreants in the troubled areas. The militants were on the run. Nevertheless, the district headquarters of Mingora is still under the control of Taliban. The militants are patrolling the streets and holding positions in roof-tops. The ground intelligence estimates indicate the presence of about 4000 militants in Swat, and around 700-800 in Buner. 762 militants have been killed, 34 personnel of security forces martyred and 77 others injured in the operation of “search & destroy” till writing of these lines on 14 May, 2009. Major General. Athar Abbas, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said security forces were exercising utmost restraint during the military operation in Buner as the militants were using civilians as human shields. They are attacking only confirmed hideouts and strongholds in the valley on the mountains to, avoid collateral damage. The effects of the operation are evident: (a) Cross border move has been fairly controlled. (b) Militants' freedom of movement has been considerably curtailed. (c) Ability to organize training camps is effectively dented. (d) Common people are gradually weaning away from the militants. (e) Absorbed all the "No Go Areas" in FATA and traditional writ has been restored to a large extent. (f) Majority of militants' sanctuaries have been busted. (g) Balance of power is gradually shifting to Government/common tribesmen. (h) Development works are progressing at a reasonable pace. The Governmental strategy was to re-establish Government's writ followed by package of incentives, quick dispensation of compensation, rehabilitation process & reform and economic development. The military operation has led to a flood of internally displace people (IDP) seeking shelter outside Malakand division. According to reliable sources, millions of people are fleeing through difficult mountain tracks to the neighbouring Swabi and Mardan districts, where the Government has set up 20 refugee camps. The exodus from Dir, Swat, Buner and Malakand constitutes the largest IDPs since 1947. With the fresh migration, the total is likely to exceed 1.5 millions. Approximately 9,90,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have so far got themselves registered with the government. The Pakistan Cabinet endorsed the ongoing military operation against the Taliban and other militants in the Malakand division of the country's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Some of the features are: (a) creation of P M Special Fund for the victims of terrorism with the initial contribution of Rs200 million from MNAs own pockets, besides a month’s salary. (b) Formation of committees to carry out day-to day monitoring of IDPs. (c) Providing full cover to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) through Benazir Income Support Program. (d) Holding of “peace march” against terrorists and militants across the country. As the use of force within own country without popular support of the people, could seriously erode credibility of military operations in the eyes of own people. Therefore, Pakistan Army has to be very careful to avoid collateral damage and take extra care of the local sensitivities. The Federal Cabinet has fully endorsed military action in Swat observing that there was no option left after failure of the peace accord. However, the cabinet expressed the resolve that there should be minimum collateral damage and should be over as soon as possible. Gen Kayani’s remark that “The present security situation requires that all elements of national power should work in close harmony to fight the menace of terrorism and extremism”, serves as a welcome sign that the army needs active cooperation of all other elements of the society to meet this enormous challenge. The people have realized that even after accepting their demand of enforcement of Nizam-e-Adl, the miscreants continued to indulge in unlawful activities including destroying public property, abduction, dacoities etc. The entire nation shared their grief and sympathies with their brethren of Swat Buner and Dir in the hour of trial and tribulation and will not leave them alone in lurch. Within this purview, cardinal aspects are: (a) Military means must be politically driven backed by popular support. (b) Convergence of military and political components. (c) Use of minimum essential force to achieve well defined objectives. (d) Conduct effect based operations to establish writ of the Government and shape the environment for effective articulation of political and socio-economic means. (e) Reduce own and exploit militants' vulnerabilities. The fight against Taliban and extremists is a long-term, episodic, multi-front, and multi-dimensional conflict. Pakistan is doing everything it can within the constraints. The Pakistan military may have a difficult fight ahead. The Taliban have already been digging trenches and fortified positions. There are indications that the fighting in Dir, Buner and Swat will be heavier with high civilian cost. In a recently conducted survey by US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) on March 2009, 69 per cent acknowledged that Taliban and al Qaeda operating in Pakistan is a serious threat, while 45 per cent support Pakistan Army fighting the extremists in NWFP/FATA. The armed forces are determined to take the operation to its logical conclusion. However, it will be a long drawn counterinsurgency operation because Pakistan Army is confronting an “irregular war”. Even winning the conflicts in Swat and tribal regions will not end the “long war” against terrorism. Terrorism cannot be eradicated by taking pre-emptive military actions alone as it has several dimensions. The amicable and permanent resolution of the issue of extremism can only be achieved when it is addressed in totality and not in parts. It is of course very important to confront the immediate threat of terrorism but it is equally important to address the root causes of terrorism. People loose hope, when societies breakdown and countries fragment. These then become recruiting areas for terrorists. The world can be made a safer place by investing in people, strengthening economic opportunity, responding to global challenges, alleviating poverty, eradicating hunger, fighting disease and spreading literacy to the poor and marginalized people in the tribal belt.

No comments:

Post a Comment