WEB DESK: Having gained control of the high-altitude Valley of Shawal, the last redoubt of militants in North Waziristan bordering Afghanistan, the large-scale kinetic military operation in Fata has come to its logical conclusion. The valley’s all major heights and mountain passes are no longer infested with the militants, both local and foreign, following some of the toughest clashes with them.
The forces could do only this much and this they have done quite remarkably. The ball is now in the civilians’ court. It is up to them to consolidate gains of the nearly two years’ old Operation Zarb-e-Azb, in the north-west tribal region of the country. Given their inadequacy in retaining hold of the areas in the Malakand Division following a military operation, there is some legitimate anxiety on the part of the GHQ. The issue must have come up for a discussion at the Corps Commanders Conference on Monday, following which, the Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, had to underscore the ‘need to look ahead and consolidate gains for a long term’.
If retrieving Shawal was a huge challenge for the military, reviving administrative control of the cleared areas is certainly a formidable challenge for its civilian counterpart. Even if there were strong will and determination on the latter’s part to revive and restore administrative control of now terror-free towns and villages, there is not much of law in its hands.
Somehow, the civilian side was never in lockstep with the military during the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Commonsense demanded that as the military operation progressed, the federal government should have legislated much-needed legal reforms and thus rid the tribal people of the century-old colonial legal yoke. There is a vacuum of updated law without which the area administrators cannot adequately perform their duty of dealing with present-day issues and problems. Ideally, the federal government should have declared the Fata as Pakistan’s fifth province, bestowing its residents with constitutional rights equal to people in other provinces.
The fear is that should civilian side not be able to register its effective presence in the cleared areas, the militants would be tempted to return. To check and counter this, the Corps Commanders have demanded an effective border control management – more so as the Afghan government has admitted its inability to do its part – and continued proactive dominance of cleared areas to maintain writ of state in Fata.
However, the conclusion of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the tribal areas doesn’t mean the armed forces would leave its civilian counterpart to contend with ubiquitous presence of extremist and terrorist outfits throughout the country. There can be no denial of the fact that not only is good intelligence a potent tool to help pre-empt incidence of terrorism, it is also of great help in eliminating the entire infrastructure of terrorism.
There is a qualitative difference in the type of terrorism bred in tribal areas from the one indulged in by the city-bred extremists. If gun is the weapon of choice to fight terrorism in the country’s tribal region it is efficient eyes, ears and noses that act as perfect tools to deal with city-bred terrorism. The forces will now concentrate on intelligence-based operations (IBOs) across the country.
Timely return and settlement of the displaced persons is one more element of the post-Zarb-e-Azb strategy which came under discussion at the Corps Commanders’ meeting. Is it then that free of ground operations in Fata and fight against terrorism consigned to intelligence operatives, the armed forces would like to more closely focus on the ’emerging strategic environment’, which even undefined in so many words means uncertainty pervading country’s borders both east and west.
Source: Business Recorder