With the fall of the Shawal valley, the last bastion of terrorist outfits in tribal region bordering Afghanistan, the two-year-old Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the FATA has successfully concluded.
“Levels one and two of the operation have been completed in Shawal and clearance of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and other explosive items is in progress,” says an ISPR press statement issued following the visit of Army Chief General Raheel Sharif to a high altitude battlefield on Monday. The troops are now holding all important locations on the border, thus effectively blocking the easy come-and-go access to terrorists.
Given the ravine-ridden, densely forested terrain of the valley it happened to be the toughest part of the operation. But the area had to be taken under complete control without which the nexus between the terrorists operating in Pakistan and their sanctuaries in bordering areas of Afghanistan could not be broken.
During his day-long visit to the area the army chief acknowledged this exceptional achievement thanks to the courage and determination of men and their officers and profound sacrifices rendered by them. And, he also underscored the imperative of consolidating the gains made particularly by ensuring a hassle-free resettlement of the displaced people back in their areas.
If on their side of the border the Afghan authorities would be able to take a matching action against runaway terrorists it is anybody’s guess. But on the Pakistani side the army chief has called for undertaking a large-scale combing operation to seek out terrorists, their sleeper cells and facilitators outside the FATA and enhance the reach of the law-enforcement agencies.
Indeed the country’s military leadership is determined, both by the word of mouth and concrete action, to wipe out the menace of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
But the question whether or not its civilian counterpart in this field is equally determined has no easy answer. Consolidating the gains made by the forces, be it in Swat or Dir, has been never been the civilian authorities’ pride of performance.
In fact, the kind of administrative engineering needed to come up to the challenge of consolidating the gains made by the forces has not been up to the mark. For instance, even as fundamental issue as the merger of FATA with KP or as separate province remains undecided.
A kind of debate is of course there, but a decision on it is nowhere in sight. Admitted, it is not that easy to decide to go for one or the other, but the issue is not of the recent origin.
In its present form the governance of seven tribal agencies, called FATA, is a strange constitutional anomaly or something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected.
Its chief executive is the President of Pakistan who acts through its appointed governor. But the administrative wherewithal is provided by the government in Peshawar.
The FATA is represented in both the houses of national parliament, but the FATA legislators cannot initiate any legislation pertaining to their areas. Then, its judicial setup and law-enforcement are as antiquated and obsolete as the colonial times.
Perhaps, but for the recent spurt in debate about the merger or otherwise status for FATA the future of millions of Pakistani tribesmen would have remained as bleak as their past and present. We don’t know what the five-member commission set up to find out what the tribesmen think of their administrative future has achieved so far.
But we do think that in this case time is of essence – a timely decision on the status of FATA would greatly help consolidate the gains the armed forces have been in the area at so high a cost. Shawal has been retaken but what about its administration – that is the key question now.