Before the military operation began in Swat, the militant hijack of the valley had become a potent symbol of what went wrong withPakistan’s response to the growing terrorist challenge emanating from the tribal areas borderingAfghanistan. Yet, the military operation, so desperately awaited to counter the neo-Taliban advance from Swat, led to a costly and often fragile victory.
The heart of the crisis is that this has become a multiple-front war, and the main theatre is running off a second, more diffused arena for potentially disastrous outcomes. Unity is compromised by the question of refugee sanctuaries, as it opens up parochial and ethnic faultlines no nation needs when it faces challenges this complex. At another more critical level, the continuing IDP trauma counters the mood that traditionally feeds morale for a war. Each time a woman dies for lack of a doctor, or a non-combatant loses life or limb in the cross-fire of curfew, the narrative of public resolve takes a blow. This must be acknowledged and iterated for the huge challenge that it is. There should be no equivocation that the price of reinstalling thePakistanflag continues to be perilously high, but the suffering of millions should not elicit political posturing. Instead, the humanitarian tragedy should mobilize the international community and civil society to recognize the limits of government capacity to handle alone the size of the task ahead. Calls for transparency as well as more humane military operational tactics are productive and indeed necessary; they spur executive accountability and action. But calls that question the validity of state action at this stage only endanger the federation’s unity, not just the government.
InPakistan’s current crisis, clearly, necessity has been the mother of intervention. But if the country is to survive what is left of it after 1971, invention is also a necessity. We can no longer afford the backlash of unintended consequences. The level of change required will be painful, but fairly predictable. Firstly, the IDP catastrophe is just the beginning of a long counterinsurgency transition which will not be resolved by a return to the status quo ante. This must be acknowledged by all stakeholders in power in NWFP. If this is not explicitly understood, then there will be a massive security and social crisis in the affected areas in less than six months. Second, there are calls for IDPs’ return to some areas like Buner, but basic questions remain unanswered. There needs to be a clear recognition that we can’t just be laissez faire about meeting a challenge that will require focused state-management of refugee-return in a local law-enforcement and infrastructure vacuum.
Goals will have to be prioritized as government machinery will not be able to process tasks amid multiple transitions. The first responsibility of any government, no matter how diminished its abilities, is to provide safety to its citizens. Let there be no compromise on that again. Schools, offices, shops and state services will need manpower to secure their mobility and daily protection from future Taliban coercion. Right now the areas that the military has worked on may be clear of militants, but that is not how they will remain. The Taliban have a history of resilience, are trained to disband, melt-away and re-group. They must be put out of business. The army will have to maintain some presence there for vigilant action.
It is imperative that fear should not be allowed to tip local sentiment toward the Taliban. And neither should elite attrition and lack of executive will to re-build state institutions. The provincial government of NWFP will need international assistance but without the aid contractors that take back sixty percent of what they put in through self-appointed consultancies. The federal government too will have to run urgent security reform commissions that reinvent and coordinate the law-enforcement apparatus for Malakand. Without real-time police enhancements, FC reinforcements and security sector reform, the army will end up bogged in holding areas it needs to move out from. For the foreseeable future, the military will have to patrol routes and potential choke points for the areas it has cleared, but it has serious work to do elsewhere to block and interdict critical massing of renegade Taliban leadership from Swat.
The military’s success in netting the Swat Taliban leadership, including the TNSM chief, Sufi Mohammad, marks a major move forward for the state’s offensive against the terror network. However, the Bajaur Taliban leadership has still not been located after a military operation that lost hundreds of military lives, dislocated all civilians, and made a bullet-scarred moonscape out of Bajaur. What often compromises the capture of Taliban commanders is the terrain. But ultimately it is the non-patrolled border withAfghanistanthat operates as the largest terrorist escape route in the world. If theUScannot pressure its way in the trilateral commission to increase secure patrols on this border, which can work inAfghanistan’s favour as well, then we have a problem of sanctuaries that cannot ever be dissolved. IfPakistan’s identifiable Taliban commanders cannot be located and permanently evade capture, then we risk a real long-term slide into anarchy and warlordism in many areas ofPakistan. In response to being hit in the territory they had captured, the TTP and others have already announced and executed bomb blasts and suicide attacks in urban nerve centres. This means that a serious FATA reform plan has to be put into place, if reclaimed territory is not to be lost again. The kidnapping ofRazmak CadetCollegestudents by the TTP in collaboration withNorth Waziristanmilitants, should have finally driven home this message to our security elites. They may not attack government installations due to the NW Peace Agreement, but they are certainly building a Taliban emirate in the NWA, just like their erstwhile colleague Baitullah Mehsud is doing inSouth Waziristan. It will be a massive challenge, as the army has incessantly waged battles here since 2003, but if peace deals don’t hold, and experience tells us they do not, then territory has to be regained, and even slowly incorporated as mainstreamPakistanfor the first time through a mixture of reform and state force. Non-state actors that holdPakistanhostage will need to be tracked down in their strongholds as part of a long-term FATA strategy or else the military operations everywhere will be questioned, andPakistanwill be left with no kinetic security tool to fight terrorism or hold sovereign territory.
All the IDPs of Swat speak with a mixture of anger and awe about the ability of the militants to broadcast dogma and threats with impunity. This mobility needs to be disabled. In Swat, the Fazlullah radio frequency was not just used to spew propaganda against the military and state, it was used as a basic communication device for field commanders to recruit criminals, coordinate attacks and make surgical get-aways. These renegade FM transmissions need to be jammed if we are to interrupt this anti-state narrative. We were often told this cannot be done because of their mobility. If anyone thinks these frequencies cannot be jammed, then they need to check again with PEMRA and the Frequency Board. The two had already begun jamming Fazlullah, under my instructions as information minister and with the concurrence of the NWFP chief minister, by mounting jammers on mobile units when the peace deal between the ANP and Sufi Mohammed was signed.
Thirdly, all local agreements to restore peace will hinge on working with the local community, but this time committees or jirgas should include non-Maliks, women leaders and the marginalized. The narrative from behind or outside the purdah is mostly rooted in pragmatism and the value of peace. At the same time, there must be recognition that a larger social justice deficit lies at the root of many quests for rough and ready mongrelisations of Islamist systems. PATA justice and revenue systems can be brought into conformity with the Pakistan Penal Code if they are seen as delivering, especially if justice is dispensed within a fixed timeframe and pendency is regulated, and the jurisdiction ofPakistan’s superior courts be extended to PATA. If the social pyramid leaves the poor increasingly dispossessed and the area remains without constitutional protections extended elsewhere, we will see community buy-in for future Taliban take-overs. Reconstruction of infrastructure, the accountability of rehabilitation aid flows, the creation of income opportunities and public trust will go hand-in-hand.
Post-operation Malakand will have to be a different place than when the Taliban left it. The death of hope must never be allowed to cast its shadow, and that will only be prevented if the state pools all its resources to energise reform. The success rate of this enterprise will make or break the vital consensus required on a national scale to sustain the public resolve needed for a long-term political campaign against terrorism. There is no point flushing Malakand of terrorists ifPunjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the rest of NWFP are forced to tolerate them.
The writer is former federal information minister and a PPP MNA.