After resisting Washington’s demands for at least seven to eight years, the Pakistani army finally launched the much awaited military operation in North Waziristan, the sensitive tribal area bordering Afghanistan and believed to have been the abode of those Taliban members engaged in attacks on U.S. and NATO forces inside Afghanistan and engaged in a host of terrorist activities inside Pakistan.
The military operation is code named Zarb-e-Azb [Sharp strike hit]. Azb also refers to the name of the sword of Prophet Mohammad - the last Prophet of Islam – a sword which he used in the Battle of Badr and the Battle of Uhud.
A military spokesman announced on Sunday that a coordinated military offensive - involving air-force, artillery, tanks and thousands of ground troops - had already started, and it would be continued until the area is cleared of all militants, especially the foreigners taking shelter in the area.
Several hours before the announcement, media reports said air force jets pounded bombs on militant strongholds, killing over one hundred suspected terrorists, including the head of the Uzbek group of the Taliban that attacked Karachi airport a week earlier, leaving 28 people dead including the ten terrorists.
Several hours after the army announced the offensives, the defense minister also issued a statement declaring the army was engaged in a critical operation in North Waziristan. He said thousands of troops would participate in this action, but remained short of giving exact number. He said the operation would continue till the complete cleanup of the area from all militants.
A major demand of Washington
Military operations in North Waziristan has been a major demand of Washington since the rule of former military dictator General [retired] Pervez Musharraf. His resistance was considered one of the reasons his “services” for the war on terror were dispensed with.
North Waziristan is the last of the seven tribal agencies to escape the military operations so far. Despite that, the army began the U.S.-demanded military offensives in the tribal region from neighboring South Waziristan in February 2004.
Because of the U.S.-led NATO invasion on Afghanistan, North Waziristan is believed to have become a shelter for veteran Afghan freedom fighters that led the war against Soviet army in the 1980s. These groups were later referred to as the “Good Taliban” since they were considered as friends of Pakistan and had always resisted the attempts of local Taliban groups to fight back against Pakistan Army in the wake of military operations in 2004. The elderly leaders were also believed to enjoy immense respect among the local Taliban.
Separate the ‘Bad Taliban’ from the ‘Good Taliban’
Presumably, the Pakistan army’s doctrine to separate the “Bad Taliban” from the “Good Taliban” through peace talks stemmed from the same philosophy. Besides, a fierce backlash to any military offensive in the area was always feared because of the level of respect and command enjoyed by the elderly leaders taking shelter there.
With a crumbling economy and seriously divided social strata, can Pakistan control the backlash the latest military operation could entail?Mansoor Jafar
Panic ran rife across the country with the onset of the latest military offensives, as the government spokesmen issued caution that militants could strike back at public places, as a result sensitive installations have been placed under the army’s security including the airports, railway stations and other major installations.
Media and social leaders have been raising questions as to why any decisive operation to wipe out the terrorists was not taken earlier, since far more deadly acts of terrorism than the Karachi airport attack had been taking place all through the decade while the Pakistani army remained engaged in military operations.
The majority of the political leadership, except the right wing pro-Ikhwan Jamaat-e-Islami, had supported the final military operation. But questions have been pouring in as to why crucial time was wasted in holding peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami declared the operation as a “prelude to a great human tragedy,” while Imran Khan’ who had been staunch supporter of talks with Taliban’ now ventured to showcase the operation against them as the “need of the hour.” Some religious quarters have alleged that the latest military operation was aimed at facilitating a “safe withdrawal” of the U.S. army after a 13 year failed invasion of Afghanistan.
A much delayed declaration of this offensive by the defense minister, many hours after the army spokesman, has also created doubts that it was planned and executed by the army leadership alone and political leadership had only followed through to avoid embarrassment.
Later, on the next day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to take the parliament into a belated confidence pitch over the launch of latest military offensive. He emphasized that his policy was aimed at cleaning up the country from all sorts of militants and militancy. He promised that the operation would continue until the wiping out of the last militant on Pakistani territory.
The prime minister also complained that the government had exercised much restraint against the terror attacks and also engaged in a several month long process of peace negotiations, but lamented that militants used it to intensify their attacks on security forces and public. He also tried to quell the impression of differences between army and political leaderships over the military offensive; by saying the decision to launch the operation was taken with consultations between the army and political leaderships.
Pakistan’s military leadership
Pakistan’s military leadership, especially the former military dictator, retired General Musharraf, and his successor as Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, are accused of bringing the U.S. war to Pakistan after they launched military operations in the tribal region.
This policy of crushing those elements posing resistance to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, coupled with Islamabad’s complete logistic and intelligence support of the U.S. army, caused serious divisions among Pakistan’s social fabric, besides entailing huge financial losses that had crossed the 100 billion dollar mark.
Political governments succeeding Musharraf showed no courage to reverse this policy and tried in vain to make some patch work for damage control, but that was too late as the surveys indicated that opponents of military support to the U.S. war kept increasing.
With a crumbling economy and seriously divided social strata, can Pakistan control the backlash the latest military operation could entail?
This will be unfolded in the coming days, but for the time being the Pakistani nation is holding its breath for nothing but to pray for the success of “Zarb-e-Azb” as the state-run Pakistan TV along with private electronic media is abuzz with national songs which are customary in an all-out war like situation in the sub-continent.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar