North Waziristan operation is lurking somewhere in the denial of Pakistani generals. Thinking machinery of Pakistan Army seems to be suffering from the paralysis of analysis. Though army sources are denying any commitment regarding Operation against Haqqani group in North Waziristan, however, circumstances suggest otherwise. The US Joint Chief of Staff was recently quoted in press as saying that the Pak Army has agreed to launch an operation in North Waziristan.
Pakistani media has also reported that the humanitarian organizations and NGOs have been informed to be prepared as around four lac people may have to face the miseries of displacement in the wake of an operation. In this context it would be relevant to analyze imminent operation in North Waziristan from all necessary dimensions.
Tactically speaking, this will be area specific operation in which the number of combatants and their capacity may engage the forces for a while. Whether this Pakistan-led operation will target anti-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or anti-America Haqqani network is a question that will perhaps uncover the contours of Pakistani policy towards Taliban. In North Waziristan, there are militant groups who have been avoiding entanglements with Pak army. This time too, they are expected to accompany Internally Displaced People to settled areas.
Taliban strength is believed to be around 20000 men. They have communication devices almost parallel to that of Pak army i.e. satellite phones, walky-talkies with relay stations and other interception devices. Similarly, in weaponry, they have IEDs, suicide jackets, short range missiles, AK-47 automatic riffles, SAS assault rifles, and rocket propelled grenades and anti-personnel mines.
Keeping in view the strength and capacity of Taliban, they can hardly stand long against Pakistan army; they would mainly rely on guerrilla warfare tactics to bleed out Pakistani forces. Definitely Pakistani forces want to complete this operation within as short span of time as is possible.
No doubt Pak Army has significant leverage over Taliban in multiple dimensions. First, the target is non-conventional and a guerrilla force. Though, it may engage the army but cannot prolong the fight when area is vacated of civilian population. In other words, cleansing of Taliban from North Waziristan is relatively an easy job for a trained army. Second, the Pak army is aware of the terrain of the region as Taliban are. Third, US surveillance technology is an additional advantage committed by American officials.
Despite significant leverage of Pak army, the task is challenging and the outcome is beyond exact speculation. There are certain factors that have been tickling the top minds of our forces.
First, what if the majority of Taliban moves with IDPs and avoid confrontation. Who will identify them? And what if they resettle to their places after the army winds up operation? Second, they have established networks and set connections with their fellows in the settled areas. Displacement from North Waziristan may only force them to move to settled areas and nothing more than that. If things go this way, Taliban may split into further groups and all aimed at destabilizing the government and security forces through terrorist activities.
Third, displacement of local population of North Waziristan will add to their resentment against government and will also burden the neighboring areas. Mass migration in the wake of operation in the agency will destabilize the neighboring settled districts of KPK, Bannu and other areas particularly. Although, they are unhappy with Taliban, Pakistani government, after fate, is only legitimate resort to which they can complain The local people though already living in pitiable social conditions do not like to vacate their areas. Many of them cannot afford the cost of displacement that is ultimately to be borne by all IDPs despite vocal government announcements of aid and help. Fourth, topography of North Waziristan demands heavy budget, time and army personnel for an operation. Pakistan has deployment of around one lac military personnel in North Waziristan. If too much army has control over less than 1 % area of North Waziristan, one must be worried how much more surge will be needed on ground to carry out an operation.
Fifth, to fight a non-conventional force is different from fighting a conventional force. Their basic tactic is guerilla warfare. This may prolong the operation. Similarly, there is no test to identify when a normal person becomes a Taliban and vice versa.
Finally, how the success in North Waziristan is to be defined? One line answer may the elimination of Taliban network in North Waziristan. This does not seem to be. Earlier, the army had operation in Swat, South Waziristan, Orakzai, Bajour and Khyber. How far the objectives were accomplished? With the passage of time, the Taliban phenomenon has rather increased. Taliban resurgence in Upper Dir is a case in point. In a matter of few days allegedly Afghan Taliban have killed more than 80 security personnel in Shaltalo area of Upper Dir.
At the moment, Pakistan needs to focus what the militants want. As the militants are divided into around fifty splinter groups, many of whom do not want to fight with Pak army. Many of tribal elders in North Waziristan had peace agreements and negotiations with the government. They can be persuaded to help the security forces in ousting miscreants. Similarly, there should be no sympathy for any group. Any militant group fighting anywhere must be dealt on parity with others. Without reservation, Pakistani policy regarding Taliban gathers enormous suspicion due to alleged support to the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the problem needs to be addressed in wider context. The North Waziristan Taliban do not exist in vacuum. Certainly, the militant movements in the area are connected with Afghanistan. Until larger peace initiatives are taken in Afghanistan, the Taliban virus will remain elusive to location specific surgeries. Ongoing drive for political reconciliation in Afghanistan is good omen for lasting peace in the region.
No doubt, the part of solution to the problems of Pakistani tribal areas is overwhelmingly dependant on the situation in Afghanistan. Hence, all stake holders should channelize their efforts in uniform direction.
The extremist tendencies in Pakistan have a history. The menace of Taliban developed in three decades. It will die away gradually if addressed in a right way. Military operations bear great humanitarian costs. Similarly, army operation against North Waziristan militants is like killing mosquitoes with ballistic missiles.