EDITORIAL: Army’s message to the Mehsud
The Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has sent an “open letter” to the various clans of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. This letter throws light on the strategy the army has adopted for the operation there. It says: “The operation is not meant to target the valiant and patriotic Mehsud tribes, but aimed at ridding them of the elements who had destroyed peace in the region”. Apart from the “elements”, the message has also designated “foreigners” as its enemy.
The codename Rah-e-Nijat for the operation is appropriately selected. In Malakand, warlord Fazlullah had to be brought back to the straight path — hence Rah-e-Rast — but in South Waziristan it is the foreigners who have to be gotten rid of — Nijat. Therefore the operation has begun with the targeting of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) by artillery and air fire. The local population, knowing that the army is serious in intent, has already started to flee the area.
The first element of impact on any operation is civilian displacement. So this must be discussed first. Let it be said frankly that no military operation is possible without getting the local non-hostile population out of the way. The population of South Waziristan had been forewarned; the only difference was that, like Malakand, the people had accepted the fact that the terrorists had to be tackled with a military assault. Reports tell us that the non-combatant population in South Waziristan is thoroughly disenchanted with the TTP.
The army chief’s reference to “foreigners” is a carefully deployed appeal to the code of Pashtun honour which allows safe haven to the suppliant but bans all hostile acts from him. If a tribe allows the suppliants to go out and kill fellow-Pashtuns, it is a serious violation of Pashtunwali. Not only is the Pashtun-based government of the NWFP opposed to the presence of these foreigners; even the non-Mehsud tribes of South Waziristan have taken up arms in the past to oust them from their territory.
Commentators say the army needs four to six weeks in which to clean up the TTP strongholds of Sarwakai, Makin, Kaniguram, Shakai, Jandola, Raghzai, Kotki and Sararogha and be prepared to hold on to them with the help of the local administration as winter approaches and hostilities come to a halt. With strategic posts in its hands, the army can then have the advantage of defending rather than attacking. Therefore the infrastructure of control, lost over the years as the TTP gathered strength, must be put in place so that the process of reconstruction can begin in the area as soon as possible.
The media must, however, take some lessons to heart. The battle for South Waziristan will not be covered as intimately and sensationally as the plight of the refugees from South Waziristan. The army will not be able to “disclose” its strategy by allowing the battlefield to be covered. But a most damaging blow to the operation can come from any “realistic” coverage of the refugees scrounging for shelter and food in the already bursting-at-the-seams cities like Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP. How can the media help in not stabbing the army operation in the back?
The refugees must be covered to pressure the government into taking steps to organise the refugee camps effectively. There is no doubt that the NWFP government has more experience now than any other province in looking after displaced persons (IDPs). But TV coverage can be extremely misplaced if not handled carefully. The objective must be clear in the minds of the TV producers and anchors. The last time the IDP camps in the Frontier were covered, the camera at times tended to highlight the futility of the military action in Malakand. This must not be repeated.
There is national consensus behind this operation, except for the Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Jama’at-e Islami, both unrepresented in parliament. Even the JUI, once intent on “talking” to the TTP, is on board. The Pakistan Army is in South Waziristan with national support, no matter how tough the job pans out to be. As Clausewitz said, no war worth the name ever runs according to plan. As for international support, the entire world is applauding the operation and wants it to succeed. For Pakistan, it is the second crucial step after Malakand to re-establish the dwindling writ of the state. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Karachi and the Taliban
The Karachi Capital City Police Officer, Waseem Ahmed, held a press conference Monday to announce that the police had arrested the local TTP chief Akhtar Zaman and his accomplices, Samiullah alias Shamim, Fazal Kareem and Munawar Khan. A weapons cache was recovered with which the gang was planning attacks in Karachi a kind of “answer” to the operation in South Waziristan. Their hideout was in Sohrab Goth, the well-known Pashtun stronghold that was once a “no-go” area.
One won’t be surprised if tomorrow another TTP man emerges to claim the leadership of the Taliban in Karachi. It is an important port of call for global terrorism. Al Qaeda activists come and go from here and a large Pashtun population, mostly from South Waziristan, offers ethnic shelter; and hundreds of madrassas act as transit hideouts for them. In May this year a number of them talked to the media saying they came to Karachi for “rest and recreation” and to get their wounds treated. One of them had said: “Groups of 20 to 25 fight for a few months, then take leave of up to one month in cities including Karachi”.
How safe is Karachi? Not too much. An Iranian diplomat kidnapped by the TTP in the NWFP was finally brought to Karachi because it was safer than any other city. The police went up to the place where he was being kept but could not face the firepower of the terrorists and had to give up. A Karachi surgeon Dr Waheed treated the wounds of an Al Qaeda killer. The doctor, once acquitted, had fled to South Waziristan and was killed there by a drone. The administration needs to disembarrass itself from the complications of ethnic-based target-killing and focus more on the fallout of a TTP stampede in the northwest of the country. Karachi can be worse than South Punjab. *