BANNU: The fate of almost half-a-million displaced tribesmen, 70 percent of them being women and children, depends on the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
The offensive which Pakistan’s military claims to be against all militant groups, without discrimination of good and bad, will decide whether they will be able to go back to their motherland in weeks, months or remain in Bannu, a town adjacent to North Waziristan, for a long time. The military announced on Monday it has launched a ground offensive in this hilly tribal belt, which was once considered to be the epicentre of global terrorism. But for the displaced tribes, the peace in their motherland is as far as they are from their ancestral homes.
The North Waziristan operation has its national, regional and international significance. The links of most terrorist attacks at urban centres in the country were traced to North Waziristan. Several militant groups have used the region as a launch-pad for attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. The international community will watch closely this operation with its binoculars because for them the terrorist outfits may have linkages with the Islamic fighters in Syria and the ISIS in Iraq. Washington faced embarrassment after the withdrawal of forces from Iraq, and it cannot afford the same script to be rewritten on Afghan soil, especially when it has announced withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.
For Pakistan’s military, once they carry out their operation, the biggest immediate challenges that would come its way would be the establishment of writ and rehabilitation of the displaced tribal families. They would not want the fleeing terrorists or militants taking refuge across the border, like Fazlullah, the chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) taking shelter in Afghanistan. It is also important to manage the porous Afghan border, especially with the strip along the Afghan provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost.
It is also key for NATO forces and Afghan National Army to set up checkposts across the border and not let these terrorists cross it. At the same time, it would be equally important for Pakistan to bring tribesmen into mainstream and not to let the local militants control the region. More than 2,000 Maliks or tribal elders have so far been killed by Taliban, which had created a huge political vacuum.
This needs to be filled through political and local codes of tribal systems, which guaranteed peace in tribal areas for centuries. Civilian leadership – federal and provincial governments – have not owned this war the way it deserved and it seems the ruling political elite will face hardships for this lapse in weeks and months to come. The refusal of Punjab to allow displaced persons into the province further sparked a sense of alienation not only among the tribal people but also among Pashtun community at large.
This sentiment should not be allowed to deepen by not accepting displaced persons in Punjab. If they failed it will further ignite the sense of alienation among tribesmen and Pashtun nationalists. It would be pre-mature to assume that the operation would bring an abrupt end to terrorism in Pakistan, but observers believe that it would limit its intensity. Since long, Washington has been pressing Islamabad to launch an operation in North Waziristan, but ex-army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was hesitant. While briefing former legislators during an in-camera meeting, he had said that the chance of success of operation in North Waziristan was not more than 40 percent. But the approach of his successor General Raheel Sharif seems different. He had always strongly reacted to militant attacks by swiftly responding with precise air strikes.
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