By Dr. Nazir Hussain
Oct 2, 2014
A military operation has been launched in North Waziristan after the so-called peace negotiations failed to yield the desired results. Operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ was launched in North Waziristan which had become a safe haven for local as also foreign militants and terrorists. The operation started in June 2014 and would culminate till the ejection of all terrorists form the area. However, the four-month operation has rendered around one million people homeless, turning their homes into ruins and their rehabilitation seems a gigantic task. The military forces have to leave the area as soon as normalcy is restored and hand over the area to civil administration. Therefore, this article endeavours to analyse the post-operation security challenges to North Waziristan in particular and FATA in general.
Geopolitics of FATA/NWA
The Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) comprises seven agencies; Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mahmand, Orakzai, South Waziristan and North Waziristan. Out of the seven agencies, six have borders with Afghanistan that are unprotected and porous. The total population of FATA is 4.8 million spread over an area of 27,000 sq. km. North Waziristan is inhabited by 840,000 people over an area of 4,700 sq. km. It is surrounded on three sides by other agencies and Afghan areas of Pakitika and Khost in the west. The entire area is under-developed and lacks basic socio-economic facilities.
The planning for the operation was done in 2010, and by 2012 it was ready for action. Due to different reasons, the operation could not be initiated. In late 2013, the government, with the backing of political forces, engaged the militants in negotiations, postponing the military option. The long-drawn-out peace talks could not produce the desired results as the militant asked for impractical demands such as declaring part of North Waziristan a safe haven, release of militants in Pakistani custody, halting of drone attacks, etc. The watershed event was the attack on Pakistan Air Force’s Mehran Base in Karachi and other deadly attacks in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Quetta. Subsequently, the talks were abandoned and the Pakistan Army launched ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azab.’
The operation started on June 15, 2014 with airstrikes on militant hideouts and the ground operation was launched on June 26, with around 30,000 troops. The operation started with credible intelligence and surveillance information about the militants/terrorists areas of operations. The operation had four phases; quarantine North Waziristan Agency (NWA), (while informing Afghanistan to do the same in the west bordering Khost province), moving out the civilian population, action against militants/terrorists, and rehabilitation of the people.
Importantly, NWA was the last bastion of militants/terrorists hideouts and it was termed the ‘Battle for the survival of Pakistan.’ Since 9/11, these militants/terrorists have killed over 60,000 civilians and more than 6,000 security personnel. The area housed the leadership of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Punjabi Taliban, Al-Qaeda, East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The operation was aimed at restoring the writ of the government, destroying the militants/terrorists hideouts, and preparing the environment for sustainable socio-economic development.
Since June 2014, several hundred militants/terrorists have been killed, their command and control has been completely incapacitated, scores of gun-manufacturing factories have been destroyed, hideout tunnels with landmines have been cleared. However, the top leadership has fled to Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army now controls 60 per cent of the area, including the hard-core militants/terrorists headquarters such as Mir Ali, Miranshah and Shawal. The government and the armed forces have resolved to continue the operation till the last militant/terrorist is killed and the Agency/FATA is cleared of these elements. As expected, the operation is going to last till the advent of winter when the military operation would become very difficult. Nonetheless, the security forces are likely to remain in the area for many more months after the culmination of the operation.
There would be a host of security challenges in the aftermath of the operation that are both internal and external.
Militarily, Pakistani security forces have been at war since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and particularly since the ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11. It has launched six different operations in the restive areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan in the last many years. The bulk of the armed forces are deployed on the eastern border facing the volatile Line of Control dividing the former State of Jammu and Kashmir, more than 80,000 forces are facing the western borders, and over 50,000 forces are deployed in internal security operations, including NWA. The armed forces are also involved in civil defence operations such as flood and disaster management. The normal practice is that one-third of the armed forces would be in combat position, another one-third in training and the remaining one-third in rest. But, the Pakistan armed forces are stretched out to 60-70 per cent in combat position.
Moreover, the operation was delayed for many months that gave the opportunity to the militants/terrorists leaders to cross over to Afghanistan. Since then, cross-border activities from Afghanistan have intensified. Also, the training of Afghan National Army (ANA) by the Indian security forces and Indian politico-military involvement in Afghanistan beyond its legitimate interests constitute a big security challenge. This is not confined to NWA but to the entire FATA area bordering Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan is facing a three-pronged military challenge from India, Afghanistan and inside the country.
A major internal challenge would emerge after the security forces hand over the area to the civil administration after the operation is over. The capacity of the civil organisation is in question. Already, the large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has exposed their weaknesses; the rehabilitation of over one million people would be a gigantic task to accomplish, besides the lack of political will and bureaucratic handling may lead to frustration of people. The governance, being run through the provincial governor and central government, add to the politico-administrative woes.
A population that is already under-developed and lacks basic needs is an easy prey to radical and extremists tendencies. Only 50 per cent of the population has access to clean drinking water, one health facility per 50 sq. km., one doctor for over 7,000 people, and over 50 per cent population with food insecurity, pose the most daunting challenge to civil and military administration. Lack of education, unemployment and little business opportunities constitute another challenge. The multi-billion 2007-15 Sustainable Development Programme (SDP) for infrastructural development could not produce the desired results.
Action plan to face challenges
FATA needs political reforms, socioeconomic development and emancipation of its people. Political Reforms suggested by the FATA Committee be implemented immediately, massive infrastructure of roads, hospitals, educational institutions, small business opportunities, government jobs and educational scholarships be provided to the FATA people. A medical and engineering college and FATA University should not be a distant dream, but immediate action. It is believed that FATA has immense mineral resources estimated at $280 billion, in the shape of copper, marble, precious stones, coal and hydro-carbon resources. If explored and exploited, that can usher in a socioeconomic revolution in FATA. The only requirement is political will on the part of all stakeholders in and outside FATA.
NWA was the last sanctuary of trans-national militant/terrorist organisations. By launching Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan has made it clear that it is serious about routing out terrorism form its soil. The backlash feared from this operation in the major cities of Pakistan has not become true, thanks to the pro-active intelligence and surveillance by the security forces. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a battle for the survival of Pakistan; it has provided a golden opportunity to start a political and socioeconomic ‘Marshal Plan’ to empower, enlighten and improve the entire FATA region at the earliest.