By Ayaz Wazir
Operation Rah-e-Nijat, or to use the so-called FATA experts’ pet phrase ‘the mother of all wars’, has entered its fourth week. All indications are that it will soon be over. So far more than 700 militants are reported to have been killed. There has been no mention whatsoever of loss of innocent lives or damage to property (termed ‘collateral damage’ in American terms to minimise the psychological impact).This is hard to believe, considering that aerial bombardment and artillery are being used. So far, no picture of any dead, important militant commander has been shown on TV. Neither are journalists allowed to enter the area and whatever the army spokesman tells us is to be believed without corroboration.
Since the operation has already been launched and cannot be reversed at this stage, let us pray that that it will achieve the desired result and no more operations will be required for the elimination of militants, although our experience for the last eight years tells us a different story. Has the writ of the government been established in Bajaur and other places in FATA where operations were conducted earlier? Will this one bring peace to Waziristan? Such questions come to our minds when we talk about operations in FATA.
The army’s job, as we all know, is to destroy the enemy. Once that is done, it is then the job of the civil government to step in to sort out the problem on a permanent basis. It is so unfortunate that our civilian government has not taken that step and keeps on blaming the past rulers for the policies that it is still following.
It was a different story altogether during Musharraf’s time. He was doing it for his own survival. The people were fed up and wanted change. They voted in favour of the ruling party, hoping that it will discard the policies of the dictator, and give guidance to the army and the public at large. It didn’t. It even ignored the unanimously adopted resolution by parliament endorsed by all the political parties, which could have laid the foundation of finding a permanent solution to the problem.
FATA has suffered all along and South Waziristan the most. It seems to be the most unfortunate spot on this earth. It has been deprived of political and economic development for centuries. The Afghans ignored it when it was a part of their country. The British continued to do the same, besides constructing roads and an airport to pursue their own interest. In fact, South Waziristan was neglected even after partition.
Thirty years of war in Afghanistan fought mostly from this area have further added to the miseries of the people. It destroyed the infrastructure and left deep scars on the body politic of tribal customs. The traditional tribal system, though intact, was badly bruised leaving little room for the tribes to resist militant onslaught.
Whatever little progress that was made by the tribesmen in trade, commerce and agriculture was destroyed in the eight-year-war against the militants. The general public has not taken up arms against the army but has suffered the most. Their close relatives got killed, their houses demolished and shops razed to the ground. The losses run into billions of dollars but nobody has been paid compensation so far. Imagine their frustration when they see victims of militancy in other cities of Pakistan, getting the attention of the media and government.
The president and prime minister issue immediate instructions for medical assistance and financial help to compensate for the losses. No doubt, they deserve our sympathy and support for rehabilitation, but why are the people from Waziristan not treated in a similar manner? Aren’t they Pakistanis as well? Should they continue to pay for the sins of others? Should they continue to be the victims of a situation brought upon them against their wishes? If not, then let us take the matter more seriously and put our heads together to ascertain what went wrong and what we should do next.
The civilian government does not appear to be in the mood to take over its responsibilities in tribal areas. It has left everything to the army, which is doing its job to the best of its abilities. However, on its own it cannot solve the problem ‘politically’. As Winston Churchill right said, “War is too serious a matter and cannot be left to the generals alone.” The civil government must give its guidance to them, in consultation with the people concerned.
We voted the present government into power mainly to undo the unpopular policies of the dictator and allow for refreshing solutions to the problems faced by the country. Unfortunately, the latter failed to do the same. It got embroiled in notorious matters, such as the NRO. What were the public aspirations and what has the government done? It has only added to their miseries by giving us load-shedding, sugar and flour crises, etc.
FATA, which does not fall under the jurisdiction of parliament, is the responsibility of the president. He is in charge of it. In fact, he was kind enough to take the trouble of flying to Peshawar for a meeting with the tribal elders, donating huge amounts for the economic development of the area. His government, he promised, would take urgent steps towards bringing the people of that area at par with the rest of the people of Pakistan. The tribesmen are hearing such promises for the last 62 years. This seems to be one such promise as nothing has happened so far.
The president is not only in charge of FATA but is also the supreme commander of the armed forces as well. Prudence demands that he visit battle-torn areas including South Waziristan, where our troops are sacrificing their lives, to boost the morale of soldiers and interact with tribesmen. His visit will leave a lasting impact on soldiers and locals alike. What has he done instead? He has shut himself up in the bunkered presidential palace in Islamabad, and has started ordering the purchase of expensive bullet-proof cars for ministers and other senior functionaries of his government. These officials should come out of the bunkered city of Islamabad if they are serious about fighting militancy. This nation can hardly afford the luxury that Zardari and his cronies are living in. The tribesmen in FATA and other Pashtuns in NWFP are getting killed by the hundreds on a daily basis. Waziristan and Peshawar are burning, while life in other cities goes on unaffected. What kind of a nation are we? We are not agitating, expressing our concern, pressuring the members of parliament to do what they are supposed to do, instead of wasting time and energies defending shady deals and bills such as the NRO. What are we up to?
We still have time to rise to the occasion if we want to live as a nation together. We must make decisions reflective of the national aspirations to get rid of this menace. We failed once and lost half the country. We cannot afford to fail again. Let us wake up and face the problem with wisdom and grit. Waziristan, after all, is a part of this country.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org