Monday, June 16, 2014

Operation in North Waziristan: the end of the beginning?

1. If the aggressive PR operation launched in connection with the latest Waziristan operation is to be believed, the army has finally realized that the bad Taliban are simply intolerable and must be eliminated. They have been beheading soldiers and playing football with their heads for ages, so this realization is not exactly a stroke of genius. But as they say, better late than never.
A few hardcore skeptics continue to doubt that this operation signals any significant change in the age-old policy of playing whack-a-mole with (some) bad jihadis while keeping the good jihadi operation going, but most liberals on my time line seem to find it revolutionary. Who is right?
I am hedging my bets: I support the operation because some particularly nasty people may indeed be eliminated (or at least forced underground), but...I remain doubtful about a serious change of heart about the use of terrorists to kill Afghans or Indians. And barring such a change of heart, new layers of terrorism and violence will arise (and will have to be operated against in turn). I also dont think it will be as clean as is being shown on TV. Innocents will die and unfortunately, may die in rather large numbers.

2. There is no attempt to undermine or discredit the various Taliban front organizations and fellow travelers (JUI-S, Jamat e Islami, right wing of the PTI, etc). There is also no sign of any decisive action against the Lashkar e Jhangvi (the anti-Shia killing machine). And of course, the good Taliban and good Jihadists continue to be on our good side, planning attacks on Afghanistan and rallies in Kashmir..

3. ALL of the above will have to be tackled if Pakistan is to reverse course. That change of course therefore remains a very big IF.

4. We know from history that a small numbers of determined terrorists can maintain a terror campaign for years. So even if this operation represents a genuine change of course, it will not lead to peace in the short term. At best, it may be the "end of the beginning".

PS: Imran Khan and the PTI have decided to support the operation. This either means its so damn serious that even IK has been scared into changing his mind.... OR that there is less here than meets the eye....Take your pick. I am an optimist, but when IK steps forward to support an operation, one must pause and at least briefly reconsider any optimism one may have felt.
On the other hand, the nephew of the chief justice (employee of a "sensitive agency") has been kidnapped in Multan. That may indicate that the Islamists find this operation serious even if some observers do not.

Of course, there is always the "long term optimists" view: that this operation (warts and all) should be seen as yet another small step in the continuing march of Pakistan back towards the modern world. In this supposedly optimistic view, the deficiencies and doubts could all be true, but its all part of a greater process. GHQ (and PTI) may not intend to see this operation lead to future operations against good jihadists and shia-killers, but just like they (slowly) moved from garlanding Nek Mohammed to trying to kill his successors, they will also move (after many delays and unnecessary casualties) to target those who are currently their friends or are not yet a priority. .
What do you think?