Voices of reason and critique are often drowned in the sounds of gunfire and heavy artillery shelling. This current operation ‘Rah-e-Rast’, or what is being termed as a ‘War for Pakistan’s survival’, has resulted in an exodus of almost 3 million people which might just be another number for those who are at the helm of affairs in Islamabad. Dawn’s magazine Herald wrote in its editorial: “Fear of Taliban being just 60 kilometers away from the country’s capital has mobilized the people to support war….But more seriously still, it has ensured that we have willingly put aside the right to ask questions and the right to hold institutions accountable. We are so desperate to get rid of the Taliban that we do not want to raise any questions about how this can be done.” It is time to ask some tough questions.
Herman Goering, the head of German Luftwaffe, remarked at Nuremberg trials: “Of course, the people don’t want war….But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along… Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” We have seen how fear can drive a nation to support an illegal war thousands of miles away in case of Iraq invasion. That is why it is necessary that with our high running emotions against Militants and against their brutal acts of terror, we do not forget the importance of transparency, accountability and self-critique.
Oddly enough media has bought the state line that they can not be allowed on the ground. Just like the civil society has accepted the fact that there will be collateral damage. The importance of independent war reporting can not be overstated. It not only ensures transparency but also helps to dispel all the conspiracy theories, which only dwell due to lack of information, and which often hurt the cause itself. Right now the media is only reporting the official information as facts.
There is also confusion about what we are currently involved in, between the different organs of the state. While DG ISPR Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas terms this a fully blown counter-insurgency operation, the hero of Bajaur IG Frontier Corps Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan considers it a law and order problem that the forces have to deal with. Dr. David Kilcullen, a former advisor to General Petraeus and an expert in insurgencies, remarks: “killing the enemy is strictly secondary in an insurgency situation…what you have to do is to protect the population and prevent the insurgents from intimidating them, so that you can break the cycle of insurgent threat to them.” According to him, there are three steps involved: clear, hold and build. He thinks that while Pakistani forces might clear the militants from the affected areas, but the state institutions are not capable enough to hold and build. This is exactly what the French realized in Algeria when they decided to deploy small number of troops in the population, and what the U.S. did in Iraq in the policy of ‘surge’ when they abandoned large bases to come into the populated areas and used the local intelligence.
Resorting to heavy indiscriminate shelling on certain occasions from the peripheries has resulted in civilian casualties. Army is still not willing to give any number on that. Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas only reiterates that the ‘collateral damage is minimum’ but he stops short of giving the exact number. Dawn recently reported that on 18 May, in an incident confirmed by police sources, military shelling killed several people trying to flee a Swat town, including women and children.
There is also a trust deficit between those who have to pay the heavy price of this conflict and those who are calling the shots. Winning the hearts and minds of the locals is of utmost significance. There are many who neither support the army nor the Talibans as they have often fallen prey to both. The earlier three uncompleted operations have left the people of Swat sceptical about the commitment of the army.
On May 17, ISPR reported that 36 illegal radio stations were operating in Sultanwas and Buner alone. Residents of Bajaur agency say that the radio transmission has again started even though the army claims that the area has been flushed out of militants. These radio stations comprise of a low power transmitters that can be carried in a bag and can be operated on a car battery. In the past their mobility has been presented as the reason of incapability of government to track and curb their transmission. There are jamming devices that can override the illegal signals with a powerful signal of the same frequency even if the location of transmitter is unknown. These kinds of devices must be sought to put an end to these malevolent sermons.
Last but not the least, what else is government planning to fight extremism? This current operation is supposed to be a prong of a comprehensive strategy, not the complete strategy. Will only a military adventure in Swat and FATA solve our problems? Ajmal Kisab comes from Okara, Punjab. Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is from Gujranwala, a crime ridden region. Hafiz Saeed belongs from Sargodha, an area that is replete with family feuds. Dera Gazi Khan and Bahawalpur are ripe with sectarianism, underdevelopment and crippled social infrastructure. These areas are very much the part of governed territory.
Relief work for the IDPs is underway. The rehabilitation and reconstruction are the later stages in this long effort which must not be worn out by time. These people have already faced four episodes of military operations, and the desperation and frustration runs deep. There will be no next chance soon. That is why it has to be done right this time. The sacrifices of our brave soldiers must be honoured, but at the same time it must not stop us from demanding more transparency and accountability. To support the objectives of this war is one thing, and to support the way with which it is being fought is another. We must not confuse them both in our warmongering