May 26th marked first month since the Government finally decided to launch the offensive in Swat. It’s time to take a stock of issues that stare in face while the Army is in the midst of successful operations. This ongoing success in operation Rah-e-Rast has come at a great cost. The government and the people of Pakistan face a logistical challenge to provide for an estimated 2.5 million people displaced from the region, the army is straining to keep a vigil on two fronts while doing an active rat hunt in Swat, many soldiers have laid their lives and still more innocent people have perished as a result of collateral damage.
Is there an end in sight? Will we be successful in ridding the country from the cancerous militants? Will emerging broad-based political resolve last or fizzle out? No one has the crystal ball to predict the future of our fight against extremism but an empirical view of such conflicts indicates that we have to brace ourselves for more sacrifices and a long drawn campaign that should also aim at defeating Taliban on ideological plane besides physically humbling them. This battle cannot be won by the government and its military instrument alone. It rather calls for a synergistic approach marked by declaration of Jihad by every single soul in this country against the distorters of our peaceful religion—be they Taliban, their ideological supporters with in our ranks or the outsiders who provide them material support.
The ongoing battle to regain control of Mingora is a bloody house to house clearance that is showing signs of success as the Taliban have reportedly started retreating to regroup elsewhere. As per the Director General ISPR, this Taliban stronghold may take a few more days to clear. The Army faces a challenge of plugging the holes from where these rats can withdraw and fight elsewhere later. It is difficult to identify a Talib from a common citizen except the Tajiks, Uzbeks or Ghurkhas. There have been claims of some non state actors, non Muslims, fighting amongst the Taliban ranks and are well trained mercenaries who stand their ground and fight until death.
While most of Buner’s area has been cleared and the citizens are relieved due to less hours of curfew, Dir and Shangla are reportedly still under Taliban influence. The long hours of curfew have created enormous difficulties for the destitute in the area. These are the places in urgent need of resources to survive. The police and district management of these areas is dysfunctional and should be replenished to bring a semblance of peace and order. The army and paramilitary forces will have to reinforce and support the former in regaining hold from the Taliban. Since the Spartan civic facilities were razed to dust by Taliban, the Army will not only have to help rebuild these structures but will also keep their engineers and medical services’ foot print for a protracted period.
The key political and military challenge will be to not to let the impetus of these operations to die down, failure to do this will give Taliban the much needed Lebensraum (breathing space) and allow them to regroup and fight elsewhere. While Army may be able to milk its resources and extend its operations to Waziristan and other areas; will the government, media moguls and general population have the appetite and stamina to do their part? As such operations will be dictated by resource constraints like handling of more IDPs.
The present crisis situation of provisioning the IDPs demands generous public support. The displaced people need to be sheltered, fed and psychologically supported. While such displaced people can absorb the shock of displacement due to natural disasters like 2005 earthquake, they will be easily disaffected in the present case. If we don’t want these embittered people to fall in Taliban’s fold we will have to stand with them in their hour of need. These people are not acclimatized to harsh summers and hence our donations should include electricity generators, fans and good shelters too.
Let us understand that this crisis cannot be handled by military alone, which can only clear and secure Swat and other areas. It asks us to leave the comforts of our homes and help our countrymen displaced by war. We will be worse than Taliban if we fail to support them till they return to Swat and take a fresh start—lest there will be more Talibs ready to drive us out of our abodes.