Pak needs a long-term vision for Waziristan

ISLAMABAD (TIP): The long-awaited Pakistani military assault has been launched in North Waziristan. For over a decade, the region harboured local and foreign militants including Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and Uighurs.

Some militant groups holding sway in the region were considered by Pakistan as pro-state while others antistate. Prominent among the militant groups of good guys were ones led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and slain Mullah Nazir while the Haqqani network of Afghan militants was the only foreign militant outfit given open space to operate from the region.

Last month, a major faction of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which walked out of the umbrella organization, was willing to enter into the list of friendly groups, but Islamabad did not agree. Now, as the military has launched a “comprehensive” offensive in the region of battle-hardened fighters, the government needs to reveal whether the operation will take on all militant groups without discrimination or whether it is just aimed at eliminating the bad guys. One way or the other, all these groups of so-called good and bad elements have an understanding not to interfere in each other’s spheres of influence.

They have carved out their own territories in tribal badlands where they call all the shots – administrative, social, religious, legal, political and military. Their inspiration is the same. They have a history of being good at one time, and bad at another.

The question is after the military operation ends successfully, and the displaced families return to their abandoned homes, will they find themselves in midst of guntoting good militants or with the Sharifled government focused on its mega projects like highways and motorways? They have already suffered immensely due to the war on terror. They are, no doubt, simple people and their minds can be easily moulded the way one wants.

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A chat with a senior intelligence official revealed that the kidnapped vice chancellor of Peshawar’s Islamia College University, Dr Ajmal Khan, reformed several militants by educating them in Shawal Valley of North Waziristan. The state brainwashed them when it wanted the die-hard religious tribesmen to take up guns in the name of religion.

Has it now decided to reverse the trend? If that is so, as some argue, the government needs to come up with a clear policy and vision at strategic, ideological, political and foreign policy levels while the military should keep cleansing the dens of militancy there. The operation in North Waziristan won’t end the scourge of terrorism in Pakistan unless a clear policy is adopted to address militancy in all shapes and shades.

Also, the government must stop calling people along Af-Pak border tribals, which makes them sound like a bunch of uncivilized people. They should be mainstreamed like the rest of Pakistanis. The people of tribal regions deserve the same rights, freedom, protection and economic opportunities available to Pakistanis elsewhere. For sustainable peace and development, the government needs to introduce political, economic, social and administrative reforms in tribal areas.

Their fundamental rights cannot be guaranteed unless the government decides to amend the constitution and transfer the legislative and administrative powers of tribal areas from the president to parliament. A comprehensive package should be announced for people of tribal areas, with focus on health, education and employment. Gains of military offensive can only be retained if these are coupled with a radical new development agenda for the deprived people.

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