Lasting success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb hinges upon a set of enablers, at the domestic as well as international level. The launch of the operation in itself, is the clearest reflection of Pakistan’s resolve to fight terrorism without any discrimination or distinction. According to military sources, so far, over 600 hardened militants have been killed with no civilian casualties; this is reflective of Pakistan’s military professionalism acumen.

The operation is dictated by Pakistan’s own national interests, and is backed by national consensus. Despite mounting international pressures over previous years, the timing and scope of the operation was a well thought out national decision. It took the government one year in office, and four and a half months of circuitous dialogue with the militants to reach the conclusion and initiate a full-scale operation in North Waziristan.

The handling of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is a major humanitarian aspect of this operation. The government should expedite the payment of cash to all IDPs and continue to provide rations and other social security facilities to mitigate their sufferings. Managing over one million persons is not an easy task; such undertakings have peculiar economic and political challenges warranting innovative strategies. It is encouraging that the entire nation continues to demonstrate empathy towards IDPs, who are the real heroes of the national effort against terrorism, and some very meaningful initiatives have been taken by philanthropist entities.

In the aftermath of the military operation, the daunting challenges for the national leadership are to: develop and disseminate a convincing national-narrative to counter the ideology propagated by militants; secure the Pak-Afghan border against any infiltration or unauthorized movement; mainstream FATA through a steady process of sociopolitical reforms in consultation with the local population; plan and facilitate the IDP’s safe return and rehabilitation; and establish a compatible political/governance system to take charge of day to day affairs in FATA.

While addressing the IDPs, the Prime Minster said, “We are working day and night to ease your difficulties. The Government will spend maximum funds for IDPs, even if the amount is in the billions or trillions.” The PM appreciated the Army officers and its jawans for their sacrifices and commitment to the cause of the nation and said, “the Army is giving their lives and salaries for the IDPs, and for this they deserve praise from the whole nation.”

However, apart from the domestic dimension, peace and stability in North Waziristan is also linked with how the situation evolves in Afghanistan in general and the Afghan provinces adjoining Waziristan in particular, and how the Afghan government cooperates in controlling cross border violence from its side. The sampling of events indicates that ANSF elements are on their way to heightened fragility. ANSF have serious capacity and capability issues, with no early solution in sight. This puts a question mark on the ability of the Afghan government to effectively control border movement.

Discipline and motivational aspects of ANSF are worrisome. Last week, an Afghan soldier opened fire on senior American officers at a military training academy killing Major General Harold J. Greene and wounding 15 others. He was the highest-ranking member of the foreign coalition killed during the Afghanistan war. The General, along with senior American and Afghan officers, was on a routine visit to the training facility. Soon after this shootout, an Afghan police officer opened fire on American soldiers visiting the governor of Paktia. In recent years, Afghan soldiers and police personnel, sick and tired of the protracted war and inhumane treatment by US military officers, have been carrying out insider-attacks. In January 2012, video of US soldiers urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters caused outrage amongst the Afghans. In February, the discovery of copies of the Holy Quran found at a garbage dump at Bagram Air Base sparked anti-American riots in Afghanistan. In March, an American Sergeant slaughtered 16 innocent people including women, children and old men. The bombing of wedding parties has further revealed the directionless war being pursued by ISAF/NATO in Afghanistan.

American and NATO commanders do not consider the above incidents as the reasons behind the Afghan soldiers killing American and NATO soldiers. They claim they have proof that Afghan soldiers involved in attacking Americans had Taliban connections, and it was a conspiracy to create bad blood between Afghan and American troops. Discipline and vetting of the recruits remains a major challenge. Americans are striving to vet the Afghan security apparatus, but it is impossible to check the credentials of over 350,000 of the Afghan army and police personnel. Under these trying circumstances, the Afghan government has lost the will to overcome these difficulties; instead it has found an easy solution to its governance challenges— to blame Pakistan for all homegrown ills.

Last week, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmad Shakib Mustaghni said that Pakistan has “increased its presence of both military and advisors among the terrorists in Afghanistan.” Kabul also says Pakistani forces have continued cross-border shelling. The Afghan National Security Council has also levelled similar accusations at a time when Taliban militants have increased attacks in parts of Afghanistan. The Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan regarding the alleged persistent interference of Pakistan and cross-border shelling in the Eastern Kunar province. Afghan Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi has alleged that Pakistan was still directly involved in terrorist activities in Afghanistan, and had been insincere to the Afghan-led peace process.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed these utterances and insisted that the blame game could affect relationship between the two countries. Islamabad has been persistently urging Kabul to boost security along the border to foil attempts by fleeing militants from crossing the border into Afghanistan. It is equally essential, that effective measures are instituted to strengthen border controls and surveillance. Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser, has stated that cross-border incursions from the Afghan side is a serious issue. Aziz further added that Pakistan was in touch with the Afghan authorities for the better management of border and installation of bio-metric verification system on border crossing points.

Alongside pursuing the issue with Afghanistan, Pakistan should institute unilateral steps to control cross border movement, because without this, it may not be possible to achieve sustainable calm in Waziristan, at least in the short to medium-term timeframe.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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