What started with US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta’s statement that he was pleasantly surprised that the Pakistan Army appeared ready to conduct an operation in North Waziristan, appeared to be confirmed in the light of General Kayani’s speech at the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, on Independence Day. The COAS’s words were solemn and unequivocal. There could be no parallel government supported in the country. Despite the absolute unwillingness of the Army to “fight it’s own people”, it seemed from the COAS’s choice of words that no matter how difficult the decision, one had been made. And that that decision was to begin operations in North Waziristan that Leon Panetta had hinted at. On the heels of these decisive and striking statements, came the controversy of “joint” vs “coordinated” operations. Joint operations were taken to mean US boots on the ground, but in the light of yesterday’s statement issued from the ISPR after Centcom Commander General Mattis’ visit, it has been explained that US troops will operate on the Afghan side of the Durand line, while the Pakistani Army operates on their territory. Even though much has been made of the statement of “national honour” being the last deciding principle in the decision for any such operation to begin, its timing, scope and necessity to be decided by the same principles, such a delicate choice of words while most effective in countering public opinion, does not change the basic reality that the Army seems set on going to North Waziristan.
Opposition Leader from the PML-N, Chaudhry Nisar and PTI Chief, Imran Khan have announced their respective parties staunch opposition to the move, with Imran Khan suggesting talks and Chaudhry Nisar suggesting no alternative solution at all. Meanwhile, the attackers of the Kamra base have been revealed in news reports to be from North Waziristan and to have trained there. Following on the heels of the seeming insecurity of army assets and instillations from attacks by extremists, are the reports of chilling target killings, with the focus on particularly the large Shia community of Pakistan. One of the most recent and blatant attacks in Gilgit, where travellers were dragged off buses, identified by NIC cards and then shot at point blank range, have also been claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan – a possible target of the army operation in NWA.
All seem agreed on the fact that the war needs to end sooner rather than later. What cannot be agreed upon is whether the end will come in the form of a decisive victory, or a ceasefire or a complete withdrawal of just the US troops. Unless victory can be specifically defined and the Army’s targets in North Waziristan specifically named, the public opinion against such an operation will not turn. Meanwhile the opposition will continue to use the unpopular move as leverage to boost its ratings, all the while privately acknowledging that even if they had been in power, the operation may stil have continued. Of course, most disturbing is that the operation seems to have been decided by the Army itself, without any input from the cabiner or the defence committee or the parliaments’s involvement in any way at all. This is not the way democracies function. It gives the opposition the idea of freedom to cry foul over it, all the while avoiding the opportunity of contributing to a difficult and uncomfortable debate on the national stage.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan Mullah Umar’s seven page salvo on Eid is the start of a hard sell to his supporters of the Afghan Taliban’s shifting strategy of moving into the mainstream of politics in Pakistan and responding to offers of talks by the US. While all involved in the conflict seem agreed at this point in time that the conflict will not end with a decisive win for any side – and that end it must, as soon as possible – Pakistan at the national level must come to a consensus on how this end is to be achieved. The actions of the Army must be dictated by the people’s representative, the Parliament. A debate on the issue is essential and a national consensus on Pakistan’s withdrawal from the Afghan war, now more than ever, a necessity.