The army has opened up North Waziristan to the public eye, as on Friday, a group of journalists were taken to Shawal Valley to witness the success of the operation for themselves. All accounts suggest that the army is certain with good reason, and North Waziristan is actually under the state’s control once more. The bravery and heroism of the men and women involved in this operation deserves heaps of praise and commendation, however, the true collateral damage in the form of lives and property can only be fully realised later. The state has made immense gains in the field of battle against terrorism, not only through Zarb-e-Azb but also in South Punjab if the government’s version is to be believed.
In Punjab, the government seems to have finally taken the Quadrilateral Coordination Group’s (QCG) suggestions seriously, however, only as far as to make an orchestrated display of working towards the goal of clamping down on Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. While the state does seem to be committed to eradicating terrorism from home soil, it is not clear whether its intentions are as positive in Afghanistan. The reports of 14 terrorists killed in Punjab – with Al-Qaeda leaders among them – are contradictory, with some sources claiming that some of those killed were in custody for over four months. Making a bold show of killing terrorists that the neighbour wants dead only works if the show is real. A wiser move would have been to go with the truth, and announce that the arrested had been kept a secret for obvious state security reasons, had provided as much information as they could and would now face trials.
This duplicity only serves the function of undermining the war the country is engaged in. The international community, with the US Congress as a recent example, have made countless assertions against Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating terrorism. Actions such as this only serve to legitimise this claim – whether false or no – and could even have an adverse reaction in foreign relations with the neighbour.
The army’s shift in priorities towards the repatriation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by December should be welcomed, however, the civilian government should remember of its own crucial role in this process. The focus must be on the provision of basic rights and services, and access to food, clean water, healthcare and education. Shawal Valley and the rest of North Waziristan must not be allowed to slip in to the clutches of the terrorists once more. Zarb-e-Azb was only the first step in the long road ahead; the one that ensures that no one in the area can ever be radicalised again.