North Waziristan Operation and Expected Human Crises
Media outlets, both print and electronic, are abuzz with the ‘expected’ military operation in North Waziristan Agency, considered a safe haven for militants. Defence analysts and media pundits are divided over military action or as they call it ‘use of force’ against militants, hiding in North Waziristan.
Some of them think that militants of North Waziristan are not a threat to Pakistan because they are engaged in fighting against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Prominent among such outfits are Hafiz Gul Bahadar group and Haqqani network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who served as a minister in Taliban government in Afghanistan, and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Those, who oppose North Waziristan operation, think that it will bring more disasters to the country instead of restoring peace. They say that security establishment will lose the sympathies of these ‘good Taliban’ as well like it has lost the confidence of ‘bad Taliban.’
Such militants will be proved the worst enemies of Pakistan. The number of Taliban sympathizers will increase because of collateral damage in the operation. The operation in North Waziristan will have consequences like that of Lal Masjid incident, though at a larger scale.
Army is already engaged in all tribal agencies and the flood-hit areas, so operation in North Waziristan will open another front for it, testing its operational capabilities. It is also feared that militant groups will creep into other tribal regions from North Waziristan if an operation is launched against them. There are reports that some militants have already shifted to Kurram, Orakzai and South Waziristan tribal region.
Keeping in view these arguments, it seems that army will not take any action against North Waziristan militants, at least in the near future. But supporters of the military action say that North Waziristan is not only home to Gul Bahadar and Haqqanis but a number of other militant groups including Al Qaeda associates, Punjabi Taliban and members of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who have fled the adjacent South Waziristan and taken shelter with their comrades in arms.
They think that some of these groups are responsible for most of the terror acts, taking place across the country. Eradicate militancy, no matter in what shape it is, if you want to restore lasting peace in Fata as well as in the entire country, they insist.
In the present scenario, especially after the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad at the hands of US special forces, it is difficult for the government of Pakistan or to be specific the military establishment to bear US pressure and avoid an operation in North Waziristan, whether a full-scale or a surgical one.
So, according to this group of observers, a military operation looms large in North Waziristan. Some sections of press even reported that a camp was being established in Domail area of Bannu district to house the internally displaced persons from North Waziristan, if an operation is launched there.
The sad, and perhaps the most sensitive aspect, of the expected operation is displacement of tribal people. The issue must be tackled with great care and responsibility. Unfortunately, the issue of internally displaced persons was not tackled appropriately in the past when offensives were launched in Fata against militants.
Already 281,754 registered families are displaced from Fata since 2008 out of whom 91,335 have been returned to their hometowns. But there are still 123,750 registered displaced families, who are living in miserable conditions.
According to 1998 Census Report, the entire population of North Waziristan is 361,246 but now it must be more than 500,000. In case an operation is launched in North Waziristan, 50,000 families will be displaced. It will be the second huge displacement in the wake of a military operation after that of Swat. Most of the IDPs are expected to be camped in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Bannu, Thal, Kohat and other adjacent areas.
According to some media reports ‘Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) has received directives from federal government to chalk out a plan in consultation with United Nations agencies and other humanitarian organizations to cope with the displacement.’ However, federal government has not set any timeframe for completion of the contingency plan, but FDMA has been asked to keep the plan ready. According to reports, FDMA has alerted UN and its relevant organizations of a big displacement in the event of an operation, advising them to make provisions for shelter, food and other assistance.
But it is a big question that how will be it possible for FDMA and other humanitarian organization to fulfill the requirements of this large number of IDPs because FDMA is already looking after 123,750 displaced families.
The IDPs from Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber and South Waziristan agencies have been faced with numerous problems. Most of them, settled with their relatives, especially those from South Waziristan in Tank and D.I Khan, lack food items, medicines, shelter and even drinking water. Approximately, 8,000 families are hosting 150,000 to 200,000 IDPs in D.I. Khan and Tank as government has failed to extend any kind of support to them.
Learning a lesson from its past mistakes, the government must take concrete measures to avoid political, military and humanitarian crises in the country against the backdrop of a military operation in North Waziristan.
At the top of them is to find ways to settle IDPs and provide them with all basic needs of life. The government should also ask the US and other western governments to share the burden caused by the influx of huge number of IDPs as well as other economic losses. Only then the people may begin to trust their government, something missing so far in the decade-long war on terror.