The much debated and long awaited operation in North Waziristan has become a critical question in every one’s mind. It is considered as the most important part of almost a decade long war on terrorism in Pakistan. US position in this regard is very clear. It had been pushing Pakistan for operation in North Waziristan for quite some time now. US accuses that North Waziristan is the sanctuary for al-Qaeda leadership, the Haqqani network, TTP, Hafiz Gul Bahadar group and other militant outfits including the Punjabi Taliban.
Interestingly US drone attacks have again been started in the area in recent weeks after the break of about twenty days in the wake of Raymond David arrest in Lahore. Pakistan Army in rare move, have acknowledged for the first time publicly about the accuracy of Drone strikes. General Officer Commanding 7-Division, Major General Ghayur Ahmad have stated in press conference in Miran Shah that drone strikes were very accurate and have killed many hardcore elements of Taliban and foreigners as well.
Analysts believe that this was a signal that drones are effective and there is no immediate need of any ground offensive in the NWA. But according to a local newspaper, just days later, the government directed the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) to prepare a contingency plan for the displacement of the local people should the military operation goes in North Waziristan. FRC field researcher in NWA has ruled out the possiblities of immediate military offensive. He however said that the locals have witnessed unusual activities of the army helicopters in the area. This gives the impression that finally government and the military are mulling over plans to launch the full scale military operation in the NWA. There are already 20, 000 troops stationed there.
It can also be inferred from the ‘direction to FDMA’ that this will not be a targeted operation or surgical strike as it wouldn’t have necessitated the plan for IDPs of the whole of North Waziristan. The operation will certainly have serious implications for Pakistan at different fronts.
North Waziristan, as has been stated earlier, is considered safe haven for the militants. They include diverse groups like al-Qaeda, TTP, Punjabi Taliban, Hafiz Gul Bahadar group and Haqqani network etc. Out of these, Haqqani network, Bahadar’s group and al-qaeda elements are involved in Afghanistan only and are not directly engaged in armed struggle against Pakistani state. In case of operation, it is likely that they will not remain neutral and will turn some of their guns towards Pakistan thereby creating serious security challenges.
it is pertinent to note here that the punjabi Taliban have their presence in Southern Punjab and Karachi where they can voilantly react to the situation. The Pakistani government must prepare itself for such a backlash. This operation may also affect Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Hitherto the Taliban in Afghanistan have not been hostile to Pakistani state but operation against Haqqani, will surely upset them.
The operation in North Waziristan will also further stretch Pakistan army in the area. Stiff resistance is expected in North Waziristan. The army is engaged in almost all the agencies and there are active operations going on in FATA. Opening another front, which is anticipated to be the toughest one, is going to really test the operational capabilities of Pak Army. The government must ensure that this operation and future military activities must not lay bare our eastern border. Though there is relative peace with india after the announcement of resumption of Composite dialogue, one can’t ignore the situations like post-Mumbai attacks.
Apart from these politico-military implications, there would be some other problems that Pakistan’s fragile government may face. At the top of them is the issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). According to the available figures about 50, 000 families (around 500, 000 individuals) could be displaced from the NWA. If it happens, it will be the second highest displacement in the military operations after Swat. Most of the IDPs are expected to be placed in the camps in Bannu, some in Thall and other nearby areas which means that government needs to prepare itself for the new crisis of IDPs. The IDPs made after other such operations had suffered a great deal and majority of them couldn’t get any assistance from the government or NGOs. The choatic security situation has already restricted the donor agencies to expand their operations. This is true particularly after the suicide attack outside World Food Program office in Bajaur agency that killed around 50 people when they were queued to get the food.
There are some other factors that limit the capability of the government to provide the assistance to IDPs in case operation is launched in NWA. The current financial crunch coupled with the issue of flood affected people had contracted the already limited resources of the government. There are thousands of people who have yet not received any assistance from the government after the devastating floods in Punjab and Sindh. Government has already decided to levy 15% flood surcharge on Income through a presidential order for 3 months. This shows the financial constraints of the present government. So there are some serious questions over the preparedness of the government to deal with the issue of 500, 000 IDPs expected as a result of military operation.
Finally there is also fear that militants will flee to the other parts of the country as a result of this military operation. At present almost all the militant leaders in tribal areas have been confined in one agency. By launching operation there, government will leave them with no other option but to flee to other areas of the country particularly to Kurram and South Waziristan Agency. Some may also escape in the guise of IDPs as was the case in other operations in Swat and South Waziristan. This will adversely affect the already precarious situation in the country. So government needs to think about it and prepare itself before making any plans to enter into North Waziristan as it may face multiple challenges that will arise in the wake of military operation in North Waziristan.