Will Zarb-e-Azb bring peace to Pakistan?

Published: June 19, 2014

All exit points from North Waziristan Agency have been cordoned off and the Taliban are not being given any opportunity to slip to adjacent areas and elude the fire. There is a growing impression that the Taliban have been cornered. PHOTO: AFP

After much dillydallying, useless discussions and utterly unsuccessful peace talks, Pakistan has, finally, launched a “decisive” operation, code named Zarb-e-Azb, against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the North Waziristan Agency.

The Pakistan Army claims that around 180 Taliban have been killed so far, with dozens other captured and their safe havens and ammunition depots taken out, in jet bombings and face-to-face skirmishes. All exit points from North Waziristan Agency have been cordoned off and the Taliban are not being given any opportunity to slip to adjacent areas and elude the fire.

There is a growing impression that the Taliban have been cornered.

However, the TTP disputes these claims.

Through a telephone call to BBC Urdu Taliban spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, claimed that so far they have lost just a few fighters and that civilians are being targeted in jet bombings.

As usual, the main collateral damage in this operation is the local population. The Wazir and Dawar tribes of the North Waziristan Agency have been forced to move to adjoining agencies. So far, some 20,000 people have migrated to adjacent areas of Khost, Paktika and Paktiya provinces of Afghanistan where the Afghan government is reported to have allocated roughly 4.04 square kilometres of land for the tribesmen. Thousands other have migrated to nearby districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, like Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Karak. An approximate 0.6 million people are expected to become IDPs. Camps have been established for them in Bannu district. This time, the government has decided to give Rs7000 to each family, instead of providing them with relief goods.

Like the Swat operation that took place in 2009, this operation is comprehensive, politically owned by the government and backed by all major political parties. Pakistanis have attached very high expectations to this operation and are hoping to achieve endurable peace as a result.

This operation will definitely bring some positive changes, yes, but, I think it is unrealistic to hope for sustainable peace from an operation like this. Peace needs a lot more than just a military fight.

Also, there are many reasons why this operation might not even be as successful as it is deemed to be.

First of all, this operation was launched after much hue and cry, which might have hinted to the TTP that a storm is coming their way. It is not only understandable – it is highly probable – that the Taliban migrated to safer places in order to survive the operation. They had already claimed, a few days back, that they have displaced their assets. So, the probability of the army attacking a major portion of the TTP is very low.

Even if they have not been allowed the opportunity to leave the agency, as claimed by the army, it is almost impossible to completely seal the harsh, hilly terrains in the areas, especially when there is a 2400-km-long, almost unmanned border with Afghanistan. In unconventional wars, such guerrillas don’t ingeniously dare to face an established army; they go underground and, later-on, connect with each other, re-establish communication lines and then start their activities again.

In such operations, an established army is always expected to gain significant success – in terms of reclaiming lost territory, that is, in the very first few days of an operation. While this is, and should be seen as, a victory, militants usually wait for a period of relative calm to prevail so as to make the army feel like it has won and then strike back.

This is what we witnessed in case of operations like Rah-e-Rast in Swat (2009) and Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan (2009). Recently, we heard that military personnel have been attacked in Swat and a curfew has been imposed in many districts there. And even after so many years, the Mehsud tribe of Swat have been unable to return to their homes. So, in my opinion, don’t pin your hopes on the initial success of the operation; it does not matter much.

Irrespective of how successful this operation is, the major concern right now is to see how long the Taliban will be kept disbanded, how much time this operation will take, how many of them will be physically eliminated, whether their leaders will be taken out or not and, last but not least, for how long the IDPs will be required to remain in camps. These are very pressing questions that need to be answered.

As far as the survival of the Taliban is concerned, that is inevitable.

They will survive, don’t doubt that. The army is only targeting one agency, while they are very much at large in other agencies and the remaining parts of mainland Pakistan. Their leader Mullah Fazlullah and other senior commanders are allegedly living somewhere in Afghanistan, which means the current operation cannot completely root out terrorists from Pakistan, as we are asked to believe.

The army, however, is cognisant of the different aspects of the Taliban’s survival strategies. In fact one of the main reasons for the delay, in the North Waziristan operation, was because the army believed that the Taliban could cross the Durand Line into Afghanistan; there, it was believed, they would be taken by other intelligence agencies and used against Pakistan. Pakistan is trying to deal with the Taliban within its territorial boundary.

Mullah Fazlullah evaded the Swat operation, crossed into Afghanistan and, in later days, became an even greater leader. Pakistan alleges that he is facilitated by Afghan intelligence agency NDS (National Directorate of Security), though Afghans reject these allegations. If he manages to slip into Afghanistan once again, then it would mean that Pakistan will face even more ruthless terrorist attacks in the coming days.

If the Taliban are not dealt with a fatal blow in the current operation, it will not take them more than two months to get back on their feet. In that case, it will become very difficult for Pakistan to eliminate them, as it is not easy to create such a favourable environment and render such sacrifices continuously. People will stop believing in the significance of a military operation.

I consider this operation the last major operation against the Taliban. We do not have the resources or the money to conduct such an operation in the future; it is high time every Pakistani realises that they need to back the efforts of their soldiers today more than anything else.

In this context, I believe that this operation is not going to come to an end soon. Government officials are pledging it will end before the month of Ramazan (which means before July). In all likelihood, this operation is going to be perpetuated and, in corollary, the IDPs will have to stay in camps. I fear it may take Wazirs and Dawars years to return to their homes, just like the Mehsuds.

Aside from the above mentioned complexities, another major flaw in this operation is that, as usual, it is only against the bad Taliban, like the TTP and affiliated al Qaeda fighters; good Taliban, like the Haqqani Network and Gul Bahadar group are to be spared. Such a discriminatory approach to terrorism in itself perpetuates the problem. It halts the creation of counter narratives, confuses the masses and blurs the enemy. For endurable peace, Pakistan has to bring notable changes in its strategic calculus; it has to give up intentions of interference in its neighbouring countries.

The Zarb-e-Azb operation may stop terror attacks from occurring in the major cities of the country but it cannot help in bringing peace to the ill-fated Pakhtun land, which has been experiencing ruthless terrorism for decades. Peace in the Pakhtun land should have been the priority of Islamabad but unfortunately, it is not so. Such discriminatory operations are seen by many as efforts to contain the terror within the conflict zone and acquire peace for the bigger cities in Pakistan only. This discrimination has to end if endurable peace is to be maintained.

However, the above description does not mean that the Zarb-e-Azb operation will achieve nothing. It will disband the TTP for a few months, stop attacks in major cities and will bring down the otherwise increasing graph of kidnapping and extortion in K-P and FATA. It will also assuage the anger of all those families who have lost their loved ones in terrorist attacks. But it cannot bring long-lasting peace.

Azizullah Khan

Azizullah Khan

A graduate from the Government College University Lahore. He enjoys writing about AF-PAK and matters related with the Pakhtuns. He tweets @khetranazk (twitter.com/khetranazk)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Naila

    I think providing money in lieu of food and goods is a really immature decision by the government. I mean come on, these people have left everything behind so you could eliminate your enemy. You owe them that atleast.

    I sincerely hope and pray peace comes to KP soon. AmeenRecommend

  • BlackJack

    Excellent – makes an important point that defeating the Taliban requires much more than a military operation – it requires a mindset change that is very difficult to achieve; this is a key paragraph. Quote “Aside from the above mentioned complexities, another major flaw in this operation is that, as usual, it is only against the bad Taliban, like the TTP and affiliated al Qaeda fighters; good Taliban, like the Haqqani Network and Gul Bahadar group are to be spared. Such a discriminatory approach to terrorism in itself perpetuates the problem. It halts the creation of counter narratives, confuses the masses and blurs the enemy. For endurable peace, Pakistan has to bring notable changes in its strategic calculus; it has to give up intentions of interference in its neighbouring countries.”Recommend

  • unbelievable

    Dawn reports that your using 30,000 troops in the N Waziristan offensive – that’s the same number as used in the 09 offensive which got lots of press but failed to kill or capture any Taliban leaders nor kill a significant number of Taliban troops. If true – that would seem to indicate that Pakistan is using this offensive to shore up the military image which was tarnished by the recent airport attack rather than actually eliminating terrorist – would also support by govt/military has never mentioned the Haqqani or Quetta Shura in any of it’s press announcements.Recommend

  • Shahbuddin Md.

    Not only enemies at the borders, but their brains in masjids and madrasas throughout the country should also be eliminated.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Well put summary and analysis including a look at Swat’s operation against extremists who took over and what it achieved. Only thing missing in the piece is a comment on whether there’s any successful displacement of foreign Uzbek affiliates, whom Hafiz Gul Bahadar had a meeting with way before the operations and urged them to leave to a safe spot in Northern Afghanistan which the Haqqanis utilized. But it seems he was ignored. Also missed is an analysis of other local affiliates of TTP being untouched which includes the like of LeJ, Jundullah,etc. Otherwise great piece.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    First of all, you should never create an IDP-like situation in a counter insurgency. That would be like losing the Counter Insurgency even before waging it.

    You have to make the areas safer for civilians, not drive them away!

    America was tied up in Vietnam for years, in Afghanistan till date. Pakistan will be expected to be tied down in Waziristan for years. So, the IDPs will stay away for years and years?

    Unless, Pakistan moves most of its troops, currently waiting for an imaginary invasion from India, to insurgent dominated areas, it will never win.

    The goal in an Counter Insurgency to slowly enable the people to function normally, not scare them away!

    Here, too India is hurting Pakistan, without lifting a finger.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    When the Military attacked on Lal Masjid bad things happened. Imagine, all Madressas being closed. Hell on Earth.Recommend

  • Alann

    This Operation was launched not because the Army or the Government cares for the people – they simply don’t. It was launched because the recent Karachi Airport attack had the potential of ruining their greater personal interests. Many major international firms are leaving Pakistan and such a large terror incident again creates doubts in the minds of the donors about whether Pakistan is really serious in fighting the militants or it is turning a blind eye (or worse, nurturing them). This operation was launched only to show to the world (aka donors) that Pakistan is committed to world peace, so the aid money will keep on flowing in abundance. So as to allow Pakistan Army to produce more nukes.Recommend

  • KahnaKacha

    This looks more of a revenge operation than a serious attempt to address the root cause of the problem. Some force is required, but it needs to be supplemented by other measures, that are completely missing here. If just force was enough to eliminate an Ideology and indoctrination, then world’s sole super power could have done that in last 10 years.Recommend

  • baig

    nops but goodwill , honesty ,sincerity on the part of the government will!!. Atleast I strongly believe that.Recommend

  • Prashant

    A determined enemy who is well equipped and motivated has always been tough to defeat whether in Pakistan or elsewhere. The Army would have the fear of losing the support if a single innocent life is lost but the militants do not have to worry the consequences as whatever support they have is despite killing the innocent and in some case for killing innocents only. The militants have the advantage as they would appear when they want to but the Army is supposed to track them and smoke them out of their hide outs.

    An enemy like this cannot be defeated overnight as it is a product of mindset which has been carefully cultivated over a period of a generation or more. You might kill the Taliban on the battle in the remote corners of Pakistan but killing them in the minds/ hearts of youth in cities like Karachi/ Lahore is a different ball game altogether.

    This holds good for not just Pakistan but also for India.Recommend

  • Ashar

    I Really don’t like the Tune of this Article, Looks to me writer have soft corner for Taliban. If that’s not the case which i hope what is the solution you have in mind Azizullah KhanRecommend

  • Naila

    Email the Pakistan government and let them know of all this if you care so much.

    “Here, too India is hurting Pakistan, without lifting a finger.”- whatever makes you guys sleep at night.Recommend

  • Arun

    Very nicely written article. I am from India. There is no good or bad taliban. Terrorism in all colors are bad. Pakistan started learning from it’s mistakes. It is good at least pakistan is taking some actions now. The major decision pakistan took during the Zia’s period to upskill terrorist is the obsession aganist India, Specifically about kashmir. Pakistan never going to make the kashmir issue as global issue as pakistan has no international support.

    Pakistan should start concerntrating on their own people. Pakistan should udnerstand pakistan is just not only Punjab, there are other tribes and other regions too. I don’t think ARMY will succeed in this operation in one shot. but I would it is a very good start. Pakistan should talk to India and Afgan and make sure that both countries are comitted to what pakistan is doing to eradicate terror from it’s soil. This is our sub continent. It is our home land. Afgan, India and Pakiatna should have triletral talk and have a common force/intelligent agencies to eradicate the terrror our from home land. Als shoudl trust each other.

    Once more time, remember there is no good taliban or bad taliban.. All are bad.. Don’t try to create & spare any assets which can be used aganist India. In fact the history proved pakistan strategy to bleed india by thousand cuts already failed. and India becoming a super power and pakistan going towrds as failed state.Recommend

  • Muhammad Uzair Qamar

    I read the whole article. Its just the translation of whats happening with no solution or even suggestion at all, though i agree with some parts of it especially the one which says that this operation wont bring long lasting piece. but then, what other option we were left with. Even after dialogue, them being used by NDS or RAW or even CIA for that matter, cant be ruled out. Fact of the matter is, I personally have started believing what so-called liberals of pakistan are stating (may GOD save my soul); that giving total control to mullas was the biggest mistake made the govt. and military establishment of Pakistan. we all are caught in the middle of one long treacherous riddle and there is no easy way out.Recommend

  • Asghar Khan

    i appreciate your views and operation will not bring peace it is sureRecommend

  • Parvez

    Very well written and the points you made are excellent.
    One point that needs to be stressed is that these criminals are BASIC COWARDS. When they get hit and hit hard they will disperse, change their face, go elsewhere, fight amongst themselves, change strategy by saying ‘ we want the Islamic way, through a democratic process ‘ etc, etc……..it is this deception that needs to be understood and countered.Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim

    My answer is a big NO, unless fundamentals are corrected. And the fundamental is that law and order is responsibility of civic agencies, Police and its agencies. Since police system is a total failure therefore any Army operation would yield very short lived results. Have you ever maintained a lawn (garden) with lush green grass, if weeds appear you have to tend to them one by one n pick em our from root, if you mow them from shoot for a while you will see your lawn back to normal but very soon weeds reappear with more destruction and more spread around and then the only way is to dig the entire lawn out…..Recommend

  • Prashant

    Who said we are not worried or we are not fighting Talha.

    An uprising driven by hunger and poverty can be addressed definitively but the one which is driven by a religious ideology always wants to pummel the other side into submission. Wheter they succeed or not, that is a different matter.Recommend

  • Sane

    You mean same as when Babri Masjid was razed.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Thats actually an apt comparison.

    I am nothing if not fair. Babri Masjid did start off a lot of violence in India.

    But, on the topic of Terror factories, India doesn’t have them, Pakistan does.Recommend

  • Indian Muslim

    Pakistani army never cared about innocent life or civilian opinion. 60.000 people were killed before they started this operation.Recommend

  • Indian Muslim

    @ Mr. Rizvi – Explain why ur army waited till 60,000 pakistani’s died before starting this operation. Don’t forget China ordered ur COAS to Beijing before the operation. Get the factsRecommend

  • Sane

    India has terror factories not only in India but in Afghanistan too. India exports terrorism to neighboring countries and name others. Guess when the 1st suicide attack was done and where. You teach everyone in the world.Recommend

  • Vickram

    There is great outrage Drones kill a few while chasing terrorists.

    But everyone is applauding an army operation that displaces lakhs of people.

    No one can figure out the Pakistani mindset.Recommend

  • Muhammad Umair

    In watever consequences this operation has been launched, its the most positve reaction from pakistan goverment. There is no other choices left for the goverment of pakistan to control this satuation. We as pakistani alsways oppose to any decisons made by our goverment even thought the goverment is not always been protactive for the people but think for a moment that other than this do we have any peacfull solution? Should we wait for the movement when this matter can’t hadle by local govemrnet and the foreign athorities will take over? As we have seen in neighbour country.at least It will lesser the strength and hold of militants as a result of this miltary operation. On the other hand the concern of idps, offcourse there will be severe consequnces that we have to compromise to attain safety for our people and young generation. And we cannot achive that without the coeporation of inocent idps. I personaly as pakistani totaly support the decion of pakistan goverment to launch zarb e azb. And i will ask each pakistani to think for a movement beyound the boundries of religion, state, and comunity groups and be unite and support the goverment reaction thay can bring us the peace and gurantee the safety for our lifes. Stop ctitisizing because there are more inteligent people and critics in army and goverment that can decide the best solutions for the country until unless you have better soultion than this. Sorry if there is any english mistake as i am not an advance speaker. I am writing this comment just to pass my message. Recommend

  • Ali

    What a joke. The terrorist in India become Prime Ministers. Atleast in Pakistan a terrorist is called a Terrorist but in India you refuse to call the biggest terrorist as terrorist but rather you refer to them as Indian army.Recommend

  • Ali

    You worry about Pakistan too much. Stop obsessing with Pakistan and worry about your own country. You are so worried about Pakistani IDP’s when more than 70% of your population don’t even have access to toilets.Recommend

  • Ali

    Judging by the comments here. This newspaper should be renamed “Express Tribune for Pakistan Obsessed Indians”Recommend

  • نائلہ

    If they never cared, then there would be no operation going on right now. Give credit where it’s due. Recommend

  • Sane

    Reply: Rajiv Gandhi was killed on 21st May 1991 in a suicide attack near Chinai (India) by a women named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam known with nick name of Dhanu. Also note that as per hegemonic designs India sent Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) to Sri Lanka without consent or permission of Sri Lankan Govt.

    India has a history of exporting terrorism in the region.Recommend

  • Sane

    A becoming super power, where half of the population sleeps without bread.Recommend

  • JayMankind

    Does anybody here seriously think the Afghan Taliban will be defeated by Pakistan? Or even that Pakistan is targeting them?Recommend

  • JayMankind

    Babri Masjid was an abandoned mosque in the birth place of Ram the holiest Hindu God. Even last week a Hindu temple was demolished in Pakistan. Boy ! Do you guys need a perspective !!Recommend