Operation Zarb-e-Azb

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 18.06.14

The much awaited military operation in North Waziristan has finally begun. In a way the
beginning of operation Zarb-e-Azb is abrupt. The immediate reason is the recent assault on
Karachi airport inflicted by militants said to be of Uzbek origin. These teenage militants must
have born in Pakistan’s tribal belt after 1991, the date marking the end of the Cold War.
For the past several months, a persistent pattern of attacks had been observed on one
airport after another, and in all cases teenage attackers of Uzbek features were said to
have been involved. Perhaps attacking airports was their forte. What the militants of
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) could not do, these young Uzbeks of Pakistani birth
have successfully done: they have finally brought the fight to the terrorists’ heartland, North
Waziristan.

It was the Pakistan Army that made up its mind to launch the operation. The attack on
Karachi Airport left the government with no choice but to give in to the plea of the army to
launch an operation. To elaborate this point further, it was quite apparent that till 2013 the
Pakistan Army was quite reluctant to take on North Waziristan. One reason was the
expanse of the area while another reason was the preference of the army to look after
Pakistan’s eastern border. What made the army change its mind were the attacks on its
convoys, officials and personnel, claiming the lives of many officers and soldiers. This time
at the helm of affairs is a different commander, General Raheel Sharif. General Sharif must
have considered it a matter of prestige for the army and a challenge to his soldierly blood
to be unresponsive and nonchalant. The incumbent government was also not disposed to
take on North Waziristan. One reason was the fear of expenditures of conflict while another
reason was the fear of backlash on the civilian population. The government was in no mood
to subject its people to the onslaught of suicide bombers coming in droves from North
Waziristan or sleeper-cells that might be activated in several cities. The government
resorted to negotiations with the terrorists to give peace a chance. It was expected that the
terrorists would cash in on that opportunity and get a few of their terms accepted but they
failed to do so. The terrorists might have considered the negotiations a victory. However,
either the terrorists continued sporadic attacks or they could not stop affiliated groups from
attacking the military and civilians. Each time the terrorists or any associated group claimed
responsibility for any untoward incident, the government came under pressure to let loose
the army to teach them a lesson.

The attack on Karachi airport revealed the resolve of the militants and dwarfed the
significance of negotiations taking place, despite hiccups, between the terrorists and the
government, though it was known at the outset that the negotiations would be fruitless. The
government gave all chances for peace to take root. One may argue that another
congregation of political parties should have been convened to take their consent for
military action. However, the government had perhaps run out of both options and patience.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) may revolt against the decision of the government to
take on the militants’ hideouts in North Waziristan. One of the strengths of the PTI is that it
is vociferous; one of the weaknesses of the PTI is that it is impractical. The PTI has failed to
persuade the militants hailing from its area of influence to desist from attacks on the
mainland of Pakistan. The main excuse the PTI used to give was that the drone strikes were
creating militants, yet drone strikes remained halted for the past six months and despite
that attacks continued. Hence, the PTI was left with no justification for opposing the military
operation.

Conducting a military operation is no doubt an arduous task because of two reasons: first,
the region is quite large and has a forbidding physical terrain; second, there are several
hideouts of local and foreign militants who have taken refuge in the area for years, who
might have constructed ditches and caves, and who are well acquainted with the region.
The abrupt air strikes on them must have taken them by surprise. They are not fully aware
that the combination of guerilla warfare and mountainous terrain is unsuccessful in this age
in the face of drone technology, which has changed the landscape of war. Operation Zarb-
e-Azb is the beginning of the end of the supremacy of the militants. The operation indicates
that both the government and the military are ready to break with the militants whose
fighting spirit endeared them to Pakistanis during the Afghan war (1979-1991). No doubt, it
is expected that a fierce battle may erupt once the air strikes subside and the ground
troops move in, and it is also expected that the spate of suicide bombings will escalate in
civilian areas; however, it is also known that the militants will suffer defeat. The army must
be aware that conflicts can be won by bleeding the enemy to death (through drone strikes)
without even putting boots on the ground. There is no hurry in getting the results. The army
must bide its time.

The operation also indicates that Pakistan is coming out of Cold War associations and
shedding its dependence on non-state actors to do its bidding. Similarly, Pakistan has
decided to tell the militants that Pakistan was a product of a democratic decision and any
kind of authoritarian decisions will be unable to rule over it. Moreover, Pakistan has finally
decided to preserve its way of life instead of acquiescing in the militants dictating a
medieval way of life. Nevertheless, the people of North Waziristan should review their tribal
traditions of hospitality and offering refuge to the weak and innocent, which are exploited by
foreigners to the detriment of the locals.

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