An inexplicable delay
MALALA Yousufzai has defeated her assailant who sought to silence her voice which has been a source of inspiration not only for Pakistan’s young generation, but also for people across the world.
She has projected an image of Pakistan as a country which refuses to back down in the face of militant violence. The 15-year-old icon of bravery has shown the same resolve in fighting her gunshot wounds as she did by standing up against a barbaric order. But the resolve of people like Malala is being defeated by the pathetic inaction of our political leadership.
Although a long-pending military operation in North Waziristan would not be predicated on the attack on Malala, the incident did provide a window of opportunity to take decisive action against the hub of terrorism. The barbaric attack united an outraged country. The message was clear that the Taliban’s barbarism was unacceptable to the people of Pakistan.
It was a watershed moment for a country which has been engulfed in militant violence for the past several years — violence which has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties and incalculable economic losses. The Malala incident could well have been a turning point in Pakistan’s battle against violent extremism and militancy. The despicable attack on the young girl had reinforced the threat that terrorism poses to society.
But unfortunately our political and military leadership have failed the people yet again. The paralysis of the state has given space and more time to those who want to impose their ways through the barrel of the gun.
The attack by some 300 militants on the Matni police station outside Peshawar and the killing, including beheading, of several police officers has further demonstrated the growing stridency of the Taliban. The raid carried out some days after the attack on Malala was a manifestation of a state fast losing its authority. The Malala moment seems to have already been lost.
Our ubiquitous interior minister has a predilection for shooting his mouth off regarding any issue — whether it concerns foreign policy, domestic politics or is related to national security. A recent nugget came during his interview with a Pakistani TV channel in Britain last week in which he linked the operation in North Waziristan with the cessation of US drone strikes.
Ludicrous as it may sound, this pearl of wisdom contradicted Rehman Malik’s own statement a few weeks back when he had declared that the operation in the militant-infested tribal territory was under serious consideration. “North Waziristan has become the hub of terrorism,” he told reporters on Oct 12 in one of his many daily TV appearances.
Nothing can be more absurd than using drone strikes as an excuse for putting on hold the North Waziristan operation yet again. It is actually tantamount to saying that terrorists are free to operate and kill our people because the US is not prepared to stop drone strikes.
It is hard to make sense of Mr Malik’s utterance made after his hugely publicised visit to Malala in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital where the young girl is recuperating. It is not just Mr Malik, who many do not take seriously, that adopts this stance. President Zardari has also shifted the blame for his government’s inaction on society and lack of support from opposition parties.
Speaking at the concluding session of a South Asia Free Media Association forum, the president ruled out any military operation in North Waziristan until and unless a consensus was reached. He questioned whether the public was prepared for retaliatory attacks by the militants in other parts of the country.
This defeatist argument does not give much hope to the people who are bearing the brunt of militant violence. It is apparent that the term ‘consensus’ is being used as a ruse for not taking a tough decision on an issue which is of critical concern to our national security. In a society as diverse as ours, consensus on any issue is a myth and not a reality.
There will always be apologists for the Taliban who will resist any move to fight militancy. After all, there were many politicians and religious parties who opposed military operation in Swat and South Waziristan. But the use of military force was necessary to stop the Taliban offensive. Waiting for a consensus then would have meant a virtual Taliban takeover.
The dithering over the North Waziristan operation is even more inexplicable since the military leadership is unequivocal in its assessment that the region has become not only the main base of the Afghan Taliban, but is also a hideout for all kinds of Pakistani and foreign militants. It is also a fact that most of the recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan have their roots in the territory.
More than three divisions of troops are already deployed there and are said to have been battle-ready for some time. In fact, the operation was on the anvil much before the attack on Malala. So what is the reason for this ambivalence now? The civil and military leadership blame each other for the indecision. Both seem to be reluctant to bear the responsibility alone.
It is indeed the responsibility of both the civil and military leadership to mobilise public opinion for the operation which both agree is critical for the success in the battle against militancy. The issue is simple — no state can allow militants to take over a part of the country.
The issue here is not just the military operation in North Waziristan, but also how we confront widening violent extremism and terrorism which pose an existential threat to the country. A major reason for Pakistan’s failure to counter the militant threat and destroy terrorist networks is a lack of political will to deal with the menace. The politics of obfuscation has only increased the threat. The Taliban’s activities are no more restricted to the tribal territories and Khyber Pakthunkhwa, but are now threatening Karachi, the country’s economic jugular.
The writer is an author and a journalist.