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Waziri tribesmen pray for a fallen colleague

Musharraf's Biggest Quandary: The Ongoing Waziristan Resistance

By Muhammad Shehzad

ISLAMABAD, November 15: The biggest quandary at present in Pakistan is not Musharraf's uniform but the ongoing military operation in South Waziristan against al-Qaeda suspects and their supporters.

Nobody knows what is actually going on in South Waziristan - journalists' entry into the region is banned. On October 15, a fact-finding group of seven Parliamentarians from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, an alliance of six pro-Taliban religious parties) was stopped from entering the tribal region at Jandola (near Tank, about 290 kilometers from Peshawar) citing a law that bans political activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]. The only source of information is Director General Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] Major General Shaukat Sultan, whose information is contested by the opposition and the media in public, and by the diplomatic community in private.

The first military operation in FATA was launched on October 2, 2003, at Angor Ada. The first operation in Wana was launched on January 8, 2004; the second on February 24, 2004; the third between March 18-30, 2004; that was followed by a series of operations from June 11 to the present date. According to the official sources, the October 2 operation, in which eight suspects were killed and 18 were captured alive, was the most successful.

'But the military never presented the 'foreign' militants before us!' complains Rahimullah Yusufzai, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) analyst on Afghan affairs.

The jihadists, independent journalists, and opposition Parliamentarians have been challenging the military's viewpoint - i.e., that the operations had been initiated to flush out foreign terrorists hiding in the tribal areas - asserting that there were no foreign terrorists in South Waziristan, and if there are any, the Government should present them before the public.

Yusufzai asserts, "The military might have arrested or killed the foreign terrorists, but it is hesitant to present them before the media. In fact, it arranged our meeting with a 14-year old Tajik terrorist. The military is afraid to make such things public because in that case the US could mount pressure on Pakistan. The US is against the military's talking to the militants. It wants the military to use force'.

"It is an outrageous lie if someone claims that there are no foreign terrorists in South Waziristan," Sultan counters, "It is absolutely true that the foreign militants have been arrested and we have not presented them before the public in the larger national interest."

The military has been fighting the 'invisible' enemies in South Waziristan for more than a year without much success. Often times, it gives an impression that it has failed. Some analysts believe that a section of the Army is pro-militant, but both Sultan and Yusufzai dismiss such notions. Yusufzai argues: "If you are thinking why Abdullah Mehsud has not been arrested, then the answer is, he is familiar with the terrain. He has local support. He comes from the same tribe. He can flee to North Waziristan or Afghanistan. I am dead sure that there is no support to him from any section of the military. Mehsud has killed the Chinese. It is a very serious thing. No Pakistani Government can afford to annoy China. So, rule it out that military could support him. Mehsud enjoys a lot of support from his own people that has really made the task difficult for the military."

Sultan concedes several hitches in the operations. "The militants are mixed up with the civilians. The military cannot target them in such a situation. Certain people, to further their vested interests, portray the killings of the militants as the killings of civilians. They glorify militants as 'heroes.'"

The Government is upset with publications such as Nawa-i-Waqt, Ummat, Jasarat, Friday Special, Takbeer, Nida-i-Millat, Islam, which portray the militants as heroes. These publications act as 'unofficial' mouthpieces of the jihadists, and see the hand of India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) behind the events in South Waziristan.

Takbeer [Nov 3] has written that the US, India and Israel are the real masterminds of the incidents in South Waziristan, and that they want the tribal people to rise up against the Army. India, the article claimed, is supplying weapons to the tribal people and the US is very cleverly dividing the two united groups of mujahideen, i.e., the Pakistani Army and the civilian mujahideen [tribal people].

Friday Special [Oct 7, Zafar Mahmood Sheikh] views the lifting of the economic blockade on South Waziristan as a humiliating defeat for the Army. "The relief has been announced to silence the voices of such people who had been protesting the military crackdown in Wana. In fact, the killing in Wana was masterminded by Musharraf on the orders of Bush. The latter wanted it for his election campaign and Musharraf wanted it to protect his uniform."

"The Army is repeating 1971 in Wana. God forbid, Wana may not prove to be another Bangladesh. Bangla Bandhu was first declared as traitor and this time the tribes of Waziristan have been declared terrorists... Wana will prove to be the last nail in the country's coffin if better sense did not prevail on Musharraf. He should stop arranging official visits to Wana and allow independent journalists access to the area. Only then the people of Pakistan will know about the atrocities of Pak army in South Waziristan."

Disagreeing patiently with such views, Sultan claims, "There is no ban on journalists' entry in South Waziristan." However, he insists that journalists should not "expect that ISPR would provide you vehicles or helicopters for your travel."

There is, nevertheless, a growing perception that the military operations are creating a sense of hatred among the tribal people against the Armed Forces. On Saturday night (November 13), at an Iftaar dinner in Rawalpindi, a local MMA leader Hanif Abbasi, told this writer, "The Pak Army is committing state terrorism in South Waziristan, exactly the way the Indian Army is doing the same in Kashmir. It is targeting innocent civilians."

Yusufzai echoes the growing concern: "The military operations have displaced thousands of people in South Waziristan. But the Army does not want it to be reported. The Pashtuns are severely independent people. They never forgive their enemies. The coming generations of the tribal people will be full of hate against the Army and they will take revenge."

Prof. Ishtiaq, a professor of Islamic Studies, adds: "The military can never win this battle. It might be able to contain them [the tribal people] temporarily but it will lose ultimately. The tribals never forgive and they never forget. The present generation of the tribal people has grown up during the Afghan jihad. They can forget their religious duties but they can never forget their enemies.

Sometimes, injustice committed against the great grandfather is avenged by the great grandson!" Ishtiaq also sees a conspiracy in the Wana Operations: "The Pak Army has been pitched against the tribal people under a plot. The West knows that the tribal people are highly motivated and ideological. They have the capability to defend the country. They are the right-hand of the Army. The West wants to cut off this right hand."

Lashing out at the Government, Mohammad Usman Qazi, a civil society activist adds: "All the terrorists and criminals have been arrested from Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi. None of them was arrested from South Waziristan. Could the military launch air attacks on these cities? Could the military stop their water and food supplies? The military has done so in South Waziristan because it treats it as an 'occupied area'. South Waziristan is part of Afghanistan. The military crackdown is sharpening the sense of alienation of the tribal people. The blood of the Pashtun has always been very cheap in Pakistan."

Contesting such feelings strongly, General Sultan asserts, "The operation has been deeply appreciated by the local people. They want to get rid of the terrorists. There is no sense of hatred against the Army among the local people."

A diplomat in Islamabad endorses Sultan's views, "The Government has found that some recently arrested terrorists in Karachi had links with what's going on in South Waziristan. The domestic violence in Pakistan has strong links with international terrorism masterminded by the al-Qaeda. The US is very happy with Pakistan's performance on terrorism and fully supports Musharraf in this effort."

This diplomat also remarked that there was little chance of a repeat of 1971 in the present circumstances. "There is no evidence of a 1971-like situation in Pakistan. The terrorism has not spread out of South Waziristan-not even to other agencies of the tribal areas. It is limited to South Waziristan.'

There is, nevertheless, a unanimous view among civil society activists and organizations, that only a political solution, rather than present efforts at military domination, can help resolve the situation in South Waziristan. Yusufzai argues: "There is no military solution to any political dispute. The Army committed atrocities against Balochistan for more than 30 years, but the same problems are re-emerging in the province. As long as the US forces will remain present in Afghanistan and the country will face political instability, the situation in South Waziristan is not going to change. The military launches fresh offensive in South Waziristan under the US pressure. Whenever, Karzai would make some noise, Armitage or Khalilzad will twist Pakistan's Army and the result is another military operation."

He adds: "Jirga is the only solution to this dispute. Recently, the military has forged another agreement... that the tribal people will not be asked to present the foreign militants before the authorities. They will only ensure that the militants do not create any law and order situation for Pakistan. This could have been accepted in the Shakai agreement. But God knows what happened that the Corps Commander Peshawar, Lieutenant General Safdar, announced that Nek Mohammad would present the militants before the authorities. Nek Mohammad denied this and he was killed."

Usman Qazi also argues for a political solution: "The military is not trained to resolve conflicts... We need civilian leadership, not military dictators to resolve conflicts like 1971 or South Waziristan. And the military should not forget that the tribals are not timid like unarmed Bengalis. They are armed to teeth and nails (sic). Fighting them is not an easy task. They have already killed more than 200 soldiers and they are quite capable to further resistance."

Diplomatic observers add that the Pakistan Army is not trained to fight the insurgency, but to fight a conventional war, and that too, only with India. This, however, leads them to underline the need to enhance the capacities of the Army.

General Sultan insists that events in South Waziristan need to be seen in the context of global injustice. "As long as the issues like Kashmir and Palestine will not be resolved, global peace is impossible. Global injustice is the root-cause of terrorism that is badly affecting Pakistan."

Clearly, before any solution can be arrived at in South Waziristan - and such a solution would need to be political - two of Pakistan's major problems would need to be addressed: the first is that the military dictatorship refuses to accept its mistakes or to learn from them. It continues to regard the Army as the panacea for all problems. The second is that the military regime is under US control. The latter wants the Army to solve the problem only through the exercise of force, rather than through efforts of conflict resolution. In combination, this can only mean that the prospects of peace in the country remain bleak.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist

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