Military option

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s execution last week of 23 paramilitary soldiers it held captive since 2010 has sealed the fate of the tottering peace process.

The military has launched a major offensive, including air strikes, in the North Waziristan tribal region. The offensive will put into cold storage yet again Islamabad’s efforts to negotiate with the TTP. The Nawaz Sharif government initiated talks with the TTP late last year but within weeks the effort ran aground when US drone strikes killed TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud. Talks were revived thereafter with the US agreeing to hold off drone strikes for a while but these proved a non-starter with the TTP insisting on sharia being made the law of the land.  Whatever life the negotiation option may have had has been snuffed out now. The TTP’s acceleration of violent attacks in recent weeks - besides the execution of the soldiers it attacked a police station in Karachi killing 19 cops – prompted the main political parties as well as civil society to call for decisive action against the armed groups. The result was a string of airstrikes in North Waziristan over the past week that has killed scores of militants.

Even as Islamabad focuses on its military offensive, it must not forget the plight of civilians living in the war zone. Already an exodus has begun and this will grow in the coming weeks especially if ground operations follow. The government must facilitate the quick evacuation of civilians from the area. It must be ready to receive a large number of displaced people in its already densely populated cities.

North Waziristan is a base not just of the Pakistan Taliban but of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and remnants of the al-Qaeda. Hitherto, Islamabad has taken on the Pakistan Taliban only, even as it allowed other groups to flourish. This selective approach is based on its policy of using the other terror groups to further its strategic ambitions in the region. It has proved costly for Pakistan as Islamabad’s terror protégés have rarely hesitated to use their guns and grenades inside Pakistan itself. Will Islamabad abandon its old selective approach in the current offensive in North Waziristan? This will require it to target all terror groups based there, whatever their goals and whoever their patrons, even those nurtured by the ISI.

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