Published On: Mon, Jun 23rd, 2014

The final showdown in Pakistan

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Following Taleban’s audacious attack on Karachi airport, Pakistan’s civil and military administrations have made the final call.

Unanimously backed by all political parties, the government has authorized Pakistan’s military to launch a grand offensive against militants’ safe havens in North Waziristan.
The government had faced much criticism for delaying a military action and awaiting the outcome of snail-paced peace talks with Taleban factions. Under the “Zarb-e-Azb” operation, armed forces of Pakistan have softened militant sanctuaries through an aerial bombing campaign. Early reports from the military’s media wing suggest that more than 150 local and foreign, mostly Uzbek militants, have been killed in these airstrikes.
With the operation in full swing, it is critical to examine whether Pakistan is ready to face a backlash from militants across the country. The government claims that it is prepared to meet the main challenges of relocating internally displaced people (IDPs) and ensuring security across the country. Pakistanis certainly hope that their government will be up to the task as recent militant attacks on sensitive civilian and military installations in urban centers show that they are a well-organized unit, with the capability to strike anywhere and at any time. Threatening the government of dire consequences, Pakistan-based Taleban claim that they will “burn down Lahore and Islamabad.” A message from them further adds that, “now mujahideen of Islam and the Pakistan government are pitted against each other all over the country. Any important government installation or institution could become the target of mujahideen.”
Security agencies across the country are on a high alert. Security arrangements on all sensitive locations have been further tightened. Unfortunately, the government has shown shades of immaturity and ugly incidents of police clashes with civilians at Minhajul Quran Secretariat in Lahore have come to the forefront. At a time when the country needs to fully rally behind military operation in North Waziristan, such incidents cast a doubt on the focus and determination of security agencies in protecting the state from terrorist activities.
Pakistan seems to have lost the strategic advantage of surprising the enemy by delaying its military action. This time factor has given militants a chance to move out of North Waziristan and seek shelter in the mountainous regions bordering Afghanistan. It is feared that some other insurgents may relocate to main city centers in the guise of IDPs. In mega metropolitan cities like Karachi, which are expected to shelter IDPs as well, the government is focusing on documentation of residents in squatter settlements outside the city. In the previous military action against militants in Swat, several militants relocated to Karachi as IDPs and allegedly spread a wave of Talebanization in the city.

The military showdown in North Waziristan is also likely to be a test of Afghan-Pakistan ties. Pakistan has asked Afghanistan to seal the border during its military offensive and extradite the Pakistani Taleban chief Mullah Fazlullah. Although Pakistan desires stern action from Afghanistan against his network in the country’s Kunar and Nooristan provinces, it is widely believed that the terror group enjoys support from Afghan intelligence agencies. In such a situation, Pakistan may seek to put global pressure on Afghanistan for dismantling terrorist safe havens along its side of the border.

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