By Waqas Rafique
With Operation Zarb-e-Azb a few days old now, news broadcasts that I get to present these days are dominated with updates on the offensive launched against terrorists and violent extremists that had found safe haven in North Waziristan.
In the past, we have been told all such operations have been important and made gains. Be it Operation Rah-e-Rast in South Wazirstan or Rah-i-Nijat, which was the battle for Swat. But we have also seen that after successful military efforts, Pakistan continued to suffer at the hands of terrorism. The June 8 attack at the Karachi airport perhaps served as a wake-up call to finally take on the militants head on in North Waziristan.
Pakistan took its time to decide to launch this offensive. The United States always maintained that Pakistan was a sovereign country so its decision to launch an offensive in the tribal area was its prerogative and so no one could instruct Pakistan on this. But analysts and experts at home and abroad had long impressed that Pakistan needed to clear the complication in North Waziristan. A lot of mistrust was earned in the process.
The warm welcome extended to this operation on mainstream and social media is proof that Pakistanis have lost patience with terrorism and they expect help from their army to get out of this marsh. The American and British foreign missions have been quick to extend their moral support to Pakistan as it carries on the offensive but stopped short of giving any advice on how to tackle violent extremists in Pakistan.
Truly, this is the most important task for Pakistan authorities. How to tackle the mindset that has produced so many suicide bombers, given sanctuaries to foreign terrorists and taken lives of so many innocent women and children.
As I write this, the number I have of IDPs from North Waziristan is overwhelming: 70,000 people have fled the area up till now (with the number rising) and are trying to survive in neigbouring areas in this very hot summer. Back in 2009, I had the chance to report from Mardan where camps had been set up for IDPs from Swat and Buner. It was tough for them. There was a clear threat of terror strikes. It was hot and all they had was tents. Women, children and youth all had to stay in those camps situated a little outside the city. Facilities of course were minimum. Children were missing schools and youths were being wasted. On asking what his wish list was that he wanted to go back to, a young boy whom I had found sitting on a mound watching the sunset told me he wanted to complete his studies and get a job. He wasn’t asking for too much but I knew inside he would have to wait for a long time. I hope he has found what he was looking for in life.
IDPs have been created again — this time from North Waziristan — and we need to remember that there are some real health issues that need to be tackled. Out of the three new polio cases reported last month, two were from North Waziristan. There is an opportunity in this crisis to vaccinate children against polio now that they are in areas where they can be reached.
The operation in North Wazirtistan will take time to conclude. An important part of reviving that area and other tribal areas has to be the government’s effort to own these areas. Education, health and development efforts that would generate opportunities to earn livelihoods have to be made at the earliest if we do not want to face extremism that gives rise to terrorism again. But for that we would have to be honest and give up being selfish.
It has been said before and it needs to be repeated: establishing the writ of the government is essential if any benefit is to be derived after the current military effort concludes. Till then, it is a tough life for the IDPs and the rest of Pakistanis are also quite helpless as they watch terror strike around them every other day.
The writer is a broadcast journalist.