What can be done about North Waziristan

Soon after conquering Waziristan in 19th century, the British realised that instead of being rulers, they were the prisoners. Movement was with heavy escorts and had to be guarded by piqueting the route. Over a century later, it seems that nothing has changed. At least, that is the impression I got during my short stay at North Waziristan.

Questions about the inaction of the army are answered only by visiting the area. The terrain is mountainous and it is impossible to resort to the same tactics as those used in Kashmir because peaks are not mutually defended. As a result, wide gaps are left open between various posts making it impossible to stop movement across the border.

No one controls North Waziristan. The army has not exerted its power to take complete control of the agency due to justifiable reasons. The Taliban are divided between various groups and even their authority is eroding; locals ignored the warning given through pamphlets by Hafiz Gul Bahadur asking them not to work on the road being built by the Frontier Works Organisation.

Unless militants attack the troops, camps or check posts, no action is taken by the army. Movement from one place to another occurs in heavily armed convoys and that also only once a week for administrative requirements. Curfew has to be imposed from Bannu to Miranshah, Mirali, Razmak and Datta Khel during movements. Although piquets are in place to guard the convoys, five improvised explosive devices exploded during my travel to Miranshah causing casualties. Thus, movement has become a logistical and tactical exercise.

Uzbeks, Tajiks and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members have settled down in the Dawar areas mostly around Mirali. Miranshah has become an international city where nationals from all countries can be found.  Due to fear of Taliban reprisal, intellectual gatherings are mostly restricted to electronic eavesdropping.

Maintaining peace has been left to the peace committee which moderates between the Taliban and the political administration. The army only reacts if it is attacked and that, too, only after political administration and the local Jirga agree on punitive action. Collective punishment is still resorted but on a much smaller scale.

Political administration has lost the control it once exercised in Fata. Unlike Islamabad and Lahore, locals are not against drone attacks due to their accuracy in hitting militant targets. It seems that the army and government have also reconciled with drone attacks and if other problems are solved with Nato, drone attacks will not remain an issue irrespective of what the All Parties Conference or parliament say.

With the return of internally displaced persons, incidents of militant attacks in South Waziristan have increased. In neighbouring agencies such as Kurram, Orakzai, and Tirah in Khyber, the situation is still not under control. Additional troops will have to be inducted by bringing in fresh troops from other parts of the country. However, most troops are deployed for internal security making them unavailable for border duty. Crossing points have to logically be near main routes but nothing stops the Taliban from crossing over from unconventional routes. Measures such as colouring fertilisers, which are now being following, will not be of much help.

With calls from Nato and the USA for action against the Haqqani network and keeping our own interest in mind, we will have to resort to a military operation. But for the time being, this is impossible to do.

The Express Tribune

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