What Stopped Pakistan Military From Launching North Waziristan Operation in 2011?
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the former DG – ISPR, is one of those people who are not only charismatic in looks but also quite articulate. Equipped with rational arguments, earlier he used to convince the nation why the operation in North Waziristan was not feasible. A few days ago, he made a revelation while giving interview to BBC that the military offensive was supposed to be launched in the year 2011, but the former army chief remained unnecessarily reluctant.
Fair enough. There is no second opinion regarding the elimination of the terrorists. Not today, rather they should have been eliminated yesterday. However, sometimes, there happens to be a wide gulf between the idealism and unavoidable ground realities.
Given are a few excerpts from the interview of Athar Abbas to BBC:
“There were two opinions/groups. One favored the operation and the other suggested delaying it. I personally believe it should have been launched in 2011.”
“In principle, it was decided especially in military to prepare for the operation from 2010 till 2011 and then launch it in 2011.”
“I think circumstances have not changed, rather we have suffered more damage.”
“When it comes to military and civilian leadership, one needs political support for the operation but, as you know, in politics the house is divided. Jamat-e-Islami has been against the operation right from the beginning whether it is Swat, Malakand or South Waziristan. PTI keeps moving from one end to the other. At present, PTI has favored the ongoing operation but one wonders what will be their stance when there will be the issue of IDPs or casualties in days to come. The same is true for Fazl-ur-Rehman. These are the local parties whose support matters. If they oppose the operation and put enough pressure on the government, the operation has to be stopped. And as the military has launched the operation after the go ahead from the government, it would be ceased on the order of the government.”
Let’s connect the dots.
Athar Abbas admitted that there were two groups. Hence, one cannot say that it was unanimous decision to go for the operation. One group favored, but the other advised postponing the operation. So, it was all about the timing.
Athar Abbas told that the preparations for the operation were made between 2010 and 2011, and it was supposed to be launched in 2011. This is understood that it was the former army chief, Gen. Kayani, who approved those preparations and was the authority to okay the launching in 2011.
What made the chief reluctant? Let’s try to explore it.
Gen. Kayani received the baton of command from his predecessor in November, 2007 – one of the most critical times for the nation as well as for the military. The state of emergency was imposed in the country and the general elections were looming in uncertain environment. A wave of suicide bombings had started all across the country and security institutions were under attack. The lawyers’ movement was like a genie out of the bottle. There was a total mess. These circumstances finally led to the resignation of Pervez Musharraf. Later Mumbai attacks brought more global isolation for the country. We can easily say, those were turbulent days.
Gen. Kayani had to act to counter terrorism and he did. Given are some of the military operations against the terrorists approved and supervised by Gen. Kayani.
1- Operation Zalzala in South Waziristan (January till May 2008).
2- Operation in Bajour (August 2008 till February 2009).
3- Operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem in Khyber Agency (July 2008 till July 2009).
4- Operation Black Thunderstorm in Buner, Lower Dir, Swat and Shangla districts (April till June 2009).
5- Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan (June till December 2009).
6- Operation Khwakh Ba De Sham (“I will teach you a lesson”) in Orakzai and Kurram (September 2009 till June 2010).
7- Operation Tight Screw in North Waziristan (2012 – date)
8- Operation Rah-e-Shahdat in Tirah Valley (April till June 2013).
Military operations require huge resources. The above list of operations gives us an idea how much challenging it all would be for the military and the government to manage millions of IDPs. Moreover, maintaining the stronghold there and keeping these regions from falling back into the hands of Talibans was also a huge task.
Let’s come back to the interview. Athar Abbas suggested that 2011 was the high time to launch the operation in North Waziristan. One wonders what went wrong and why it was not done even when the military prepared for it for a year as well.
One needs to look at the circumstances that may stopped the military from going into operation at that time.
1- The direct operation of CIA in Abbottabad against Osama Bin Laden (2nd May, 2011).
2- The attack on Pakistani security forces at Salala check post on 26th November, 2011.
NATO supply lines were reopened after almost 7 months in July 2012. The relationship between USA and Pakistan remained at lowest level and literally hit the rock bottom throughout these months. Strategically, it was unwise to get into operation while not having USA, NATO and Afghan forces on board. Joint measures were needed but all the players were not on the same page.
Athar Abbas himself stressed on the need of political support for a successful execution of any operation. Contrarily, in 2011 and 2012, we witnessed the worst form of civil-military equation. The credit mainly goes to unfortunate Memogate scandal that brought a huge distrust and confrontation between civil and military leadership. There was no hope for any political support for the operation in such state of affairs. Let’s not forget about the judicial activism as well where not only the government was struggling against the then ambitious chief justice but also the defense institutions. Also try to give a thought to the attacks on PNS Mehran and Kamra airbase that hit the morale of the armed forces.
Athar Abbas claims that there is no difference in the circumstances of 2011 and 2014 in North Waziristan but what about the rest of the country?
In past years, public was not supportive of the armed forces in their fight against the terrorists. Recall what happened when Taliban attacked Malala. She was resented by many Pakistanis. Also recall what happened when Hakeem-ullah-Mehsud was killed in a drone strike, he was even acclaimed as “shaheed”. Political parties, in general, used to disown the sacrifices of army calling it America’s war. Public was divided. There was no visible support for military.
These days of 2014 are different. Operation Zarb-e-Azb enjoys a vocal support from almost all the segments of the society. This is no longer someone else’s but our own war. This surely gives much needed energy and spirit to the forces on ground.
To conclude, one can say that these were the unfortunate circumstances that didn’t allow the full throttle operation in North Waziristan in time. That’s regrettable but putting the entire blame on the former army chief not only seems unfair and out of proportion but also can damage the morale of on ground soldiers in ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Let’s hope that after successfully eliminating terrorists from the North Waziristan, government and military would also act against the whole nexus of terrorism including the other militant and sectarian organizations, their ideology and their open supporters that are enjoying almost full liberty across the country. The state had committed many mistakes in past but let’s not repeat them in 2014.
This is now or never. Let’s stand up for the country that we all love.