War on terror has had a debilitating impact on Pakistan
Asif Haroon Raja
War on terror which commenced in the aftermath of 9/11 and in which Pakistan became the frontline state has had a debilitating impact on political, social, religious and economic aspects. By diverting bulk of our resources towards futile war, business, tourism, sports and economy crashed. Flow of investment dried up due to security reasons. Pakistan lost over $ 35 billion, its foreign exchange and exchange rate dwindled rapidly, stock market nosedived, and inflation surged resulting in skyrocketing of price spiral of daily commodities. With no money left to pay the IPPs, the country plunged into darkness and load shedding hours stretched from 8 to 16 hours in a day. Corruption touched new heights governance standards declined. The begging bowl that had been put away was once again spread before the IMF to bail out the country from its acute economic crisis. Foreign sponsored covert operations, suicide attacks and drone attacks compounded the problems. On top of it, premier institutions like the army and the ISI were subjected to insinuations and blame game accusing them of not doing enough and for harboring terrorists. Despite employing army in restive Waziristan, Bajaur Hangu, Darra, Khyber and Swat in 2008, militants duly supported by foreign agencies gained strength and enlarged their areas of influence.
By the time the military was re-launched in Malakand Division in April, the militants were well-stocked, well-financed, well-entrenched, well-prepared and indoctrinated. Swat militants had overcome fear of the army after their two prolonged engagements and were in high spirits. Large numbers of suicide bombers were waiting in the wings to strike at military targets. Their sponsors had calculated that the army would get irretrievably entangled in Swat for a long time thereby quickening the pace of complete destabilization of Pakistan. Exodus of about 3 million IDPs added to their joys since they assessed that it would be impossible for an impoverished state already burdened with multiple loads to handle the IDPs. Quick and astounding successes made by the army poured cold water on their nefarious designs.
Looking back one can see a world of difference in overall security situation existing till April and what it is today. Swat defences have been overturned and extremely volatile situation brought under control. IDPs are returning to their homes in large numbers and hustle and bustle of major towns of Swat has recommenced. Out of 5000 militants over 2000 have been killed and each day more are either killed or arrested. Sizeable numbers of would-be suicide bombers of tender age have also been arrested because of which spate of suicide attacks have been controlled. Quite a few including some commanders are surrendering voluntarily while hideouts and arms dumps in mountains are being discovered with regularity. Space for foreign terrorists and RAW agents is getting choked. Having dismantled the defences and network in Swat, Lower Dir, Buner and Bajaur, mopping up operations are continuing. Pre-emptive actions are also going on in Mohmand and Aurakzai Agencies which were being converted into new battlegrounds. Darra Adam Khel, an outpost of Baitullah under Afridi and Khyber Agency are also being tackled. Troops are positioned in North and South Waziristan and Baitullah is being systematically encircled. None of the militant commanders in two Waziristans are in any position to dictate terms to the army. Rather they are on the receiving end. Troops have been placed along the border contiguous to Helmand Province where US-UK forces have mounted an operation to prevent spillover effect into Pashtun belt of Balochistan.
While capture of a tactical objective or area target is relatively easier, its retention is much more difficult. The army has not only to protect the area freed from the control of militants but also entire route to allow free movement. Soldiers have to remain on high alert 24 hours a day for months to prevent re-entry of militants, sudden raids and suicide attacks and keeping long supply routes clear of IEDs. Their task becomes more complicated when it comes to differentiating between friend and foe, where great majority of locals are peace loving citizens and militants are few in number. Dressed alike and speaking the same language, the only subtle dissimilarity between a militant and a non-militant is that former carries a weapon but throws it away the moment he finds himself cornered and gets merged among locals. He patiently keeps looking for unguarded moments or vulnerable spots, lobs a grenade or fires a burst from his weapon and quickly vanishes. Provision of intelligence by the locals to the military is the best safety measure to offset surprise factor.
Fixing well concealed IEDs all along the route frequented by military doesn't require any skill or labor but road clearance is an extremely laborious and hazardous work. Mountainous ridgelines covered with high shrubs and thick cluster of trees where he has spent his lifetime provide him escape route. Like migratory Pawindas, they leave their locale and shift to safer areas if the tide turns against them and trickle back on need basis to keep the pot on the boil. Identification of suicide bombers usually aged between 12 and 16 years among sea of humanity is very difficult. In short, it is not a game of one-sided hunting by the army but both sides are hunters, each adept in field craft and art of firing. There are no fixed battle lines or fixed fronts to defend. The faceless enemy skilled in guerrilla warfare has the advantage of appearing from any direction at any time. Locals provide him the means to survive and operate. Once he loses the support of locals, he is like a fish out of water. Hence the urgent need to win over the complete confidence of locals.
All pleasures of life have been snatched away by selfish imperialist powers pursuing global agenda at the cost of Pakistan. Since 2002, people are living in a state of insecurity, fear and despair with no light at the end of long tunnel. Our detractors too engrossed in pursuit of their agenda are least concerned about the cries and anguish of 170 million people of Pakistan. Rehabilitation of 3 million IDPs and reconstruction of destroyed homes and property as a result of army operations is a colossal burden which Pakistan is unable to bear. The world is apathetic to the woes of Pakistan and has extended very little assistance as against what it had promised in Tokyo meeting. Deprived segments of Pakistan are paying a huge price to safeguard interests of superpower and the elites of the country. Apathy of the ruling class can be judged from the painful fact that 22% of annual budge is spent on how to spend the budget and 70% of unspent budget each year is pilfered or spent on unproductive projects. Corruption has scaled new heights and lifestyle of the opulent class has become ostentatious. It is this class of the dirty rich aligned with western powers, which is the cause of real trouble. These parasites have never allowed Pakistan to become a welfare state as envisaged by our founding father. Their greed and lust for power and pelf has become insatiable.
The dangerous security situation having been retrieved from the precipice, it is now for political leadership to quickly restore civil administration in areas cleared by the army, undertake rehabilitation and reconstruction works in affected areas and go all out to win the hearts and minds of the traumatized people who have gone through hell. Gains made by the army at a heavy cost must not be frittered away.
The writer is a defence and political analyst based at Rawalpindi and author of several books.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org