Af-Pak – What Happens Next?

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Zarb-e-Azb, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Afghan Elections, So Mr. Ashraf Ghani wins the controversially rigged Afghan presidential elections (preliminarily) and Mr. Abdullah Abdullah with all his supporters has challenged this decision threatening to form a parallel government with himself in the seat of the president. Where America has assured that Mr. Abdullah need not worry (don’t know why this assurance was necessary to begin with) I see the Afghanistan of the 90’s again and hope that no political representative in Pakistan takes inspiration from this amazingly awkward predicament.

With operation Zarb-e-Az’b succeeding with leaps and bounds, the morale of the armed forces is exponentially high and success is just round the corner. As every inch of ground is covered and relieved from any aggressive elements, the pressure of the IDPs or Internally Displaced Persons makes sure that government machinery is well occupied with temporary settlements and post conflict rehabilitation. Where much controversy has been attributed to the entire operation from all corners of the literate elite, there have emerged a few concerns that cloud the entire operation.

Zarb-e-Az’b, with all its historical references from our religion or nostalgia aside, is an initiative that must not go to waste as was with all the previous operation and conflicts. This operation must be different from all the others that we undertook in the past but as we know it, in all its clandestine camouflage, there is a gloomy future looming, waiting to expose itself when the time is right.

I respect whoever has or had the podium of being spokesperson for any institution and I do respect everyone’s opinion and concerns or even grievances but I do protest on the timing of what was said. As the old proverb goes ‘think before you speak’ we all require people to choose their timing wisely wile gracing the ears of the populous with their critical overview of past instances. When a person is given a pedestal on which he must stand and perform the duties assigned, it is usually assumed that said person will perform said duties with diligence and with utmost sincerity and once relieved honorably, the said person will observe decorum and at least wait a while before passing a statement that could put a lot of questions on the institute thus served.

Whether the said operation was initiated three years ago or even a decade ago and no matter what its result would have been, that window is closed and time barred beyond the option of remedy and thus such statements must not be presented publicly because it may not damage the institute or the strategy thus adopted but it will surely blot character of the presenter and thus all accumulated respect would be out the door. Nonetheless, the freedom of speech and choice remains paramount and sacred and I will not pillage this exclusive right.

As far as the operation itself is concerned, there are quite a lot of questions that are concealed till further notice – the prime notion being significance of this operation in light of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Many are of view that this operation is the ‘Janitor’s final mop’ prior to the initiation of withdrawal. More so that this is initiated to ensure that the US has no trouble with ‘expendable assets’ to whoever they may belong, when they commence their exodus after completion of ‘desired objectives against a global threat’. So the general picture would be a bit like this: The Pakistan armed forces will clean sweep the area making way for the withdrawal and thus, both the US and Pakistan will have achieved their desired goals and the region shall remain ‘free’ from terrorists and to add garnish to this wondrous cocktail, there shall be no drone strikes, happily ever after. If this is indeed true, then it should have occurred three years ago or maybe even before that. Moreover, it would also be true that Pakistan, purposely, kept a silent observation over the aggravated fester in FATA because of ‘improper timing’ and this is much to the satisfaction of all those who have recently turned into conspiracy theorists and self-proclaimed separatists. In no small measure, then we should await huge investments and post war ‘gifts’ which are nowhere to be seen in the future, no matter how distant or nigh.

Next in line we have that all-famous argument that armed forces ‘compelled’ the civilian administration to operate otherwise there were so many domestic factors working to dismantle this regime that it would have been impossible for our government to sustain the second year, let alone the entire constitutional tenure. This argument is supported by a variety of tangible inferences that include inability of the government to ensure a stable governance with completion of enumerated national requirements, malfeasant behavior and misuse of popular mandate, abuse of parliamentary majority and bully like behavior, misrepresentation of mandate by falsification of electoral victory aka ‘Dhandli’ and the cherry on top being ‘inciting conditions to authorize military takeover or revolution’.

Agreeing that where the government has had a troubled start and agreeing also that many issues have either been mishandled or otherwise not dealt with an intellectual mindset, there is however the idea that a revolution or a military takeover is not the ultimate solution, no matter how flowery or gravely needed they might be. So there is no need to give Pakistan its ‘actual freedom’ or to ‘turn the tables’, all that is needed that the opposition and the government fill the seats they won in the parliament when it is in session and instead of habitual walkouts and noise pollution, humbly discuss their contentions and settle matters accordingly rather than adjournment for want of decorum or attendance or both.

As far as armed forces and civilian administration is concerned, they will never be on the same page if we keep saying that they are not. Negative criticism and over assuming any situation or reading the face wrong is the last thing that we as a nation require in times like these. The civilian government declared officially that we are in a state of war and the armed forces ratified the same not as a parallel institute but as a subordinate executive mechanism. So if the chief shook the hand of the prime minister a bit too hard or the prime minister was not offered a comfortable chair at the GHQ is all irrelevant and counter-productive and if I may be unparliamentarily blunt, plain stupid. As far as the visit to India is concerned, along with the gifts for the newly elected Indian prime minister and his family, it is by no means an act of cowardice but rather, a proper act of diplomatic etiquette that is not only diplomatically due but also morally outstanding, if it is reciprocated or not is neither required nor desired if not offered. Also, this visit will have absolutely no impact on deterrence maintained thereof and no one is losing for God sake.

So now coming back to the operation, there are a few instances that need to be viewed with the utmost diligence and care, whether it is the government or the opposition. The biggest concern is not the IDPs but the post conflict rehabilitation of the region. There will be a massive political vacuum that would require filling and where the job of the armed forces shall be complete with the utmost precision and meticulousness, it is not the job of the army to make sure that it remains that way, their job is to assist political administration in matters pertaining to physical security and ensure that a congenial uninterrupted environment persists that rids the political machinery of at least one issue off its checklist.

Now I am just speculating but as much as we have observed and assessed with respect to laws governing FATA and the overall status of this region, I am of the view that neither those laws nor the administrative nomenclature has served desired ends and the status of the region itself is not a healthy sign for a productive long-term sustenance of peace in the region. We cannot and must not commit an indefinite number of forces on permanent duty because it is not the job description of the armed forces to provide perpetual policing. For this, considerable reforms must be brought not only to civilian law enforcing authorities in the region but also nationwide to ensure coherence and cooperation in an autonomous and independent environment.

The government must not introduce legislation that is both short-lived and vague and should resort to assess their own priorities regarding the region and introduce legislative decisions that are long term and more consistent than prevalent regulations. Now I am merely speculating and I would like any of my readers to correct me with experience and guide me accordingly but I feel that if we declare FATA a province, it just might pay off. This would require ejecting refugees that are not nationals and also to register and ratify all those that have not been registered.

Once the operation is completed, the political decision makers must avoid point scoring and must refrain from political manipulation for leverage and advantage because the terrorists will not be eradicated entirely and the threat of resurgence will remain looming. This would require integration not only at regional level but at national level and for this, the opposition and many of government representatives would be required to keep all electoral issues aside for later resolution and be on the same platform to sustain a powerful and formidable anti-terrorist machinery.

I know I sound too optimistic and my suggestions may seem utopian but I think they are possible only if sincerity is put in place (if I am not asking too much). On a lighter mode (keeping their apprehensive and contentious imagination in mind), our neighbors may be seeing this operation and the ones before as an exercise to make sure that our armed forces combat ready in practical terms with respect to urban warfare. I hope this is not the case and I am not here to offend anyone but this would be a real comedy if this childish assumption does hold some water. Diplomatically speaking, we can all be as apprehensive as we like, it’s a free world after all.

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is a Masters in Strategic and Nuclear Studies from the National Defense University. He can be reached on m.sharrehqazi@hotmail.com

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