The forgotten war

Source: Published in Defence on Friday, August 15, 2014

For long, years even, a military operation in North Waziristan Agency against militants was considered essential if the country were to ever seriously start down the long road to defeating the militant threat.

Now, with the military’s Operation Zarb-i-Azb under way for over a month and a half, the battle that was billed as a major turning point in the country’s security outlook has nearly vanished from the national conversation.

Neither is there much news from the battle zone — at least in terms of independently and credibly verifiable news — nor, tragically, does there seem to be much interest in political and media circles at the moment to give more than a passing mention to events in North Waziristan and the repercussions beyond.

In part, this is surely because of the spectacle unfolding on TV screens across the country — a so-called long march to Islamabad by the PTI in a bid to perhaps topple the government.

Yet, current events do not fully explain why Operation Zarb-i-Azb has quickly become the forgotten war. Part of the problem is surely the mixed — often outright — confused stances that many mainstream political parties have on the issue of militancy.

The PTI having long argued that dialogue was the only option has perhaps chosen not to keep advocating its long-stated position quite so vehemently now that the military has come out openly and fiercely in support of the operation the PTI was politically opposed to.

The PML-N government having long argued that dialogue was the preferred option appears unhappy that its pursuit of the latter was cut short and is unwilling to take any real ownership of a war that it did not want.

Meanwhile, parties such as the PPP and ANP, which supported a military operation, have been undone by also simultaneously supporting the dialogue option when pursued by the PML-N.

What all of that adds up to is a deafening political silence on North Waziristan. The media, distracted by potentially seismic events in the epicentre of politics, has been unable to sustain any critical interest in North Waziristan, allowing military PR to dominate the narrative on the operation.

Unhappily, even the initial media focus on the humanitarian crisis that is an estimated one million IDPs has now dissipated and there is little light shed on the continuing struggles of a displaced population that is key to the question of whether or not militancy will return and flourish in the tribal areas.

Worryingly, even the military has chosen to shed less and less light on events in the tribal agency thereby leaving the media and the public in the dark about the actual situation. Bland pronouncements of progress being made, events unfolding according to plan and the military remaining on track to victory do not make for meaningful analyses.

The record is one of mixed results with no real exit strategy. Is North Waziristan shaping up to be the same?

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