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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The third phase of military operation in Swat: Will it be any different?

Will it be any different?

THE third phase of Operation Rah-i-Haq underway in Swat has been talked up by the government and the Pakistan Army on the grounds of a ‘new strategy’. While we must wait to see the results, past experience suggests that strategies are deemed successful until it becomes impossible to deny their failure. Will phase three of the operation be any different? For several reasons it must; failure at this stage would be catastrophic. The army-run Swat Media Centre tends to portray the battle as one in which slow but determined progress is being made, but the reality is that the Pakistan Army’s reputation has suffered a severe blow in the area.

Two key questions remain unanswered. One, does the Pakistan Army have the will to crush the militants? Two, does it have the capability to do so? The will has been questioned on the grounds that the militants have suffered less as compared to the collateral damage caused in Swat. This fact has created an extremely negative perception of the armed forces among the Swatis and led to unfortunate questions about whose side the armed forces are on. However, if the will is in fact present, then the capabilities of the armed forces have certainly come under question in the various phases of Operation Rah-i-Haq since October 2007. If the Pakistan Army fails the Swat litmus test, any notion of the sovereignty of the state will be destroyed. Maulana Fazlullah will not stop at conquering Swat; logically, he will move on to other parts of the Malakand division and soon arrive at the doorstep of Peshawar. Moreover, if the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan continues to defy the Pakistan Army in Swat, the international ‘do more’ brigade urging Pakistan to fight the militants may reconsider its options on the pretext that we cannot win the battle on our own. From there the unravelling of the state as we know it may be a rapid affair.

Yet, while the military component of the battle for Swat needs a thorough revision, the political component has been far from helpful. Time and again the politicians have flip-flopped on their support for the military operation in Swat while at the same time declining to show any real leadership there. On Sunday, Federal Minister for Narcotics Control Nawabzada Muhammad Khan Hoti resigned from the cabinet and, among other grievances, took aim at the military operation in the NWFP. In Swat, a few politicians do show up in public to express their solidarity with the people and listen to their grievances, but the top political leadership has stayed away. Admittedly, there are serious security concerns for politicians but no less so for a frightened population that has nowhere to hide. (Dawn)

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