The pendulum swings from here to there, but mostly in favour of the strike
Now that war alarms have sounded and the civilian and political leadership have vowed to deliver the final blow to TTP’s terrorists, it is instructive to look at positions adopted by various parties.
While addressing both houses of Parliament, the prime minister asked the entire nation to stand by the army. The troops lead the action on the frontlines, but keeping public opinion in favour of the military is an essential part of the government’s responsibilities.
“Once your troops go into battle, you have to provide them with complete political support”, said Asad Umar, senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI), one of the strongest proponents of the talks prior to the military operation.
However, the extent of support shown to the operation by political parties varies considerably.
Change in stance
As political parties began reacting to operation Zarb-i-Azb, the most anticipated announcement came from the PTI. Its core committee endorsed the operation, but the party has always doubted the efficacy of a military strike in North Waziristan. That is why it pushed for peace talks, and did not want to abandon negotiations even after the Karachi attack.
As political parties began reacting to operation Zarb-i-Azb, the most anticipated announcement came from the PTI. Its core committee endorsed the operation, but the party has always doubted the efficacy of a military strike in North Waziristan.
But since the operation ended any likelihood of the talks continuing, the party decided to throw its lot with the military, and announced unequivocal support for the strike.
When asked about the cause for the change in PTI’s stance, Umar said there is no sane option except standing behind your battling forces. He further stated that the “PTI leadership learned about the commencement of operation from television” and his party was not taken into confidence by the government.
The concern is understandable, since the KPK government will face the major fallout of the operation. In addition to hosting a large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), securing cities against major terrorist counter-strikes will also be a challenge. Asked if the provincial government had prepared contingency plans in expectation of an operation, he said “no contingency plan can tackle the fallout on a 48-hour notice, however appropriate arrangements are being made”.
Then there are parties that have been calling for the operation for a long time. MQM, for one, has long advocated an extensive military operation to wipe out the Taliban.
“We have been demanding this for ages”, said Ali Raza Abidi, an MNA from MQM, while talking to Pakistan Today.
Abidi said MQM was not updated on the progress of peace talks, neither was it taken into confidence before announcing the operation, but still “MQM fully supports the operation”. He went on to say that “army and rangers should target the hideouts of terrorist in urban centers as well”.
Similarly, the Awami National Party (ANP), which lost several of its leaders and scores of workers in terrorist attacks, had also been pushing for the military operation in North Waziristan.
“We always doubted that peace talks would be successful and now it is clear”, said Haji Adeel, a senior ANP leader, referring to the Karachi airport attack. “They did not stop their attacks even during the negotiations”.
Adeel said his party was also kept in the dark. “But ANP supports the Waziristan operation as a matter of principle”, he added, and “the distinction between pro- and anti-Pakistan Taliban should now cease to exist. We should deal with all terrorists with an iron hand”.
However, Adeel also warned of the huge number of IDPs, who will be left vulnerable if not attended to properly. He said there were complaints of difficulties faced by displaced people and many are still deprived of basic amenities like water and electricity in Bannu district.
JI has highlighted the potential collateral damage that the operation is sure to bring, besides criticising the government for not taking the political leadership on board.
“We must keep in mind that those who have to leave their homes due to the operation are respectable people who must be treated with dignity,” he pointed out.
The few skeptics
But not all mainstream political parties are fervently supporting the operation, as some have expressed their reservations. In this list, the most prominent ones are Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F.
JI has highlighted the potential collateral damage that the operation is sure to bring, besides criticising the government for not taking the political leadership on board. However, it did not directly oppose the operation and has appealed the militants to “shun terrorist activities”.
JUI-F, on the other hand, has come out strongly against the operation. Giving his comments to Pakistan Today, Jaan Achakzai, the party’s senior leader and spokesperson said, “We realise that it was the government’s right to retaliate after the attack on Karachi airport. But a tactical operation like this is not going to solve the problem. The government will have to adopt a multi-pronged strategy, inclusive of diplomatic means”.
Regarding the talks, he said his party was not informed about their outcome, and cannot say with certainty that they “failed”.
“The operation has even less significance now because reports suggest that most militants have already fled the area”, he added.
As the nation goes into a decisive war against terrorism, it is of paramount importance that the military and political leadership are on the same page. Divisions within will only strengthen the enemy. In the coming days, developing a consensus among different political parties will be a serious challenge for the government. How successfully it handles the emerging situation remains to be seen.