The interior adviser, Mr Rehman Malik, has announced that the military operation in the Tribal Areas will be suspended on August 31 in deference to the holy month of Ramazan. That means that for 30 days our army will not fight the militants who have literally taken a large chunk of our territory away. Mr Rehman says it is not going to be a ceasefire, and only he can make sense of this “rider clause”, but we hope that our army doesn’t give up its position of advantage in Bajaur and Swat because of this “deal” in the month of fasting.
The past pattern is stark. “Peace talks” proceeded after sending the army back to the barracks, pulling down the checkposts and returning the territory which should not have been returned. Now Mr Rehman says the army will suspend operations but if the militants start something it will retaliate: “If they fire a single bullet we will respond with 10 bullets”. In the past, this has not happened. It is the militants who fired the ten bullets, it is our men who died, while the politicians kept on saying they wanted “peace talks”. The militants always regrouped and returned with redoubled strength that found no comparable counter-force opposing them.
No one can be blamed for characterising the suspension of military operations in the Tribal Areas as a weak-kneed response to the challenge of internationalised terror. One can’t see how it is going to be different this time. If the operation is suspended, does it mean the troops stay where they are but do nothing when they see the militants getting fresh supplies of munitions and men? Does suspension mean that the troops will go back to their cantonments to fast and say their special Ramazan prayers? If that is going to be the shape of things to come in the next 30 days, who will look after the safety of Bajaur refugees trying to return to their homes?
Ramazan has assumed a great religious importance in our days. Entire cities go into partial suspension of life and work because everyone is fasting. No one wants to work seriously and doesn’t even think it is wrong to violate traffic rules. Will this apply to war also? It has never happened in the past. Some wars are known in Muslim history as “Ramadan wars” because the enemy will not strike according to the Islamic calendar. In fact the enemy will strike most effectively during Ramazan because Muslims are not willing to be active during the fasting month. Let us be frank, the terrorists who kill fellow-Muslims have a poor record as far as observing the holy months is concerned. The militants one faces in Bajaur are the same people who have been killing Muslims during Ashura.
In a way, the 23,000 people who are supposed to return home and start fasting will walk straight into the arms of the terrorists. Already the people displaced by the terrorists have come to Peshawar and are opposing military operations against the Taliban. Their mind is influenced by the past hesitation on the part of the state to take on the terrorists. They simply don’t believe that the state is capable of defending their rights; therefore, to save their lives they are ready to give up their right to shave their beards, to educate their daughters and listen to music, and prevent their sons from being trained as suicide bombers. Hundreds of thousands of people have actually migrated from South Waziristan, Swat and Kurram, and they are so forlorn and desperate to just “live” that they are prepared to accept the tyranny of the Taliban because the Pakistani state cannot or will not protect them.
The state’s response was on the upswing before the fasting month came around. Eighteen Taliban making life miserable in Peshawar surrendered and swore on the Quran that they would not repeat their evil deeds. Of course this means nothing unless the state is dominant. One is conscious of the fact that the state has asserted itself in Swat and Bajaur, but it has not yet established dominance. (It has turned tail in Kurram, of course, where the Shia are being allowed to die.) The right thing to do is to carry on the noble deed of rescuing the people of Pakistan during Ramazan and to think of resting only after the job is accomplished.
We have tried peace talks; we have tried jirgas. Peace talks have allowed the terrorists to reorganise and replenish. The jirgas are no longer real because all the elders who could have talked peace have been killed by the terrorists. Now we can try Ramazan, and after that Eid too in the hope that this will work and the Taliban will vacate aggression and allow the writ of the state to prevail. But if it doesn’t work, we will rue the lesson that there is nothing more damaging for morale than to give up after succeeding partially.
Of course, we realise that there may be some short-term political compulsions also in this new development. The JUI, in particular, has pegged its support for Mr Asif Zardari’s presidential bid to a “soft” compromise by the state in the tribal areas. Most FATA MNAs are also putting a lot of pressure on the federal government to capitulate to the Taliban. This pressure can be released by accepting their demands in good faith until the Taliban break the agreement. Mr Rehman Malik has said as much but added that “one Taliban bullet will be returned with ten bullets by the state”. So be it. The government should get over the presidential election in a week’s time and review the Ramazan deal realistically in light of its short-term and long term experience. *
Second Editorial: Mangal Bagh still rules Khyber
There is no need to say what happened after a “successful” operation in Khyber Agency. Warlord Mangal Bagh was put to flight and is under a deadline to leave the agency. The latest news is that his gang Lashkar-e-Islam has asked the people of Landi Kotal to obey his orders, or else. Mr Bagh has asked the people to voluntarily hoist his army’s black flags on their rooftops or face punitive action. He has asked men to keep beards, cover their heads with caps, and keep their ankles visible to avoid thrashings. A large number of people have bought caps to avoid being killed. Since he is using the FM radio, the sales of radio sets have shot up. People don’t want to miss out on his fresh orders and suffer. Every prayer-leader will have to follow the timetable for five prayers set by Mr Bagh’s army.
It is the same as in Swat and Bajaur. No one dares to speak up against Mr Bagh. But everyone is ready to speak against the state and ask it not to come to their help. This is because the state has gone in and then left the job unfinished. When the state was winning against him, Mr Bagh was laughing on TV. He still owns houses in Peshawar and orders people around in Hayatabad, but the state is not there in Khyber.