When a military operation first started in Waziristan and after it was stopped in the middle, one politician voiced sense: Imran Khan. As he says in his article in The News on May 23, the operation in Waziristan did indeed have a role in the destruction of the political and tribal social structure of that area. It is possible that in those first uncomplicated stages, the government could have used the existing system of law and order to eliminate the terrorists who did cross over from Afghanistan or at least make it impossible for them to find sanctuary in that locality. Tribal elders in Waziristan ensured law and order along with the representative of the government, the political agent and his khasadars. When the Taliban rose to prominence in Waziristan and a military operation was launched against them, the elders formed lashkars and worked alongside the army in a bid to eliminate them. But this is where Imran Khan grabbed the wrong end of the snake and still clings to it, doggedly ignoring the free venomous end.
It was not the operation itself, but the disastrous interruption of it and negotiation of a peace deal with the militants that is the root cause of the present condition of Waziristan and its immediate neighbours. The peace deal launched a warped ceasefire. This gave the Taliban time to cut off the right arm of the government in Waziristan: the influential local elders who had anchored acceptance of the government ever since becoming part of Pakistan. The government adhered to the ceasefire devoutly while truckloads of Uzbeks and Tajiks murdered over 200 Waziristani Maliks in targeted killings. Lack of leaders resulted in unshackled bonds of tribal loyalty and lack of protection from the government drove the people to join the men who were emerging to the top of the new hierarchy. It was only a matter of time before the insurgency spilled over to the neighbouring districts.
Like most Pakhtuns, I say the only feasible solution at this stage is a complete military operation resulting in the confirmed elimination of the leadership of the Taliban in Swat and ensuring that they do not return after the area is cleared. If it is abandoned in the middle yet again, the much-reduced supporters of the government will be finished off, and Swat will become as hostile as Waziristan. Critics of the operation like Shireen Mazari, Imran khan and Omar Sarfraz Cheema believe force should have been used as a last option. Is confessed guilt of suicide bombings, arson, theft, mass murder and continuous reneging on deals not enough reason to dispense with talks?
The people of Swat are living in a situation of constant fear. When our loved ones are alive, we fear for their safety, when they are taken away, there is anguish over whether they will come back alive, when they are murdered, there is terror that their bodies will be left for scavengers to feed on, when they are returned, whole or in parts, there is the torment of giving them half-Muslim, secret burials in unmarked graves and when they are buried, there is constant dread of their graves being desecrated and their corpses being subjected to dishonour and humiliation. Our children are taken away and turned into monsters; our men are forced to lay down their lives to murder innocents and our sisters are dragged out of their homes by disappointed suitors and flogged publicly for imaginary crimes.
When the people of Swat were being terrorised the PTI pretended all was well, but now that they can no longer ignore the multitudes suffering in their backyard, they scream for them to be sent back. To save us from the lion, Imran Khan would shove us into the snake pit. Instead of offering solutions now, he laments that his proposals were not implemented in the beginning. In his article of May 23, he says the government broke the peace deal, when the whole country knows the government was dragged kicking and scratching to the end of it by the Taliban.
It is after the battle that the war will begin. If the army is to go to Waziristan as the president says, Swat might be left short of sentinels to prevent the Taliban from returning to cleared areas. Preferably, the impending operation in Waziristan should be delayed till Swat is secured and, most importantly, the IDPs resettled, or the whole could unravel disastrously.
A solution for Swat has been repeatedly offered by Mohammad Afzal Khan Lala, who has decades of experience of tribal warfare and peacetime politics. This is the advice that should be heard, because it is strongly seconded by the leaders of the various tribes which live in Swat, as opposed to visiting hotshots who think they know what is good for the region.
The exodus of influential community figures must be reversed. They must be armed and charged with the safe-keeping of the people they are accountable for, like their counterparts, the Salarzai and Bunerwal Lashkars. Their familiarity with the local ways and people coupled with regular support from the army will ensure their success. Defence committees in villages in close proximity will offer security to each other once the IDPs have returned home. Ideally, a permanent army or FC cantonment should be established in the heart of the present Taliban stronghold.
This is the last stand for Swat. The recent deal, which Imran Khan says lasted "two weeks," has been used by the militants to build bunkers, dig tunnels, lay mines, secure weapons and ammunition, set up hundreds of training camps and firmly enmesh their presence into the social fabric of Swat. What would they accomplish in the "decades" Imran Khan's supporters wish to give them? Never again might the country be so unanimous in support for the government and the army. One thing is certain: if this threat is not dealt with now, it probably never will be dealt with at all.
The writer is a resident of Swat who had to flee her home and is currently living in Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org