After resisting Washington’s demands for nearly eight years, the Pakistani military has finally launched the much awaited operation in North Waziristan, the sensitive tribal area bordering Afghanistan believed to have been the abode of Taliban members engaged in attacks on the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and a host of terrorist activities in Pakistan. Much of the political leadership, except the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami, has supported the final military operation. But questions have been raised as to why crucial time was wasted in holding peace negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif had tried to negotiate a peace deal with militants, something most experts said had no chance of success given the record of militants breaking ceasefires. Sharif’s obstinacy amidst army demands for North Waziristan to be dealt with before summer has exacerbated tensions between Pakistan’s civilian and military leaderships.
The Pakistani Taliban have warned foreign firms to leave the nation and vowed retaliatory strikes against the government after thousands of troops launched the offensive. Way back in 2001, the Pakistan Army had moved into the northeast but it did not mount an assault until 2004. Repeated offensives since then have had some success in stopping militants from making territorial gains, but have failed to end a Taliban-led domestic insurgency that has claimed nearly 7,000 lives since 2007. Evidently, the offensives in the initial stages were half-hearted.
After the recent terrorist strike at Karachi airport the Pakistan armed forces decided that enough was enough. The moot question now is that with a crumbling economy and splintered social strata, can Pakistan control the backlash the military operation could entail? The answer will unfold in the coming days. Defence minister Khwaja Asif has said the military hopes to conclude the offensive by the start of Ramadan on June 28. But it may take two or three months, he said, until “our land...is free of this menace.” Yet, the possibility of a backlash looms large.