They say success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. That seems to be the case for the ‘muzakraat’ solution that had been pushed so persistently by almost all political parties who are currently in power.
Whether it was the PML-N, PTI, JI or JUI-F, they until recently claimed that the Taliban were just waiting for an assurance that we are not fighting “someone else’s war”, an assurance that the previous “corrupt” government was unwilling to give.
But ever since these parties have come into power, they have resorted to U-turns that are somewhat proportional to their ability of implementing the much-touted muzakraat solution. Imran Khan has downgraded ‘muzakraat’ from being an ‘only’ solution to one that should at least be tried before military action.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who always insisted that the Taliban are “our people”, is now suddenly counting the number of attacks that his family and party have suffered at the hands of the same ‘our people’. But most importantly, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the one who assured everyone about the wisdom behind muzakraat, is now increasingly growing impatient with the carnage that is going on under his watch.
But it is the same PML-N, which, back in October 2012, in the aftermath of the attack on Malala Yousafzai, opposed the PPP’s bid for launching an operation in Waziristan. Yet, 16 months and 7,000 dead Pakistanis later, the PML-N has ordered PAF to bomb out militant hideouts in Waziristan.
So what changed exactly? Was the December 2012 explosion that killed nine in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar any different from the one that killed 10 in the same Qissa Khawani in September 2013? Was the TTP’s video of shooting 21 handcuffed and blindfolded Pakistani soldiers in December 2012 any less gruesome than that of the 23 beheaded ones in February 2014?
The only thing that has changed is that the PPP has been replaced by the PML-N, a party that claimed that it could bring peace without firing any bullets. But now when it’s time to finally fulfil his election promise, Mian Sahib is going back to a solution that he opposed before we had lost 7,000 precious lives.
But is just unleashing the army upon Waziristan going to solve everything?
To begin with, our counter insurgency efforts leave a lot to be desired, the bulldozed town of Loi Sum in Bajaur and the use of F-16s to bomb civilian areas are testament to that. Even the Indian army refrains from air strikes in Kashmir, an option that seems to be very convenient for our army when it comes to Fata.
But more importantly, the essential prerequisite for fighting this war is to realise that the Taliban are holding Waziristanis as hostages, and any war aimed at liberating these hostages should not simply assume them to be necessary collateral damage. However, to arrive at that aim, we have to first do away with an assumption that is seemingly built into our definition of ‘national interest’, which is to assume the people of Fata to be lesser Pakistanis of the dispensable kind.
This is not an emotional statement, the proof of this lies in the dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. It is fairly obvious that the ‘bad’ Taliban are those who dare to impose or inflict upon Pakistan, what the ‘good’ Taliban have already imposed or inflicted upon Waziristan. The only thing that differentiates the good Taliban from the bad ones is the domiciles of their Pakistani victims.
And this hypocrisy does not stop at the strategic level, it is also glaringly obvious in our national debate on this issue. Our national indignation was so palpable over the audacity of the bad Taliban to even contemplate the notion of imposing their Shariah on us, but then at the same time we have been completely indifferent towards the fact that the good Taliban have already subjected ordinary Waziristanis to that same brand of Shariah.
We get horrified at the prospect of the bad Taliban banning polio vaccinations for our children, but then don’t even consider it worth our time to recognise the risks faced by Waziristani children whose access to polio drops have already been blocked by the good Taliban.
An operation into Waziristan shouldn’t be an exercise to make an example out of the bad Taliban so that the good ones stick to their ‘good’ behaviour. Good Taliban, by virtue of their identity as Taliban, are bad for Pakistanis who are living under their rule. That alone should be enough of a reason for rescuing these Pakistanis. But for that we need to accept Waziristanis as Pakistanis, both in strategy as well as in our national narrative on this issue.
It is high time we thought of new strategies to counter any threats from Afghanistan and India, strategies that do not require sacrifice of lesser Pakistanis to secure the heartland. No rational group of people could ever agree to this perpetually, and the people of Fata are as rational as any other group in Pakistan. If we are to survive as a federation then the need is to consider the Malalas of Waziristan to be as valuable as the Malalas of Rawalpindi and then do our strategic thinking.
Waziristan is in need of rescuing, but more than the Taliban it needs to be rescued from the policies that have relegated it to an area where we park our strategic assets and produce cannon fodder for our proxy wars.
Unless we do away with that strategy, this upcoming harvest of the bad Taliban will only provide a temporary relief, because as long as we are sowing and nurturing good Taliban, we will be reaping these bad ones as well, the ones that forget the difference between Kabul and Rawalpindi.