Choosing soft targets
Sunday, 06 July 2008

By Rustam Shah Mohmand

The military operation,currently underway in Bara area of Khyber Agency was preceded by a deliberately orchestrated campaign of raising the spectre of an imminent attack on Peshawar. Who will attack Peshawar with what weapons and, more importantly, with what objectives and goals was not spelt out in the doomsday scenario painted by the protagonists of such a potent threat. A hype was created as if a force of pro taliban elements, by the thousands, was ready to invade Peshawar.

There were even reports that Mangal Bagh, the local chieftain of Bara had collected a force of 5000 armed men who would come into action as soon as orders are given. As it turned out the chieftain had a handful of followers who quietly left, along with him, for Tirah, the largely inaccessible Afridi country.
The hype was created ostensibly to induce the federal goverment to provide massive assistance and agree to a substantial increase in the provincial security forces .It was also a ploy to create a justification for an ingress into Bara, by far the easiest target to hit, because Mangal Bagh had declared, in most unambiguous terms, that if attacked, he would not strike back and retaliate against government security forces and installations.
Yet another objective of the operation was to send a positive message to external mentors of our government that action is finally underway. it was not realized that Bara had nothing to do with the Taliban like insurgency that is sweeping parts of the tribal areas.
What was intriguing is that the path of dialogue ,as an instrument of engagement with the tribes in Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand and Swat was abandoned in the case of Bara . The fact of the matter is that with lawlessness growing, institutions breaking down the fear of institutionalized retribution waning, the citizens feel more and more vulnerable. In this state of growing decline of order, certain elements, driven by religious frenzy, have, from time to time, attacked video shops, cinema houses, etc across the province and indeed in many parts of the country. That has also happened in a few cases in villages near Peshawar, But such activists can be counted on fingertips. It was baffling therefore to read statements about an impending assault on Peshawar.
There is a certain sinister motive behind this wholly unfounded claim of an attack on major cities. It had more to do with generating a sense of insecurity and in the garb of such a climate of fear and alarm launch an operation to dislodge Mangal Bagh, the chief of Lashkar-i-Islam from his position as a de facto administrator of Bara.
It must be recognized that the activity in Bara had nothing to do with the Taliban movement and. Secondly the movement had considerable local support and following. That does not imply that the government should allow or tolerate any parallel system of administration to emerge.. But the operation would be seen by many as a deviation from the half hearted policy of engaging with the resistance in the process of dialogue.
Now that the operation is underway the government must ensure:
a) There is no collateral damage. b) The operation must be ended since the chieftain has left the area and his houses have been destroyed. c) The political agent assumes full control over and total responsibility for dealing with any possible backlash or reaction from those that have been hit hard in the operation. d) The process of dialogue with the disenchanted groups of tribesmen in Fata must continue. But in doing that has to be undertaken in a framework and within certain parameters. e) In order to bring about a lasting transformation in the situation, the policy on war on terror must be presented before the parliament for a comprehensive review.
The last measure alone would have a significant impact on improving not only our image as a sovereign state but also sending a message to the tribes and people generally that we are not fighting someone else's war.

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