Language of guns

The Taliban did not respond to peace overtures. Will they listen to the deafening sounds of gunships?

Language of guns
The talks have broken down, and the world is witnessing what is traditionally known as limited warfare in the northwest of Pakistan. Did the Taliban respond to the peace overtures? No. Would they listen to the deafening sounds of gunships? Probably yes.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left many surprised on January 29 when he rose to address the National Assembly. People expected him to announce drastic measures against Taliban militants. Instead, he chose to give dialogue another chance.

I spoke to two soldiers who had fought in the rugged terrains of tribal areas. They said the task of dealing with the militants in the area was arduous, challenging and risky, but not without excitement.

Asking not to be named, they said the planning and execution stages required 100 percent participation from whosoever was involved in the operation. Whenever soldiers enter danger zones like North Waziristan, they are well prepared – backed by adequate intelligence and air support. Nonetheless, the threats to their lives were always extremely high, since they had to deal with guerrilla attacks. They denied they had felt fear, saying they had vowed to fight for the country until their last breath.

Asked what they thought of the government’s peace overtures towards Taliban militants, they laughed. When pressed, they said the cold-blooded murderers had beheaded soldiers and played football with their heads. “We cannot shake hands with those animals.” Such feelings are common amongst soldiers who have braved the severities of war in the tribal areas.

[quote]"We cannot shake hands with those animals"[/quote]

Pakistan Army may be fully prepared for an operation against the Taliban in the tribal areas, but will the government be able to handle the fallouts of such a move?

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claimed recently that the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were completely safe from militant threats. The statement came weeks after a son of militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani was killed in Bara Kahu, a few kilometers from the capital.

Despite an unexpected increase in terrorist attacks during the so-called dialogue process, the federal government remained adamant it would give peace a chance. It decided to retaliate only after Taliban militants carried out several attacks on security forces, including the beheading of 23 FC personnel in Mohmand Agency.

The tone and tenor of the PML-N leadership changed. Even the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, a staunch supporter of dialogue, announced it would stand by the security forces. The People’s Party and the Muttahida Quami Movement had already been on that side of the fence. However, Taliban apologists in Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) continued their chest-beating, demanding an end to the ongoing surgical strikes.

JI emir Munawar Hassan believed in the Taliban’s claim of the extra-judicial killing of their colleagues and the detention of their women, children, and elderly by the security forces.

The surgical strikes in tribal areas and Hangu will now remain an integral part of the government’s strategy to weed out militancy. A senior official said he expected an increase in the strikes as desperate efforts were underway to enhance the scope of human intelligence.

Lt Gen (r) Abdul Qayyum said talks or strikes alone would not yield results. “There has to be a combination of talks and strikes. This strategy would be well in line with ideal conflict resolution models,” he said.

He agreed the cleansing of North Waziristan from Taliban militants would take a month or so, but warned against over-optimism about victory against militancy in general.

Referring to a statement by former army chief Gen (r) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, he said improvements were needed in human intelligence gathering in the tribal areas. The American CIA conducted a successful drone program in the area primarily relying on human intelligence, he added.

Challenges to the writ of the state can arise anywhere in the world, but only weak states let them become full-blown threats.

Shahzad Raza is a journalist based in Islamabad. Follow him on Twitter @shahzadrez