Long way to go
That it took nearly two years to ‘cleanse’ Waziristan – even after the bigger fish had crossed over into Afghanistan prior to Zarb-e-Azb – shows just how deeply the enemy was entrenched in the Fata sanctuary. After a long and thorough operation, the army chief was finally briefed that operational modalities had been largely completed. In the last push, the army cleared approximately 800sqkm in areas in and around Shawal, which implies that the bombs and bullets of Zarb-e-Azb have completed the first phase as expected.
Yet, as the army is no doubt aware, this would be the worst of all times for any manner of complacency. Wrapping up the assignment in the badlands completes only one phase of the operation. If anything, the job is likely to get incrementally harder as the military adapts to intel-intensive operations in urban centres and begins working more closely with the civilian security apparatus. And going by the headlines, it will not exactly be smooth sailing as militants are rounded up in Punjab and Sindh, especially the rather lawless border areas (between the two provinces) where militants of various hues have headquartered themselves for quite a while.
Hopefully relevant authorities will not need reminding that despite the success of the operation so far the enemy remains potent enough to strike often enough to inflict serious damage on the state and people. Therefore the next phase will be an even more crucial part of the overall operation. When the prime minister and army chief promised to eliminate terrorists “of all hues and colours”, they obviously meant a step-by-step approach; which will see the operation slowly move down from the Fata mountains. That time has now come. And as we wish the military and civilian agencies success at the earliest, we must also prepare for an initial backlash that bad guys on the run have been known to resort to. Therefore, as much as the advances so far are appreciated, we must realise that there is still a long way to go before the enemy is completely defanged.