Monday, June 1, 2009

Winning the peace

The Pakistan military has been scoring some much needed military victories against the Pakistan Taliban in the region of Swat. Indeed the ferocity of the Pakistan army has been boosted by discovering bodies of Pakistani soldiers with their throats slit bringing about an attitude to yield no quarter to the Taliban. In a sense this does mean that the Taliban and the Pakistan army have now started to carry grudges and there are reports of Taliban being meted out a bit of their own medicine in terms of the harshness with which they are being dealt.

However, the Pakistan military is being asked to reverse the tide of the Taliban given that the Taliban gained control not because of the military failure but due to the spineless of the current government in Islamabad. The tricky question is that winning ground from the Taliban is one thing but winning the peace is another. I feel there are two major threats to the current series of victories of the army.

Firstly, the Taliban may well be giving up strategic towns like Mingora and others in the Swat valley, but lets not forget some of these Taliban are fading into the country side in smaller bands and mingling with the population. While this is not that easy its never the less an army of zealots who can feed of the population without necessarily having the contraptions of a standing army.

Secondly, the Internally Displaced Persons, or IDP, as they are being labeled, are more restless than before as they seek to go back but to their destroyed homes and start to rebuild their lives. A failure of the Government and the international donors to Pakistan to deal with the pressing issues of these people will result in a back lash that the country can ill afford to witness at this stage.

The military is not equipped with the mindset to seek the quick rehabilitation of the IDP's and the government is woefully inexperienced to gather the resources to rebuild the infrastructure and the homes destroyed during the fighting. Historically the government machinery is not geared up for the quick response that the situation demands.

If long lasting goodwill is not created with the displaced people of the Swat valley then clearly the battle for the hearts and minds of the people will suffer an irreparable setback. The Taliban's tactics of revenge attacks in the cities of Peshawar and Lahore have not won them any friends in the country and the government should not consider this as enough reason to be winning the war against the Pakistan Taliban. On the contrary it is a matter of urgency that the Swat Valley towns should be rebuilt and essential services restored showing that defeating the Taliban is only the first step to building the confidence of the people in the government.

However, in terms of the Taliban roll back one has to not rejoice too much considering that the Taliban tactic is that after a major defeat they lie low and regroup, usually taking two to three years before they come back into the forefront. Thus to say a military victory will have rid the country of the Taliban menace would be too optimistic. The strategy has to be clear that while the Taliban burrow down over the next couple of years, the government and all other positive segments of society should accelerate education, economic reforms aimed at the grass root level and widespread engagement of the people in the areas at risk to the next Taliban encroachment so that the Taliban cannot feed of the dissatisfaction of the people.

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