Pakistan’s battle against rebels has entered the second phase with the army launching ground offensives against armed groups in Miranshah – the capital of North Waziristan – after weeks of persistent air strikes.
However, the military campaign named Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting strike) in this tribal region – said to be the bastion of Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) or Pakistani Taliban and other armed groups – has uprooted hundreds of thousands of families, forcing them to flee to neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Many have fled across the border to Khost province in Afghanistan.
“We have documented 7,87,888 tribesmen, women and children at registration points, to date,” Irfan Ahmad, a senior official at FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) told Al Jazeera.
The FDMA official said that more than a million livestock and cattle have perished since the operation began on June 15, after a brazen attack on the country’s biggest airport in Karachi left dozens dead.
The North Waziristan operation is going to be fierce, bloody, and prolonged as the terrain here is more suitable for guerrillas than regular forces.
Some observers consider the operation a “turning point” in Pakistan’s policy on armed rebellion, referring to statements of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and its powerful military chief.
“Let me make it clear, no matter the cost, Pakistan will no longer be allowed to be a sanctuary for terrorists,” the prime minister told parliament as he announced the war against the rebels in the tribal region.
“The rebel networks operating from tribal areas are now threatening the very existence of Pakistan,” Mehmood Khan Achakzai – a coalition partner of Prime Minister Sharif – told Al Jazeera.
“I personally told the prime minister to take action before somebody else comes to clean up the dirt,” Achakzai said.
The veteran politician said that the world, including the US and China, is very annoyed over the rebel sanctuaries in tribal regions and that Pakistan’s allegation that there are “good and bad militants” is no longer acceptable.
Mansur Mehsud, director at FATA Research Centre, said: “The government has taken the battle to the ground zero of terrorism. North Waziristan serves as the headquarters to almost all local and foreign militant networks.”
Religious groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazal), however, have criticesed the latest military offensive.
Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, chief of Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazal), believes that the operation is an exercise in futility which could have been avoided.
“Security forces target population centres despite the fact that the fighters left the region long before the air strikes began,” Maulana told Al Jazeera.
He said that the offensive will prove counter-productive, as the rebels will come down from mountains and resort to guerrilla warfare once the dust settles down.
Others like Siraj ul-Haq, the emir of Jamaat-e-Islami, believes that the operation was launched without taking into confidence all political forces.
“Military [operation] is not the solution to terrorism; it must be resolved through dialogue,” Siraj told Al Jazeera.
Dozens of rebel networks along with TTP and al-Qaeda factions are believed to be active in North Waziristan.
Isolated rebel networks of Chinese, Chechens, Arabs, Libyan fighters and individuals from European countries are also believed to be present in what is seen as Pakistan’s bad land.
Defence experts say that, apart from the foreign rebel networks, Mullah Fazlullah and his TTP are the major target of the latest military campaign.
Fazalullah fled to Afghanistan in 2009 following major military operations against his outfit in the northern Swat Valley.
“After his escape, Fazlullah became more powerful and was elevated to head of TTP, becoming an existential threat to Pakistan,” Aqil Yusufzai, a senior journalist and author, told Al Jazeera.
“The North Waziristan operation is going to be fierce, bloody, and prolonged as the terrain here is more suitable for guerrillas than regular forces,” he said.
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Even as military officials have claimed to have cleared 80 percent of Miranshah, Pakistan is expecting neighbouring Afghanistan to help plug the border and strike down the escaping rebels.
Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who visited Kabul as a special emissary of the prime minister, told Al Jazeera that the Afghan government has assured that it will provide Pakistan with full support against the rebels.
“Afghan President [Hamid] Karzai is ready for all out support if the Pakistani operation also incorporates those militants who attack Afghans across the border,” Achakzai said.
Senior military officer and defence analyst, Brig Said Nazeer sounds pessimistic and warns against turning the rugged area into an ‘ulcer’.
“In the case where militants impose ‘delays’ on forces, North Waziristan will turn into a bleeding ulcer,” he told Al Jazeera.
A targeted operation, he said, would have been a better option, because in instant campaigns, rebels may leave pockets of resistance and escape to Afghanistan.
“The offensive has already rendered a million people homeless,” he said, adding that the real success of the operation will also depend on how the government handles the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the “terror networks”.