WHAM, winning hearts and minds of the people is the name given to a new initiative for peace in the region of South Waziristan, Pakistan's tribal area adjacent to Afghanistan. The objective is to turn militant sanctuaries into safe havens for the people. The Pakistan army wants to convert its gains in the battlefield to durable security. This is a danger zone where the writ of the Pakistan government has been constantly challenged by terrorists. The campaign includes winning the ethnic Pashtun tribes through dialogue, creating commercial opportunities and providing education in new schools and colleges. A team of the Reuters news agency members traveled to a region, which was termed by President Barack Obama as the most dangerous on earth.
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have engaged in a vicious campaign of death and destruction, as part of their modus operandi. Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, which is spread over 1,640 miles is unfenced and unprotected. Cross border incursion of terrorists into Pakistan from across the border have resulted in numerous incidents of bombing and destruction of public schools, bridges, gas pipelines, electricity pylons, market places, police stations, places of worship, targeted killings of community notables, political leaders and senseless massacre of innocent civilians on a massive scale. The civilian death toll from terrorist activities in Pakistan has reached 45,000, since September 11, 2001 when the war on international terrorism commenced.
This campaign of savagery and barbarism bears a clear stamp of organizations like Al-Qaeda and their surrogates who are involved in sabotage campaigns all over the country. Many governments like the United States and its allies have helped to establish similar programs aimed at winning the hearts of the people in Afghanistan and Iraq. The campaign to rebuild the region is commendable but is fraught with various risks. Some of the noteworthy factors are:
• Economic development can be sustained by support and backing of the civilian government. The army alone cannot be expected to fill the political vacuum.
• People of this region have not been provided opportunities in comparison with other areas of the country.
• Insurgents and terrorists have thwarted every effort by the government to educate the population, provide health care facilities and build physical infrastructure.
• Following 9/11, the Pakistan armed forces launched a military campaign in this area coupled with the bombing of the Afghan border by coalition forces. The militants in retaliation used South Waziristan as a launching pad for terrorist activities against the army and government of Pakistan.
• The locals of the area appreciate the effort for their social and economic uplift but are afraid that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will revert once the troops return to their barracks.
The border between the two countries cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas dividing the Balochis and Pashtuns living on both sides. Any measure of stability for the Pashtuns in Pakistan may be a glimmer of hope for their counterparts in Afghanistan. Peaceful co-existence in their case is the key to a secure and progressive future.
Dawn News February 4, 2013
Reuters February 3, 2013