Civilian collateral damage is on the rise in the North Waziristan conflict. Innocent civilians continue to suffer as the result of increase in hostility between the Pakistan army and the Taliban. North Waziristan is a tribal region along the porus Pak-Afghan border.
73 people are reported dead as the Pakistan army attacked the posts of the Taliban in North Waziristan. This new wave of violence started on Wednesday night when a militant suicide bomber attacked a security check-post at Khajori. Two soldiers were killed in this attack. Hostilities escalated when an army convoy carrying the wounded soldiers was ambushed by the Taliban.
This attack on the convoy unleashed the full force of the Pakistan army against the Taliban. During these attacks on the Taliban hideouts, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery guns were employed. The Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur has declared that there will be a full-scale counter offensive against the Pakistan army in retaliation to these attacks.The town of Mir Ali is the worst hit as far as the civilian collateral damage is concerned.
There are two conflicting versions of the present situation in North Waziristan. The Inter Services Press Relations (ISPR) spokesman told the media that the Pakistan Army specifically targeted and killed members of the Taliban and the foreign insurgents only; while the residents say that unnecessary force has been employed against unarmed, innocent civilians. The residents say that bodies of the dead are lying in the open as there is nobody to bury them. In addition, the political authorities have clamped an indefinite curfew on the region. Despite the curfew, people are fleeing the region in order to save their lives.The local political administration has contacted the tribal elders to convene a jirga to end these hostilities.
This offensive by the Pakistan army is seen as an ill-timed move by the political authorities who want to open up negotiation channels with the Taliban. This policy is also endorsed by the Obama administration. These talks are of utmost importance because the American led NATO and ISAF troops are set to leave Afghanistan by late 2014 and early 2015.
The main opposition party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (Pakistan Justice Party), lead by the cricketer-turned-politician , Imran Khan, has been urging the army to show restraint. This is so because the leaders of PTI are convinced that talks with the Taliban are the only answer to end this bloody lawlessness in Pakistan. Once a truce is achieved in Pakistan’s tribal-belt, a safe haven both for the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda, then the matters can be amicably resolved in Afghanistan as well. The government of the Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz (PML-N) is also in agreement with the opposition on this issue. The Pakistan army, though, holds the completely opposite view. The Pakistan army is convinced that the Taliban only understands the language of force. This argument holds a lot of weight because of what transpired in the north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa in 2007-2009. During these years the Taliban virtually ran a state within the state in the Malakand division.
Until an accord is reached between the Taliban and Pakistan army, civilian collateral damage will continue to the rise in the North Waziristan conflict.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada