After years of serious deliberations, sanity has finally prevailed as the Pakistani army and government appear to have decided to hunt down the Taliban once and for all. On Sunday, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bombarded the Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan, the semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan. According to confirmed intelligence reports, the Taliban were busy holding a meeting at the time of the air strike. About 55 militants are reported killed in the this air strike, the majority of them Uzbek nationals.
For over a decade, an incomprehensible distinction was made between the good and the bad Taliban. A distinction which held little logic as the real Taliban are just trigger happy militants trying to oust democratically elected governments in Pakistan and establish a pseudo-Sharia state in their place. The knowledgeable elements of the Pakistani society always questioned this reasoning. This reasoning at one time was also endorsed by the White House in order to bring peace to the volatile region. It is a good omen that this distinction has now been discarded and the Taliban have been recognized as a menace that is bent upon destroying the fragile peace of the region, in particular, and that of the world, in general.
It should be kept in mind that Pakistan Army was always in favor of a major offensive to flush out the Taliban, but the politicians were lukewarm in their response to the idea of strikes against the militants. The religious political parties, which have great clout in the conservative tribal belt and especially in North Waziristan, were always a big hurdle against the liberal and saner elements of Pakistan, always ready to protest whenever there was even a slight hint of an operation to hunt down the Taliban in Pakistan. It was because of the opposition of these medieval minded clerics that ultimately convinced the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan-e-Insaf (PTI), the Pakistan Movement for Justice, the former captain of Pakistan cricket team that won the World Cup in 1992, a liberal and foreign educated politician, like the clerics, also held the firm view that peace talks with the Taliban was the only feasible option to ensure a stable and peaceful Pakistan. Khan was proved completely wrong when, even after the start of the peace negotiations with the Taliban, the talks seemed to be heading nowhere. Mr. Khan’s political move of blockading the NATO supply route through the PTI ruled province of Khyber Pukhtunkhawa (KPK) and his strong anti-CIA drone strikes stance on behalf of the Taliban did not help the matters because, on the one hand, the Taliban engaged the government in peace talks while, on the other hand, they continued to launch attacks against strategic government installations.
The final nail in the coffin was the recent attack by the Taliban on Karachi International Airport. This attack led to loss of civilian lives. The present air strikes and their normal aftermath in the shape of an impending ground offensive will inevitably cause collateral damage. This is something that cannot be avoided. Lives will be lost, people will lose their property and, in the final analysis, many will be displaced from their homes. Fortunately, sanity has finally prevailed in Pakistan where it apparently has been decided in principle by the government and, more importantly, by Pakistan army to hunt down the Taliban and eradicate this dangerous menace once and for all.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada