Reports abound of the armed forces bombing new militant hideouts in various regions of North Waziristan. Reports that quantify the deaths of these militants however, are conservative. To this day, we cannot be sure how many militants died, how many militants fled, how many civilians perished as collateral. There is simply no way of knowing with any degree of certainty. There are questions however, that are prudent and necessary. For example, it is known that there were almost 5,000 foreign militants taking refuge in North Waziristan, a majority of them Uzbeks. It goes without saying that there would have been an even greater number of hosts, militant commanders and clerics in NWA willing to take them in, to train them, live and work with them as they executed their sinister designs. So one can safely assume, that the exact number of militants in the area would be in the tens of thousands. In a month of the military offensive, the army reportedly has cleared the region of a little over 400 militants. Due to the lack of independent sources on the ground, this figure too, is not verifiable. But even if we were to take the army’s word for it, progress is painstakingly slow. Add to this the proposition that a majority of the militants have fled the areas, and it is entirely possible that we might be spending millions of rupees aerially bombing largely empty towns and launching the greatest military operation of our time against the ghosts of Taliban past. Are there more intelligent ways to carry on with this offensive? Less expensive, or sophisticated perhaps, but more tailored to the needs of this much altered landscape of North Waziristan?
Secondly, the question of nationality. Repeatedly, the ISPR has reported that “a majority” of those killed in strikes are foreigners. In that case, where are the Pakistani Taliban? Where are the thousands of Pakistanis who were hosting and training these foreigners? How mass could the exodus of Pakistani militants from Pakistan have been without setting off a string of alarm bells? The question has been raised repeatedly, but it is important. Are they in the government’s IDP camps? Are they walking amongst us now, as the army bombs their empty hideouts hundreds of miles away?