“You must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time — we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.” These are the words of Judge Danforth, presiding over a witch trial in Arthur Miller’s, The Crucible.
The sentiment has been expressed at various times in various forms over the years, most notoriously by George W Bush Jr’s “you are with us or against us” statement. Conflicts and wars create and thrive on binaries. One picks a side and then shuts off critical faculties, at least as regards one’s own side. The Waziristan operation is in response to the demands of many (including your humble servant) for holding the murderers of thousands of our women, children, civilians and soldiers. The negotiations started off to fail. The offensive is something that the State could and should have done earlier; however, even now it is a start. Yet, watching the mainstream narrative, it seems that anybody who was in favour of the State holding the perpetrators of terrorism accountable, is disqualified from commenting on or asking critical (or perhaps, simply curious) questions on ‘what’ is being done and exactly ‘how’. It seems we should simply be grateful that our demand is met, and there is an attempt to take on the militants. In other words or the words of Miller, the dusky afternoon is over and all who don’t fear the light must praise it.
Praise it, is what we want to do. However, it might be useful to know what it is exactly that we are jubilant about. There is absolutely no question about us being in the debt of our brave soldiers and officers fighting for our survival, and had been doing so even before the operation began. And asking for the periodic or daily ISPR press release of ‘X’ number of militants killed every day to be substantiated by names, details and visuals does not in any way take away from our gratitude. Neither does disclosing the names (even some sanitised visuals) basically any evidence regarding those who have already been killed undermine any great strategic imperative. To demand greater transparency on how the operation is being conducted will only increase the credibility of the army and confidence of the people. The reporting on the military offensive has to ask these tough questions. The debate on the operational details of the offensive has to be mainstream. Those who were opposed to the military operation should say why. If for nothing else than for the simple reason that so those who have been for it (the government and people like myself) do not take refuge in the false security of consensus and are compelled to assert our reasons for the support and have our convictions challenged. To hold the State and the army to the highest standards of legal and human rights is imperative; for these standards mean nothing if not applied to the toughest circumstances.

It is unnerving to read Major General Zafarullah Khan, commander of the operation, admitting that the Taliban leadership escaped before the operation. Borders are porous and some escape was inevitable, however, the nation has to be taken into greater confidence about this. The soldiers indeed risk everything by fighting on the frontlines; however, all of us have a legitimate stake in the outcome of this conflict. And perhaps, to learn later that abandoned towns were all there was to fight against, will sink the spirits. To repeat the point, one can be for a military action and demand an efficient, transparent and proportional one; there is no contradiction here. It will not serve the army in the long run to maintain Waziristan as an information blackhole, with the ISPR giving aggregate figures of the “militants” “killed”.
The binary has a flipside too. It is perhaps, too, tedious to bother with all those who believe the TTP to be “estranged brothers,” etc. (By the way, where is that lot since the operation began, and what is their position now). However, it is interesting to see some left friends opposing the offensive for various reasons. A cornerstone of the Pakistan left liberal politics is opposition to the army (essentially army’s role in policymaking). And for the time being, they find themselves in a position where the army is the only institution capable of conducting the Waziristan offensive, and that’s that. Here is again the ‘with us or against us’ syndrome. The army has had a subversive role and they cannot bring themselves to support the initiative, disregarding the adversary that the army faces in the particular context of the present conflict. This results in some quite unscientific analysis, namely that this is ‘Pashtun Nationalist’ conflict, ‘anti-imperialism’ and even more fantastically, ‘a class war’. No provision for complexity in the association here for them. Simply, one can and should be opposed to the army’s policy and action in Balochistan and Okara, and past many, many follies, including the ‘good militants’ and yet, support the action in holding terrorists accountable in Waziristan (as long as it is done transparently and upholding legal and human rights standards).
There are very legitimate grounds for asserting that Waziristan is not the only nursery/sanctuary for the extremists. However, how does that translate into Waziristan should only be tackled once all other such breeding and hiding grounds are dealt with. The argument should be that the State fights the violent narrative and extremism wherever it is; ‘not only Waziristan’ does not mean ‘not Waziristan’.
Perhaps, we can give the war anthems and cheerleading a rest. Let us ignore the shenanigans of failed and failing politicians in Punjab for the moment and have a conversation about this war, with our convictions and without our blinkers.
Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and regardless of one’s position on the war, they deserve our immediate attention and assistance. The IDPs are not merely numbers to be used in arguments for and against the war. They are real people; disenfranchised by the State, victims of the strategic games of the military establishment, oppressed and now displaced by the TTP, now let them not be failed by us, the people. Human Rights Watch has recently reminded the government of its responsibility to provide adequate medical and other aid to the IDPs. Let us remind the government and ourselves of the same and that the onus lies on us to compensate the sacrifices that the people of Waziristan have been made to make for us.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2014.