FOUR weeks into the military operation in Malakand division, the flow of mixed news continues. Militarily, successes are being achieved; the latest good news is that Mingora has nearly been secured by the army. But on the humanitarian front troubling news continues to pour in: on Friday, the NWFP information minister claimed that the number of IDPs in the northwest has touched 3.4 million, and this at a time when international aid agencies are running short of money and supplies. Overall, the picture that is emerging is one of a reasonably successful military operation set against a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions. Clearly, the best-case scenario from here is one in which the security forces clear and hold the various battlefields in Malakand quickly to allow as many IDPs as possible to return to their homes at the earliest. Anything short of that and a large number of IDPs may be looking at a bleak foreseeable future.
Yet, simply attaining military success and allowing some IDPs to return to their homes without concerted action to make their resettlement as smooth as possible may prove very damaging to the counter-insurgency. Thankfully, the federal government appears to be awake to the need for such aid — it has spelled out a 3R approach in which, in addition to relief operations, emphasis has been laid on rehabilitation and reconstruction. Now that phase A of the counter-insurgency — use of the security forces to clear and hold areas controlled by the militants while the local populations have evacuated — appears to be nearing an end in some areas, the government must quickly turn its attention to phase B: filling the administrative void in areas that have been retaken and helping smooth the return of IDPs to their homes. Take the case of Mingora. It is a shattered city. The electricity grid has been destroyed, the telephone network has been damaged, government offices have been looted and damaged in fighting, the local police force has absconded and stocks of food have been removed by the militants. The city may have been secured by the army, but it has been a war zone until very recently and by any standard it is a city that isn’t ready to be administered by anyone at the moment. Therefore, the provincial and federal governments must ensure that the nuts and bolts of local administration are in place as quickly as possible and that the local administration is up and running by the time the people start streaming back into the city.
Finally, a word about the leadership of the TTP. While the militants may be on the back foot generally, a handful of the top commanders have still eluded the security forces. Those commanders need to be captured or killed soon, or else they may make the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases very difficult.