Our north continues to be ravaged by the most fearsome violence. The deadly bombing in South Waziristan, which apparently targeted a former MNA, was the first attack in nearly three weeks. But bombers struck elsewhere too, killing seven people in Kurram Agency and another three in Peshawar. The attacks indicate the Taliban’s determination to deal out death to all those they see as their enemies. It is hard for now to say just how weak they have become after the operation launched last year by the military. It is safe to assume that a fair amount of damage was done. But the fact that, despite this, the militants seem able to target “pro-government” gatherings, anti-Taliban lashkars (militias) and a well-protected politicians is disturbing. What is even more worrying is the evidence that support for the Taliban has not been eradicated. In the tribal areas there are those who quite openly back them, both on the basis of their opposition to the US and because the government is widely seen as ineffective. It is relevant that almost precisely the same sentiments are echoed across the border in Afghanistan. This suggests that the solution to the militant problem is one that will need to involve cooperation between the two countries and a readiness to admit that the groups on either side of the divide act to strengthen each other.
Beyond this the government must also consider how it can play a bigger role in the lives of the people of the tribal areas and other tracts of the north. The floods have acted only to persuade them that the administration is incapable of helping them. The Taliban, of course, have built on these sentiments by carrying out relief work of their own and at the same time driving home the message about government inaction. There are reports that CDs and cassette tapes stating just this have been widely distributed, not just in the north but in southern Punjab too. The events of the past year have made a number of things clear. The Taliban cannot be defeated through the use of force alone. The most recent bombings highlight this. More earnest thought is needed on the matter of how they can be pushed away. For now, Hakeemullah Mehsud has made it clear he remains in charge of his outfit, and that its capability to carry out strikes has not been blocked. The lashkars established to tackle the Taliban have in some areas fizzled out; in others they have proved only partially effective. The ‘morality’ of the use of civilians to take on an armed, trained force–civilians who in some cases have included children–is also questionable. We need, then, a whole new strategy. It seems clear that one cannot be worked out from offices in Islamabad. The people of the tribal areas need to be engaged in the effort to devise such a strategy, so that they can lay out their own priorities and suggest what means must be used to re-establish peace in their homelands.