By mid May 2009, Pakistan army had launched a military action in the Malakand Division in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan to hunt down militants and to eliminate their network in order to weed out the menace of terrorism prevailing inside the country for quite some time.
Within 60 days, Pakistan army has not only gunned down a number of notorious miscreants, it has also cleaned up the whole Division and started up the process of rehabilitation of over 4.5 million dislocated people that left the area before the military operation was started.
The beginning of the quick rehabilitation of dislocated people clearly illustrates the grand success of the Operation Rah-e-Rast, which has set a new example for conflict-ridden zones and where counter-insurgencies are taking place.
The Malakand Division comprises seven districts of Malakand, Swat, Bunir, Shang la, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, and Chitral. The total area of the Division is around 29,871 sq km, which is around 40 percent of the total area of NWFP and 3.7 percent of Pakistan's total land area. With a population exceeding 20,215,000, the scenic beauty, bewitching landscape and natural distinctive features of the Division makes the area a haven for domestic and foreign tourism.
The area has a high strategic significance by connecting Pakistan with the People's Republic of China on north-east, and Afghanistan on north-west by separating Pakistan from Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan through a narrow strip of 20 km at Wakhan.
In spite of the peace deal brokered between the Government and the Malakand-based so-called Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) on Feb. 16, 2009 to end insurgency engineered by Taliban and their militant followers, security situation remained unimproved.
Within 53 days, the leader of TNSM, Sufi Muhammad, unilaterally denounced the peace deal on April 9, 2009, accusing the government of not fulfilling commitment made under the deal, while government turned down all such charges as baseless.
The TNSM insisted to nominate Qazies (Sharia judges) at their own and refused to accept nominations made by the government under the Nizam-e-Adl (System of Sharia Justice) Regulations in order to lay down their weapons after the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations. This led them to retake their arms.
First, Swat fell to them in February 2009, and later, they seized power in Bunir, Lower Dir, and Shang la districts by mid April 2009. The TNSM and Taliban chapter of the so-called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TIP) launched militia and brutal offensives against the innocent people of the Malakand Division as well as police, government officials, security forces, Frontier Constabulary (FC), and Pakistan armed forces by challenging the writ of the State leading to chaos and ultimate brutal civil war.
They challenged the Constitution of the land and showed contempt toward principles of democracy in Pakistan. They threatened and banned media and killed reporters. They launched suicidal attacks and bomb blasts in all cities and towns in the country. They targeted intelligence agencies, several police stations, hotels and restaurants.
They kidnapped foreigners and workers of the UN and other international organizations and assassinated them. They even did not spare the invisible microscopic patriotic Sikh minority by violating the humanistic principles of Islam and other religions. They destroyed government properties, roads and bridges, and looted banks. They took over the precious emerald mines in Swat. The whole civil amenities were destroyed and vandalized.
So much so, militants' brutalities raised fears about the future of nuclear weapons of Pakistan with the apprehension of falling them into the hands of militants as generally appeared in the Western media. Within a short span of time, militants converted the Division from an idyllic tourist attraction resort into a militant fanatic sanctuary and butchery.
Ensuring order and harmony was thus the duty of the state and the government under the principles of the Holy Koran and a wide number of clauses under the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. With widespread support from the parliament, political parties, civil society, and the masses, the Pakistan army launched the Operation Rah-e-Rast to clean up the Malakand Division from miscreants and militants, started in early May 2009.
The international community has also rendered full support to weed out terrorism inside Pakistan. The operation made significant success within days and weeks. By June 30, 2009, security forces have claimed of cleaning up of the Swat Valley, Malakand, Mingora, and Charbagh by hunting down as many as 1,635 militants, and either wounding or apprehending 254 militants, eliminating their camps and hideouts, and recovering huge caches of weapons being smuggled from Afghanistan.
During the same period, 168 Pakistani soldiers had died and another 454 were injured during the operation. The operation Rah-e-Rast has successfully dismantled the militants' network in the Malakand Division within 60 days.
The Pakistani government and the international community need to know as to how such deadly weapons and funds were being made available to militants and miscreants. An international commission should be formed to make an inquiry into this highly dangerous situation in order to prevent any such untoward eventuality in the future.
The government is in the process of devising future security and re-settlement policy in the Malakand Division. On June 12, 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari announced the establishment of military cantonment in Swat. A contingent of army will remain deployed in the Malakand Division for a year or so to re-establish law and order.
With the success of the Operation Rah-e-Rast, the army is in the process of launching the follow-up Operation Rah-e-Nejaat to flush out militants' insurgency and militancy led by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan.
The writer is a Research Fellow (East Asia) at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad, Pakistan.