Waziristan means much to West
by Salim Mansur
For most Canadians, and Westerners in general, Waziristan means very little. It is a place so remote that it bears no reference to the their daily concerns.
But the Pakistan military's offensive begun last week in South Waziristan to flush out Taliban warriors and allies in their ranks from the Middle East and Central Asia, should bring people in the West to pay closer attention to such distant places and what happens there.
Waziristan is remote, its people destitute and backward by any measure of human development index. It is mostly inaccessible surrounded by high mountains of the Hindu Kush, and it straddles the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The area through history has provided sanctuary to those fleeing the long arms of law, and since 9/11 given refuge to al-Qaida-Taliban members including Osama bin Laden and his number two, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
Through the past eight years Pakistan's military has hesitated to breach the sanctuary, and hunt and kill the masterminds of global jihad.
Apart from the fact that the military is not trained sufficiently in counter-insurgency warfare, the fear has been the spill over of an effective Waziristan campaign might bring Taliban to wage an indiscriminate campaign of suicide bombings and firefights in the urban centres of the country.
This ground offensive, and its uncertain results, will test the resilience of Pakistani civil society.
Either it will hold against the coming assault such as has been seen already in the rising carnage of suicide bombings – neither the capital Islamabad nor the military headquarters in Rawalpindi are safe – or implode.
It is the latter that is of both immediate and long-lasting concern. The political leaders in the West have frankly failed to educate their citizens why the success of their military-civil mission in Afghanistan, and support for Pakistan, is critical for security at home.
If Pakistan implodes with a widening civil war given the weakness of its political institutions, the brazen corruption of its leaders – the current civilian president, Asif Zardari, was widely mocked as a 10% man during the time his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, held office as prime minister – and the military compromised with its past history of support for Taliban and other Islamist-terrorist organizations, then the world will enter the hellish reality of not knowing whether the nuclear arsenal of a failed state is safe from falling into the hands of al-Qaida and its surrogates.
Waziristan may likely enter the ranks of other remote places that in their own time proved to be consequential to the West.
We all now know of places such as Falluja and Ramadi from the recent Iraq war, or Yenan in the deep interior of China from where Mao Zedong launched his communist campaign to seize the country, or Dien Bien Phu in distant Vietnam where the French colonial army was routed by the Viet Minh under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap.
The stakes for West's security since 9/11 have grown even as the people in Canada and elsewhere have become tired of the conflict that sent their military to distant Afghanistan.
What occurs in Waziristan, and after, however, should shake us out of our stupor.