What’s going on, average Pakistani is asking

May 22nd, 2009 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 22 (IANS) The anti-Taliban operations in Swat and other parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have been under way for almost a month, but the average Pakistani knows little about the actual ground situation because the military has been less than forthcoming in revealing information.
Beyond daily press releases and occasional media briefings by chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, no attempt has been made to project the larger picture about the manner in which the operations are proceeding.

Since the military operations are closed to the media and the Pakistani military doesn’t believe in the concept of embedded journalists and since “sources” are hard to come by in the security apparatus, journalists have only Abbas and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) to fall back on in reporting the conflict.

Little wonder that the common refrain being heard is “What’s going on?” and “Where are the bodies”.

The operations had begun April 26 but till today, not a single visual - still or video - has emerged from the battle zone nor are any pictures available of the 1,100 Taliban members the military says have been killed so far.

Abbas had said earlier this month that these would be made available “in a day or two” but that day is yet to come.

This has led to a situation where Pakistan’s efforts to attract international aid for the 2.5 million civilians who have fled the conflict zone get more play in the media than the actual fighting.

This apart, newspapers and TV news channels are replete with statements and sound bytes from the likes of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and almost anyone else of note on how important it is to win the war against the Taliban, how Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe from the Taliban and, most importantly, on the need to “win the hearts and minds” of the people in the conflict.

Time and again, since the conflict began, Pakistani leaders have been proclaiming the need to “devise a concrete strategy” for the region’s development once the military operations conclude but nothing concrete has emerged on the ground.

As an editorial in The News said Thursday, the government will have to “prove to the people it can deliver what they need if it is to have any chance of success”.

“Failure on the part of the government to ensure this happens can only mean the perpetuation of the conditions that, to a very great extent, made possible the rise of the Taliban in the first place,” the editorial said.

Noting that one of the priorities “must be to convince donors of this, so that along with military aid, funds can also be put together for development”, the editorial said, “To succeed Pakistan needs to ensure it is spearheading the entire operation and holding all its various strands together tightly in its fist.”

“It must have a clear plan on exactly what needs to be done, at what stage and why, so it can draw in the kind of help and support it most needs to win a war that is multi-faceted and involves many complexities,” the editorial said.

The military action had begun after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace accord with the NWFP government and moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-linked radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal with the NWFP government. They later spread to the Buner and Swat districts.

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