Tens of thousands of people who have fled South Waziristan tell terrifying tales of falling bombs and blocked roads, which placed them at enormous peril as they tried to reach safety. Others speak of houses being destroyed in the Mehsud areas of the tribal agency. The perception of these people is significant. Many IDPs have told the media in interviews that they simply do not believe the Taliban can be defeated through military action. They argue that the bombing raids most badly affect the civilian population rather than the militants. Many are fearful that the fighting in Waziristan could continue for weeks but serve very little real purpose. These people have after all seen similar war before – with the militants each time forcing troops out. They are convinced that this time too things will be the same. Civilians say also that they are caught badly between the two fighting forces and suffer at the hands of both. Amnesty International has expressed concern over the plight of non-combatants caught in a war that is not of their own making. Other international and local right watchdog bodies had also demanded more be done during the war in Swat to keep the civilian population safe. The same holds true in South Waziristan as well.
Even in a condition of war, international humanitarian rules apply. The requirement that children, women and men be protected is the focal point. The fact that little heed has been paid to these clauses is sad, not only because it means the death of innocent people – such as the family of 12 who died after being hit by a bomb while trying to escape South Waziristan a few days ago; but also because it means the military fails to gain moral authority. It is already obvious the people of Waziristan equate it with the militants – and as a source of the suffering imposed on them. If the military campaign in Waziristan succeeds this time round, and the Taliban are genuinely defeated, the need will arise to win back the loyalty of these people. This will not be easy. Militants have held sway here for years. Alongside the secret negotiations with Mehsud tribesmen and the other efforts to break up backing for the TTP, ordinary people too need to be persuaded that state forces have respect for them and are willing to help them. This can play a key role in deciding which side they take – and their support will be a vital one in winning this war which will not end with the destruction of militant bases.