Civil war is a war between groups meant to take control of a region or a nation. A civil war will always have two sided violence meant to bring about a governmental change or to enforce a substantial change in the policies of an incumbent government.
The Geneva Conventions consisting of four treaties signed between 1864 and 1949 essentially deal with humanitarian concerns regarding non-combatants and POWs during a war between two or more countries. Although not explicit on what a civil war is the Geneva Conventions do identify the factors that can make situations qualify as ‘wars that are not of an international character’. Those factors are (1) that those in revolt must be in possession of a part of the territory of the violence torn country (2) that the insurgents must be able to exercise de facto civil authority in the territory that they claims to control (3) that the insurgents must have recognition as belligerents; and (4) that the legal government of that country must be compelled to take recourse to deploying its regular military forces against the belligerents.
The belligerents in Pakistan control the entire FATA as well as the settled district of Swat. Their activities largely go unchallenged by state authorities. Even with the Army deployed in Swat the political leadership cannot go to Swat and hold open courts to listen to the grievances of the people there. In Peshawar too the government is confined. In FATA the writ of the state stands entirely eroded. In short the belligerents in Pakistan do effectively hold a vast tract of Pakistani territory. The belligerents also exercise de facto civil authority over Swat and FATA to varying degrees in different areas. The belligerents exercise civil authority in parts of FATA and in all of Swat to the extent of holding courts and execution of the sentences awarded by those courts.
In light of the third factor necessary for a conflict to fall in the category of a war that is ‘not of an international character’ the insurgents must have recognition of being belligerents. For an internal conflict to be called a civil war the forces opposing the state have to be belligerent. So what is a belligerent? A belligerent is one who fights or engages in war. The fighters in FATA and Swat can be called by any name; yet, their characterization as belligerents is something that cannot be controversial.
The fourth condition that qualifies for any armed conflict to be ‘a war that is not of international character’ is the deployment of the regular armed forces of the country against its belligerents. In Pakistan, the regular Army, since 2003, has suffered nearly two thousand killed and many more wounded in action against the belligerents proving that Pakistan faces two sided violence in which the regular armed forces of Pakistan are confronted by well armed belligerents. The Pakistan Air Force has been freely called into action in Swat and FATA.
The above commentary clearly indicates that the situation in Pakistan’s northwest qualifies to be ‘a war that is not of an international character’. Therefore, it is time Pakistan recognizes realities and understands that a bloody civil war is raging in the country and that this civil war has the potential of spreading across Pakistan. The situation needs to be faced squarely. An all out military operation alone will never yield results. A multi faceted approach is now necessary for a final and durable solution failing which Pakistan’s future will remain in the balance. Priceless Pakhtun blood cannot be shed endlessly without serious implications for Pakistan.
Gen Musharraf’s unplanned and haphazard military deployment in FATA in 2003 aggravated the situation and Pakistan now needs to resolve matters instantly. It is unfair on the Pakistan Army to make it fight an endless war within its own territory with colossal collateral damage. Pakistan Army needs to be preserved. Even the western leaders now talk of a non military composite political solution to Afghanistan which has a direct bearing on Pakistan’s northwest. The political leaders now need to initiate political steps towards resolving the violence.