By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
White House egged on by Pentagon has expressed its sense of urgency and annoyance over Pakistan not doing enough against al-Qaeda and other militant groups. It has blatantly accused that Pakistan Army has been unwilling to take decisive action. The US has reminded Islamabad that if it fails to do what it is told to do, it may compel Washington to discontinue extending aid. Threat of aid cut is among the most potent tools employed by USA to intimidate Pakistan. It is well aware that Pakistani leaders are addicted to aid and cannot do without it. Under the prevailing situation when Pakistan’s economy is teetering at the brink of collapse, foreign aid has become critical for its sustenance.
While Pakistan is in no position to refuse aid tied to stringent conditions which impinge upon national interests, the US too is not in a strong position to dictate terms and cut the aid flow abruptly. Since the start of this year, US officials have been time and again stating that Pakistan is a key country and without its intimate cooperation the war can neither be won nor Afghan tangle solved. In the ongoing testing times, the US badly needs critical support of Pakistan to be able to wrap up the endgame in Afghanistan on a positive note. Ambassador Hussein Haqqani has to play his role to convince American leadership that it is not in the interest of both USA and Pakistan to fight the final phase of war under tension. Already the US has made too many mistakes and can ill afford to commit another one at this critical juncture when Afghan Taliban have gained an upper edge and are in no mood to accept any terms and conditions. With jangled nerves and pushy attitude, things can go terribly wrong.
If God forbid Pakistan Army loses its gains it has made after rendering huge sacrifices and is put on the defensive, it will have an adverse impact on withdrawal plan of coalition troops from Afghanistan. North Waziristan (NW) is somehow giving bad dreams to US-NATO commanders based in Kabul since they are afflicted with NW phobia. It is this phobia which is making them edgy, indulging in blame game and putting up unreasonable demands. In actuality Pak Army is more worried about reported presence of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in NW. It has not forgotten that Al-Qaeda’s number-2 leader Al-Zawahiri had declared war against Pakistan in July 2007 after Lal Masjid episode. From that time onwards, Al-Qaeda in conjunction with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has remained actively involved in terrorism in Pakistan. During its major battles in Swat and South Waziristan (SW), the Army had to battle with militants belonging to TNSM, TTP, Al-Qaeda and foreign agents. SW was the main base of both TTP and Al-Qaeda which was decisively dismantled. After their ouster, the militants sought refuge in several places within FATA which included Orakzai Agency, Tirah and NW. The runaways made Orakzai and not NW as their main base since the presence of military in NW was heavy.
Contrary to a misperception that NW is lightly held, it is held with division plus force, which is equivalent to the force level in SW. This force is not picnicking or hobnobbing with militants but is offensively deployed to keep the militants on the run. Unit level operations are taking place routinely while CIA operated drones are striking suspected targets in NW daily since start of September. It must however be remembered that Hafiz Gul Bahadur heading Othmanzai Wazir tribe in NW and Mullah Nazir leading Ahmadizai tribe in SW are honoring peace agreements with Pak Army. They are not attacking Army positions despite extreme provocation caused by drone strikes. It was owing to peace deals that the Army could establish firm bases in Wana, Jandola and Razmak and launch three directional offensives simultaneously against Hakimullah led Mehsuds in SW and outfoxed them. In case of a full fledged operation in NW in near future, understanding with Gul Bahadur will come handy.
As regards Haqqani network, bulk under Jalaluddin Haqqani is in Khost and surrounding regions while a small segment under his son Sirajuddin Haqqani is probably in NW. Besides these outfits, some other militant outfits like Asian Tigers aided by RAW and remnants of TTP and Al-Qaeda are also present in NW. Other than militants of Gul Bahadur and Haqqani network, guns of all other militant hpw groups in NW are trained towards Pakistan. Haqqanis are the only segment of Afghan Taliban with which Pakistan has some tacit understanding but has no control over it. Nor any support is provided.
If Sirajuddin is participating in Jihad in Afghanistan, he has the right to do so to free his country from illegal occupation of foreign forces. If the US forces feel morally correct to wage war seven seas away to make their homeland safe, why should the Afghans be denied this right to fight the invaders within their homeland? Their stance becomes valid because of the support they receive from majority in Afghanistan. Karzai led regime which the US is supporting is unacceptable to them since it is seen as America’s protégé.
Now that it has become clear that the US has for all practical purposes lost the war and have made up its mind to quit Afghanistan, will it not be desirable to mend fences with all Afghan segments particularly the ones who are anti-American and more resilient than others? The US has tried hard to drive a wedge within ranks of Taliban and to isolate hardliners but achieved very little. Reportedly Karzai regime is holding negotiations with Taliban with express permission of USA. Karzai has kept the doors open for extremists including Mullah Omar since so far he has not been able to make any breakthrough with the help of his ace player Mullah Baradar who was handed over by Pakistan.
If that be so, why a ban has been imposed on Pakistan not to have any truck with Taliban? Why so much of hullabaloo over NW? Admiral Mullen now says that Gen Kayani has assured him to mount an offensive in NW and root out terrorists. He added, ‘he clearly knows what our priorities are’. By now he should know that Kayani knows his job and doesn’t need any tutoring. He has already mounted several highly successful operations and Pak Army is in the driving seat. Mullen should have been logically pressing Gen Petraeus as to when is he moving into Kandahar to break the back of Taliban and ask him as to why has he not been able to root out terrorists in Helmand province as well as Haqqani network led by Jalaluddin in Khost-Paktika regions? Instead of putting his own house in order, he is fretting over someone else’s affairs.
So how is Mullen claiming that he knows his priorities? I wish it was true but it is not since it is commonly perceived that the US military in Afghanistan is caught up in a blind alley because of its flawed policies. Mullen’s statement has in fact come in the wake of an apology extended by NATO commander and by US Ambassador in Islamabad, which was quite surprising given the past record of USA. This statement together with sudden release of a video footage on U-tube showing Pak soldiers shooting blindfolded men in Swat were aimed at nullifying the adverse effects of the apology not realizing that owning up mistakes enhances rather than diminishes respect. David Cameron lowered his stature in the eyes of Pakistanis due to his mulish stance of not regretting over his thoughtless statement he made in India. To ascertain the veracity of the video, Kayani has ordered an inquiry.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites.