An Age Old Tradition, For Its Failures, The Stronger Passes On The Buck To Weaker

Brig Asif Haroon Raja

The US is deeply concerned that Haqqani network based in North Waziristan (NW) is killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. It complains that the militants have safe havens in FATA which seriously jeopardizes US efforts to defeat militancy. The issue is not whether the militants take off from Pakistan’s tribal belt or not, the reality is that battleground for US military is Afghanistan where the militants launch guerrilla attacks. Why are they allowed to cross over when they make a material difference upon the outcome of Afghan war? Why they are not nabbed or killed when in the process of crossing the border, or when the group is received across the border, taken forward to base camp well in depth, sheltered for few nights, and then assembled to attack the chosen target? Why were repeated suggestions of Pakistan to fence or mine the border, or as a minimum fence/mine selected portions overruled?

If NW is now the main bastion of militants and crossing is taking place from there into two neighboring provinces, why can’t that small portion with three crossing points be effectively sealed? If infiltration from Pakistan side is such a big threat why only 250 border posts were established as against Pakistan’s 1150 posts and even those posts were withdrawn in October last during Operation Rah-e-Nejat when strategy of anvil and hammer was direly needed? The hard fact is that the Taliban after being pushed out in December 2001 had taken refuge in FATA and for about two years stayed within Pak-Afghan border belt to regroup. Once Pak troops entered FATA and started arresting Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives, the Taliban slipped back into Afghanistan. Today, their bases of operations are in southern and eastern Afghanistan where foreign troops have no control and not this side of the border which is under effective control of Pak security forces. US-NATO should worry about those forward bases rather than fretting over bases in depth in Waziristan.

If USA with all the world resources at its command cannot prevent cross border movement or at least present video proofs of it, why should it expect Pakistan with minimal resources to do it? If the US doesn’t have the will and courage to seal the border at its side, why does it not provide requisite counter terrorism equipment and intelligence and surveillance means to Pakistan to further improve its capabilities? Pakistan security forces have been in business of counter terrorism since 2002 and during this period they have launched hundreds of operations, arrested hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives including high profile leaders and handed them over to USA. Why so many intelligence units based in Kabul with most sophisticated wherewithal in abundance to carryout covert and intelligence operations have not been able to trace any known militant leader at their end?

As per Hillary Clinton’s skewed assessment, entire Al-Qaeda leadership including Osama bin Laden had shifted from Afghanistan to FATA in 2002 and was still there and very much within the knowledge of Pakistani government. If so what stopped CIA and FBI to hunt them down, particularly when 100,000 security forces were operating against militants in Waziristan and dependent upon CIA/FBI inputs? FATA region had been virtually in control of CIA and FBI, and ISI and MI was withdrawn in 2003. Why couldn’t the top most spy agencies get hold of wanted militants and dismantle al-Qaeda sanctuaries, bases and network when they had full liberty and authority to do so? With CIA base active in Miranshah till 2009, why couldn’t Haqqani network in NW be dismantled? Why couldn’t CIA/FBI pinpoint a single training base in SW or arrest a single TTP leader? If the Army and ISI were in cahoots with Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda, TTP would never have cropped up to fight the allies of Taliban who are a source of inspiration for the TTP. Linkage if any should have got severed after Pak Army dismantled TTP’s main base. If dismantlement of TTP was a loss for Afghan Taliban, it was an equal loss for USA, India and Israel. Are the US senior leaders forgetful or they think everyone in Pakistan suffer from loss of memory and are naïve?

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After airing several fabricated allegations and mixing it with threats of physical attack, latest bizarre allegation has been floated by CIA itself stating that ISI is playing a double game and is supporting Taliban. It proves the point that the US has lost its nerves and sense of balance and doesn’t know what it is speaking. It implies that CIA’s jealousy against ISI has now turned into aversion.  Has CIA forgotten that ISI in good faith had introduced its agents to CIA in 2001/02 but the latter cultivated most of them and turned them into its own agents and some as double agents by doling out sacks of dollars? Can CIA deny that TTP is not its creation? Is it not true that when the ISI to its horror found out in 2007 that its partner CIA was playing a double game and was fomenting terrorism in FATA and Balochistan, it became cautious and started recovering lost space in troubled areas? What was so wrong that the ISI started using its tentacles on own home ground to find out shady activities of CIA and other foreign agencies and take preventive measures? Did the CIA expect the ISI to sit on its haunches and refuse to perform its duties as first line defence for which it is paid?

As long as the ISI remained inactive and paid no attention to activities of CIA, everything was alright. Isn’t it a fact that the day the ISI started blocking CIA’s covert moves; CIA got irritated and started a venomous campaign against ISI? Lt Gen Shuja Pasha would be doing disservice to the nation if he fails to run a counter intelligence program in the face of subversive activities of hostile intelligence agencies that have bathed Pakistan in blood. Hats off to ISI that its has battled six agencies single handedly for nine years and managed to safeguard Pakistan’s prime interests and kept hostile hands away from Pakistan’s strategic assets. It is another feather in the cap of ISI for which it should be rightly proud of.

Fact of the matter is that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan for all practical purposes but it doesn’t want to admit and is still optimistic that some divine help might convert their defeat into victory. Divine help comes to those who are on the right and have a virtuous cause and not to the barbarians devoid of morals. Not knowing how to cover up their blunders, USA finds Pakistan as the convenient scapegoat to lay the blame on its doorsteps and to give vent to its frustration. Instead of fighting their battle in Afghanistan, it keeps accusing as well as prodding Pakistan to launch another operation in NW, which in its myopic view would help US-NATO in undertaking Kandahar operation. The ones advocating NW operation must appreciate that NW is under control of over one division force and clashes with militants take place routinely in which both sides are suffering casualties. This force is almost equivalent to force level in SW.

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Only difference is that an all out offensive necessitating displacement of local population in NW hasn’t been launched. Displaced persons of SW have yet to return to their homes. Neither civil administration has taken over nor did any reconstruction commenced, nor promised ROZs established or funds made available to undertake development works. Moreover, as a consequence to displacement of militants from SW, Mohmand, Bajaur and Swat, many have shifted to major cities of Punjab and have intensified terrorist attacks. As such, opening up of a new front in haste will be least desirable. In Afghanistan, the US military and ISAF have sufficient troops and resources and are not over stretched or over committed and have not achieved any victory equivalent to Swat and SW.

Having ascertained that Kandahar is the nerve centre of terrorism in Afghanistan, yet they are not picking up courage to wage an offensive in Kandahar but have the cheek to press Pakistan to leap into the cauldron of NW. USA obsessed with NW maintains that all routes of terrorism lead to NW. In its bid to incite Pakistan, it alleges that since Pak Army and ISI are in cahoots with Afghan Taliban, Pakistan is unwilling to launch an operation in NW.

It callously forgets that Pakistan lost more troops than combine losses suffered by foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and its civilian losses are five times more than those lost on 9/11. Economically, Pakistan has lost five times more than what it received from USA. On the social, religious and moral platforms, losses are incalculable since the society has become impoverished, divided and insecure.

So on what moral grounds Hillary threatens Pakistan of serious consequences particularly when Pakistan is up in flames and CIA operated drones are violating Pakistan’s sovereignty almost daily? Hillary knows that the US is in no position to open another front when its two fronts are collapsing. What she implies is that US air force or drones can strike Pakistan’s nuclear sites, or its Special Forces can grab nukes, or it can suffocate Pakistan economically through sanctions, or it can incite India to attack Pakistan. As a last resort, the US can repeat the failed Cambodian model on Pakistan. If so, is USA a friend or a foe?

After portraying NW as the most dangerous place through media war, South Punjab has been ripened to turn it into next battleground where so-called Punjabi Taliban have been hoisted. Attacks on Ahmadi worship places and on Data Durbar in Lahore are links of the same chain. Hand of Blackwater in the two attacks is discernible. Punjabi Taliban have not only disowned their involvement but also offered their services to eliminate Blackwater. Punjab police is currently arresting members of banned religious groups, particularly Sipah Sahaba Pakistan, but there is no move to launch an operation against Blackwater and RAW sponsored agents.

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Terrorists including high profile leaders arrested by military in hundreds from FATA are being freed by courts because of serious flaws in judicial system, non-availability of evidence and witnesses and threats received by judges. Dr. Usman involved in Marriot bombing and GHQ attack has been let off. Over 2000 captured terrorists including dreaded Muslim Khan and Ibne Amin during Operation Rah-e-Rast from Malakand Division are still to be put on trial due to lack of courage of judges and witnesses. Freed terrorists laughing under their sleeves and making victory signs are resorting to terrorism with greater vengeance while the government has adopted a lackadaisical approach. Areas freed from the hold of extremists are yet to be reconstructed because of which the troops in holding phase are getting no respite. All the hard work done and sacrifices rendered by the Army seem to going waste due to non-availability of backup socio-politico-economic and judicial plan of rehabilitation. The Army is being pushed to jump into new battlegrounds without fully consolidating the gains made.

Having dilated upon various aspects, the big questions are whether the US would bring any change in its attitude towards Pakistan, or would it keep distrusting Pakistan to keep it in the dock under one pretext or the other; whether the US leaders suffering from paranoia continue complaining like a jilted woman; whether the US has become wiser and is now sincere to find a political settlement of Afghan imbroglio, or it would continue with its deceitful policy of divide and rule; whether it would keep wholly relying on India and Israel and letting India play the role of villain to disrupt peace; whether the US would forgive Al-Qaeda or continue its futile chase; for how long the US can sustain war on terror; will Gen Petraeus succeed where Gen McChrystal failed; will foreign troops pullout in next two years or they would take their time; whether USA would accept its defeat gracefully or as a bad loser repeat Cambodian experience in Pakistan and get trapped; whether Afghanistan will achieve stability with US presence or without it; will stakeholders achieve harmony and collectively make an effort for regional peace or their interests would remain in conflict; will CIA reconcile with ISI or remain hostile; will USA abandon its objective of denuclearizing Pakistan and develop mutually sustaining long term friendly relations; lastly when will our leaders put an end to self-destructive policies and start taking corrective measures to safeguard sovereignty an integrity of Pakistan?

The writer is a retired Brig, a defence analyst and author of several books; he writes for Asian Tribune, New Nation, Veterans Today, Thinkers Forum Pakistan and numerous national and international newspapers/ websites.

Brig Asif Haroon Raja is also Member Board of Advisors,