Monday, October 18, 2010

Military operation in North Waziristan ….Is it strategically important for Pakistan?

Pakistan is under pressure to attack North Waziristan Agency (NWA), one of the agencies of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in order to destroy sanctuaries of Afghan Taliban. This pressure is being mounted by the USA and NATO whose forces are under threat from the Taliban who are believed to be using this agency as their base. Pakistan Army is already deployed in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) which was a sanctuary of the so-called TTP, an organization funded and armed by India. Its sole mission has been to attack Pakistan Army, its convoys, posts and other installations. It is believed to have funds and equipment to raise an army. Its tactics are suicide bombing, bomb blasts and ambush. Though this organization claims its allegiance with Afghan Taliban, it never attacked American or Western interests and its allegiance with Afghan Taliban has not even been acknowledged by the latter.

NWA is also a sanctuary of those elements of TTP who fled SWA after Pakistan Army’s operation. The situation is a little complex; anti-Pakistan TTP and anti-USA Afghan Taliban are in this agency. Fighting Afghan Taliban would be like fighting inside Afghanistan in which case Pakistan would lose its advantage of being an effective truce broker in the region which USA will so desperately want in the very near future. Yet it is being pressured to enter its forces in NWA and no one is ready to guarantee that in case it facilitates USA’s efforts and starts an all-out war with Afghan Taliban, India will not take the advantage on Pakistan’s Eastern borders. Pakistan on Saturday defended its military policy in the lawless northwest of the country, a hotbed of Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency, amid tensions in its relationship with the United States.

In a statement issued by the foreign ministry, Islamabad declared that there was no "lack of Pakistani resolve to fight terrorism". The comments come as a wave of US drone strikes in the area continues, having killed more than 150 people and raising tensions between Washington and Islamabad, which condemns the operations as a violation of its sovereignty. A leaked White House report to Congress earlier this month also accused Pakistani forces of avoiding "direct conflict" in North Waziristan, while ground operations in South Waziristan were only progressing "slowly". Militants fighting against more than 150,000 US and NATO troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan are believed to be holed up in the tribal region, as are operatives at war with Pakistani security forces.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. military officers, including Adm. Mullen, have been against placing too much public pressure on the Pakistani army, arguing such an approach is counterproductive given the fragility of Pakistan's domestic situation. The country is now coping with major flood damage, which has sapped government and military resources. But the U.S. has also pressed Pakistan to do more for its own flood relief. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested the European Union should follow the U.S. and withhold further relief aid until Islamabad shows it is doing more to fight corruption and collect tax revenue from its wealthiest citizens.

Pakistan has bristled at the increased U.S. pressure for it to do more on the battlefield. Last week, in the wake of a series of cross-border attacks by NATO—including one that killed members of Pakistan's Frontier Corps—Islamabad temporarily closed a key border crossing. Adm. Mullen apologized for the deaths of the Frontier Corps members and worked with the Pakistani military to try to quickly normalize relations. In the interview, Adm. Mullen suggested the best way to eliminate the militant havens was by strengthening the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and convincing Islamabad that the militants that threaten the U.S. are also a grave danger to Pakistan. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been on something of a roller coaster in recent years. The U.S. decision in the late 1990s to cut off aid to Pakistan after it tested a nuclear weapon eroded relations between the two countries. Since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen has worked to rebuild military ties with Pakistan.
"We didn't have a relationship with them for a period of 12 years," Adm. Mullen said. "So it has a lot to do with building trust. The expectation we could instantly get to the same place from a standpoint of supporting this is just too much to expect at this point in time."

Pakistan currently conducts "surgical" raids against militants in North Waziristan—home to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network—but has said a large-scale operation to clear the area of all military would threaten Islamabad's ability to keep militants out of other areas it cleared previously. Islamabad is willing to step up their surgical raids in North Waziristan if the U.S. provides them with more information about the location of militants they want removed, a senior Pakistan official said this week. Under US pressure to crack down on Islamist havens, Pakistan last year sent 30,000 troops into South Waziristan to destroy Taliban strongholds in the area, but no similar offensive has been mounted in North Waziristan. But the foreign ministry said in a statement: "While we understand ISAF concerns, any question relating to when, how and what is to be done in North Waziristan is based on judgment, keeping in mind our capacities, priorities and overall national interest.  "This in no way should be interpreted as lack of Pakistani resolve to fight terrorism," it said.

Part of the tribal belt on the Afghan border, North Waziristan is home to 350,000 people but considered a stronghold for the most dangerous militants in the world and largely impenetrable. Washington has branded the rugged area, which lies outside Pakistani government control, a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth. Pakistani commanders have not ruled out an offensive in North Waziristan, but argue that gains in South Waziristan and the northwestern district of Swat need to be consolidated to prevent their troops from being stretched too thin.

The question is: with India trying to encircle Pakistan through its unwarranted presence on Pakistan-Afghanistan border, USA having strategic partnership with India and seeking increased Indian role in Afghanistan, and all past human sacrifices having gone un-acknowledged, should Pakistan accept the demand to enter its forces in the NWA.It is very unfortunate that vital interests of both USA and Pakistan do not converge on this issue.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Pakistan has no choice and very limited time on its hand to get its act together. As is very clearly visible by the statements emanating from world capitals one after the other, the nations all over are getting fed-up with excuses offered by Pakistan for its gross incompetence in dealing with extrimists on its soil. Once US starts withdrawing its forces from Afganistan later this year, its reliance on Pakistan for secure supply-lines to its forces will reduce dramatically thus reducing the need to keep feeding billions of dollars to this every hungry, shameless and thankless nation. Once US dollars stop flowing, there is no guessing what is going to happen to this nation of barbarian cave dwellers...