Pakistan will not take military action against the Haqqani network, despite intense US pressure over the past few days. The decision was taken at a special meeting of top commanders on Sunday and is likely to chip away at the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.
The commanders vowed to resist US demands for an offensive in North Waziristan but also discussed the possible implications of unilateral action by the US on Pakistani territory, said a military official. “We have already conveyed to the US that Pakistan cannot go beyond what it has already done,” the official told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
A public acknowledgement by the military’s chief spokesman about Pakistan having contact with the Haqqanis also appears to confirm that the security establishment has no intention to go after one of the most feared Afghan insurgent groups. “Any intelligence agency would like to maintain contact with whatever opposition group, whatever terrorist organisation … for some positive outcome,” Major General Athar Abbas told CNN in a telephone interview.
However, those contacts do not mean that the ISI supports or endorses the organisation, he added. “If someone is blaming us [as] the only country maintaining contacts with the Haqqanis, there are others, too,” Abbas said. There is a huge difference between maintaining contacts with such a group to facilitate peace and supporting it against an ally, he said. Sunday’s extraordinary meeting of the corps commanders, chaired by Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, came after top civil and military US officials launched a series of scathing attacks against the Pakistan Army for its role in the ‘global battle against terrorism.’
Though the media wing of the army did issue a public statement about the special meeting, it opted not to say anything after a six-hour long sitting at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
“The situation is extraordinary and that was why the meeting was called an emergency,” said another official, who would not provide further details. Some sources say that the army decided not to issue any public statement after whispers from the US aimed at avoiding the situation getting out of control.
In a change of tone, US Centcom Chief General James N. Mattis, in a meeting with Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wynne, struck a reconciliatory note after weeks of stinging US claims.
A statement issued by the US Embassy said that General Mattis had “candid” discussions with General Kayani and General Wynne about the current challenges in the US-Pakistan relationship.
“However, Gen. Mattis also emphasised the vital role the Pakistan military plays in international security efforts to protect the Pakistani and Afghan people and the need for persistent engagement among the militaries of the US, Pakistan and other states in the region,” it added. General Wynne voiced his concern about the negative statements emanating from US, according to the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR). He also stressed the need to address the issues which have divided the two countries, which are “a result of an extremely complex situation.”
Responding to the possibility of US strikes in North Waziristan, General Abbas said that any unilateral military action would fuel anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. It “would have grave consequences … and would put the government and the military’s backs to the wall,” he said.
Abbas added that Pakistan had closed cell-phone towers in the area to prevent terrorists from communicating and coordinating their activities within Waziristan. “We closed all the mobile towers on this side of the border, but unfortunately across the border in Afghanistan mobile towers are working,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2011.