General John Allen, commander Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, has said that if the Pakistan Army launched an operation in North Waziristan Agency, “we are prepared to pay extra attention” to any spill over that may occur because of the operation.
He was talking to The Express Tribune on July 19 at a banquet in the presidential palace in Kabul hosted by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in honour of visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
This is the first time a US official, military or civilian, has talked about the possibility of operational coordination in the event of an operation conducted by the Pakistan Army on its side.
General Allen was responding to The Express Tribune’s observation that, while the United States keeps pushing Pakistan to do more, and has made an operation against the so-called Haqqani Network as one of the benchmarks of US-Pakistan relations, both at the strategic and operational levels, when the Pakistan Army launched an operation in South Waziristan in October 2009, the Isaf vacated its posts on the other side, making it easy for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters to slip into Afghanistan to avoid getting captured and killed.
When asked about whether there are enough forces across from North Waziristan Agency, Gen Allen said that they had “enough deployments on our side in the territory abutting [the] North Waziristan [Agency]”. However, he would not talk about the exact strength and also refused to say if an operation in NWA or its timing was part of the operational meetings between Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and himself. “You will have to put this question to General Kayani,” he said. General Allen would also not comment on the exact nature of coordination with the Pakistan Army if and when the latter launches an operation in NWA, saying “It will not be right for me to talk about operational details”.
In more general terms, however, he said that his meetings with General Kayani, both bilateral and the recent ones along with the Afghanistan army chief, Lt-Gen Sher Mohammad Karimi, had focused on “cross-border movement” from both sides. “We had very good discussions and we looked into areas of cooperation which need to be improved.” But when pressed to give a sense of any specific measures that would be taken he said that The Express Tribune should speak with the Pakistani military command.
He was vociferous in denying that the Salala incident was a deliberate attempt by the US military to get even with the Pakistani military. He said that this impression in Pakistan was totally off the mark and Salala was a tragedy where mistakes were made by both sides. “The central issue in current talks is how to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. We enjoy an excellent relationship,” he said.
General Allen seemed confident that both sides had been able to identify areas that caused the incident and have managed to strengthen the procedures along the border to ensure that such a tragedy is avoided in the future.
When The Express Tribune contacted the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate to get their comments on how the Pakistan Army understands General Allen’s reference to paying “extra attention to any spill over” in the event of an operation in NWA, the ISPR declined to comment, saying these are sensitive issues that cannot be discussed in the media.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.