Going after the Taliban in North Waziristan

Published: May 11, 2010
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The Obama administration’s relatively encouraging attitude towards Pakistan and its anti-terror efforts has given way to a far tougher tone. Following the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the US attorney general has blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the attempted bombing in New York’s Times Square. The planting of the device by a person able to move freely between Pakistan and the US seems to have set off alarm bells in Washington, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warning of “serious consequences” if a terror plot succeeds.

So, after months of relative calm, Islamabad faces the heat once again. It blows in from several quarters in the US. The top American military commander in Kabul has met the COAS and urged a swifter move into North Waziristan. The Pakistan military, essentially for strategic regions, has so far steered away from this zone – known to be a Taliban stronghold. When the military launched an operation in South Waziristan it was believed that a large chunk of Taliban forces simply fled to North Waziristan. One heard of this even when the Swat operation began last year — with some reports even suggesting that Mullah Fazlullah had taken refuge there. Large chunks of North Waziristan are under de facto control of two men: Hafiz Gul Bahadur, reportedly considered a ‘good’ Taliban and Jalaluddin Haqqani (and increasingly his son Sirajuddin). The Haqqanis are considered by many in western capitals, and by some analysts in Pakistan, to be assets of the Pakistani establishment, given that they are Afghan Taliban and focus on battling western armies deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Reluctance to go after the Haqqani network in particular seems to be a hangover from the days when the establishment believed in the principle of strategic depth which saw the Pakistan army using Afghanistan as a kind of a regrouping area in case of an attack by Indian land forces. Hence, this new push from Washington presents a dilemma for the Pakistan government and the army. The interior minister has confirmed receiving reports from the US which state that Faisal Shahzad had met Hakimullah Mehsud and the TTP’s main trainer Qari Mehsud Hussain in North Waziristan. If there is evidence to substantiate these assertions – as seems likely – the foreign minister’s reiteration of the stance that Shahzad is a US citizen will have little real bearing. The bombers nationality is after all hardly relevant, given that even if he today holds an American passport, his links with Pakistan, his origin from the country and, it now appears, his contacts with the Taliban who are based in Fata are beyond doubt. The task Islamabad faces is not an enviable one. But the bottom line is that Pakistan needs to go after the militants in North Waziristan for its own sake. The problem is that its initial disinterest in doing this and the American pressure now will mean that if and when an operation is carried out in North Waziristan, most Pakistanis will see it as being carried out precisely on Washington’s goading. And that will make it all the harder to sell to the general public. However, this should not be taken to mean that an operation should not be carried out, only that it would have been far better had this realisation dawned on Islamabad before the whole Faisal Shahzad affair.

So what should the government do now? It should build a consensus for action in and outside of parliament and in the media as well. This means convincing the people that an operation to eliminate the safe haven that the TTP and al Qaeda enjoy in North Waziristan has to be eliminated and that the Haqqani network must be taken apart as well. Of course, this will take a toll in terms of lives and other costs but then we are not entirely innocent of involvement in the Taliban becoming a potent force. Perhaps, those who created the Taliban and helped them march and take Kabul in the 1990s did not expect that one day the monster that they had created would come to bite them with a vengeance.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 11th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • May 11, 2010 - 4:29AM

    If the military is protecting the Haqqani’s as their “assets” then it just goes to show how much it values the lives and welfare of common Pakistani citizens. Even if a single Pakistani citizen has been killed at the hands of Haqqani’s emanating out of North Waziristan, is that not enough for the state and military to act under the law and curtail such organization activities? Not too mention all the jawans who have been deployed in the region and have been killed during patrols in North Waziristan.

    It seems as if the protection and well being of the Haqqani’s is a greater priority of the Pakistani Military than protecting its citizens. Recommend

  • Din Muhammad
    May 12, 2010 - 2:01PM

    Haqqani net work is not terrorist group as the American projected ,they only fought for the freedom of afghan nation from Foriegn interrvention.American who call themselve as freedom lover people so why they snatch the freedom from other nation. Us always impose their ideas on other nation and treated the other nation as thier slaves what rubbish they doing.Us have to ashmed on thier masacred of innocent people in afghanisatan and iraqees also. they bombared on civilian and not respect the fundamental rights of the nation.Recommend

  • sultan
    May 13, 2010 - 8:58AM

    We should not consider any terrorist group or Gang as our assets but we may be sympathetic towards some groups keeping in view our supreme national interest.

    Was it not the USA who created and fully supported the Mujaheddin in their own national interest. If our national interest lies in supporting one particular group then there is no harm rather absolutely no harm in supporting that group. Recommend

  • Waqar Raja
    May 13, 2010 - 10:20AM

    Apparently it seems that Haqqanis are the primary reason for lack of enthusiasm by the Government to launch a military operation in North Wazirastan. Some argue that this alliance with Haqqanis is relevant until US troops are present in Afghanistan. However, in long term strategic framework this linkage is bound to affect our relationship with the West, particularly USA. Recent outburst by Hillary is a case in point. However, a critical analysis of current deployment of Pakistan Army would reveal that almost all major strategic formations, which are deciding factor in case of war with India are committed in counter terrorism operations in various areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP). This implies that on eastern front, only a defensive capability is prevalent, firstly, to disallow any quick incursion through “Cold Start” by eastern neighbors and secondly, to provide sufficient time to strategic formation to disengage from current zone of operation and swiftly move to eastern front in the right timeframe. Recently concluded Azm e Nau is a good evidence of our strategic orientation. In the absence of any concrete assurance of non interference by USA/ or any pact with India, this is the right approach.
    In all fair analysis, any further pulling out of troops from eastern front will weaken our initial defensive response on which the success of strategic formations is dependent. The best option seems to be “no more thinning down from the east and having consolidated in Swat and North Wazirastan sizeable troops can be pulled out for operations in North Wazirastan”. This is simply delay for couple of months and not reluctance, Madam Hillary. Recommend

  • Waqar Raja
    May 13, 2010 - 11:02AM

    Please read Soth Wazirastan as marked/ highlighted in last paragraph of my comments

    “no more thinning down from the east and having consolidated in Swat and South Wazirastan sizeable troops can be pulled out for operations in North Wazirastan”. This is simply delay for couple of months and not reluctance, Madam Hillary.Recommend

  • May 27, 2010 - 3:30PM

    the irony with Pakistani so called intellectual elite is that it is very easily convinced by any thing comming out westren especially american press.
    some so called intellectuals like to critise Pakistan with pleasure without knowing facts and banking on westren press. same is with Pakistani media who likes to protect US intrests more than their own National intrests.
    What ever NYT or Washtington Post says is gospel to us. As for NWA, have any one wondered that at present more then 8 divisons of PA are involve in counter Terrorism operations in FATA. 8 divisons mean that amount of force involve in CT Operation in FATA is more than force which fought in 1965 war with india .
    the advocates of US intrests fail to understand that at present without clearing Aurakzai, Kurram, Mohmand etc and bringing long term peace it will be a stupidity to go to NWA.
    I dont understand why these so called Intellectuals want people to suffere more for the intrests of US.
    I agree we have to clear NWA but its not the time.Recommend

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