Given the dip in relations between the US and Pakistan since the start of this year, any manner of diplomacy between the two countries should be welcome news. Talks alone, however, may not be enough to resolve the one major sticking point in the fight against militancy: how best to tackle the Haqqani network. A meeting between army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and US Admiral Mike Mullen, at the sidelines of the Nato conference in Spain, confirmed that they are still at an impasse. The US would like the Pakistan Army to launch a full-scale assault on the Haqqani network’s stronghold in North Waziristan, a move the military has been hesitant to make thus far.
There are certainly good reasons for the military’s reluctance to take on the Haqqani network. Given the number of troops that are engaged in ongoing battles in other militancy-hit areas, there is a legitimate fear that our army may be stretched too thin. When you add in the fact that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is far more likely to strike within our borders, while the Haqqani network is mainly targeting Afghanistan, one can understand why defeating the TTP would be our first priority. But there is also a more sinister reason for our inaction. Pakistan greatly fears that once the US withdraws from Afghanistan, India will be the dominant power in the war-torn country. We may be leaving the Haqqani network alone in the hope that they can continue to destabilise Afghanistan and ensure that Pakistan retains some measure of influence there. By now, we should have learned that basing our foreign policy on the support of militants is more likely to hurt us than it is to advance our interests.
Pakistan’s motives for not taking on the Haqqani network aside, the US also needs to decide if it wants to militarily defeat the Taliban or to negotiate with them. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the US have both hinted that they may have to negotiate with the Haqqani network, and Sirajuddin Haqqani has said that he would be willing to do so if all the other Taliban groups are represented. If the US is planning on negotiating with them, asking Pakistan to sacrifice blood in a full-scale assault, that is surely expecting too much of us.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2011.