Two recent developments underscore the unravelling of contradictions that have accompanied the questionable US-led war against terrorism unleashed in October almost 11 years ago. In the first instance, the family of an al Qaeda member, Anwar al-Awlaki, sued Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus in a New York court for the drone attack that killed al-Awlaki in Yemen last year. Al-Awlaki’s son alleges that since his father was an American citizen, the drone strike “violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law”.
In the second development, the US-ISAF commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, signalled some willingness to secure his side of the Durand Line if the Pakistan Army cracked down on the Haqqani network and al Qaeda in North Waziristan. The two developments not only tie into Pakistan’s long-held reservations about the coalition’s security deployments on the eastern side of the Durand Line but also lend some credence to ‘conspiracy theories’.
While the petition against drone strikes is likely to generate its own momentum within the US itself and will also resonate , former UN Human Rights Rapporteur Philip Alston’s extremely critical view of the CIA-operated predators, General John Allen’s chat with The Express Tribune on July 19 at Kabul, merits serious consideration: “If the Pakistan Army launched an operation in North Waziristan, we are prepared to pay extra attention to any spillover that may occur.”
Viewed against the current turbulence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Allen’s statement entails a number of questions; was the general speaking off the cuff or consciously conveying a message to his counterparts in Rawalpindi? Was he really serious when talking about “extra or sufficient attention” in case Pakistan unleashed an operation in North Waziristan, or warning that Pakistan’s refusal to go after the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network will continue to invite aggression from across the border?
Did he really mean a tit for tat? Perhaps, yes, if viewed against the steady stream of bloody attacks, apparently conducted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) cleric Maulana Fazlullah’s men; at least 15 cross-border incursions from Kunar and Nuristan into Upper Dir, Bajaur and Chitral, resulting in 105 deaths and executions of military and paramilitary forces in the last 12 months or so. Beheadings of 17 Pakistani soldiers, who were ambushed during a patrol and brazenly executed mid-July, explain only one motive; injecting terror in the minds, creating uncertainty across Pakistan and demoralising security forces through indiscriminate attacks on all and sundry. The recent spate of terror attacks in the urban centres of Khyber-Pakthunkhwa and Upper Dir/Chitral betray this pattern and hardly point to any other politically justifiable motive. The only overriding objective seems to be pin-pricking and stretching Pakistan’s security apparatus with the ultimate goal of making it play ball as desired.
American and European security officials tend to deride and dismiss this deduction as a conspiracy theory. Some of them, however, do admit this could be a diversionary tactic by the ragtag militants operating on both sides of the border. But even this raises serious questions about the authority and the intent of the Afghan and US-ISAF forces; ostensibly, the al Qaeda-linked TTP militants maintain training centres with large manpower concentrations on the Afghan side of the border. If Pakistanis can spot these concentrations, why can’t the US-led Afghans? If they can pick up al Qaeda individuals, why can’t they spot Maulana Fazlullah’s militants moving in hordes from camps across the border into Pakistan? If this were part of a plan, then this tit for tat is likely to continue as long as Pakistan does not budge from its stated position on North Waziristan. And any way, the cost of peace management in Waziristan far outweighs the benefits that are extremely detrimental to the long-term interests of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.