Goodbye, Haqqani network?

The new line in Pakistan is that the doctrine of strategic depth is no longer the embraced philosophy.

Editorial August 06, 2012

‘Diplomatic sources’ in Pakistan say, “The US and Pakistan have reached an understanding on joint operations against the Haqqani network but no final decision has been taken yet”. Outside, ‘leaks’ have appeared in the press indicating that “understanding for joint operations against the Haqqani network was reached at a meeting between senior US and Pakistani military commanders in Islamabad”. More clearly, The Wall Street Journal reported “that plans for joint operations” against the Haqqanis and Maulavi Fazlullah “were discussed in meetings between ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam and top CIA, State Department and Pentagon officials in Washington”. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik used to throw broad hints at Americans for helping the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) assist in carrying out attacks inside Pakistan from the Afghan provinces, Kunar and Nuristan. Now, he says the Afghan government and its secret agency are doing the dastardly deed, not the Americans.

Apparently, our ISI chief General Islam got nowhere with the drones and an understanding on the subject was deferred. He is believed to have offered a proposal which urges the US to identify targets and let Pakistani F16s carry out the attacks. If there is no agreement on the drones, it could derail the whole process, not so much because the Pakistan Army hates the drones but because the Pakistani people and the media have been subjected to a hype about them by the concerned quarters, which may not be speaking with one voice.

Another question must bother the Pakistani side — if not the Americans — because they have more information about Pakistan’s real capacity to control events on its soil. The Haqqanis have a close relationship with al Qaeda and Admiral Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Haqqani network of being  “one of several extremist organisations serving as proxies of the Government of Pakistan”. The Haqqanis are lodged safely in North Waziristan, which the Pakistan Army says it cannot attack just yet for various reasons, in order to flush them out. But the network has extended itself to other areas, too, including the Kurram tribal agency. The Americans want to take the Haqqanis out because of their ability to kill in large areas of Afghanistan. They operate in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika and have an extensive presence in Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar and Kunduz. Their outreach also includes the distant Afghan provinces of Badakhshan and Faryab.

If Pakistan gives up the Haqqani network, it gives up its trump card in the Afghan endgame. But the new line in Pakistan is that the doctrine of strategic depth is no longer the embraced philosophy and a new approach has been adopted. As far as the drones are concerned, the world sees pressure rather than conviction behind the Pakistani stand. Every time the Taliban attack and kill innocent Pakistanis, the clearly enunciated message is ‘get the Americans to stop their drones’. There is yet more lack of clarity. Is Pakistan able to deliver on the commitment it is vaguely making to the Americans through its ‘understanding’ on the Haqqanis? This is the question most analysts in the US will ask.

The question about the capacity of the state to control its territory is being asked in Pakistan but it is diverted to other emotive aspects of the sovereignty of the state vis-à-vis an intrusive strategy of the Americans to tackle terrorists that Pakistan cannot handle. If the Taliban were not obliged to own up to their acts of terrorism to make their presence felt, Pakistan is inclined to link all terror on its soil to America and India, as it is doing with respect to Balochistan. The problem here is that Pakistan is alone in the world in this thinking and its economy is in the process of a meltdown that cannot be halted without international help.

It is time to make a comprehensive policy shift. It is going to be difficult but as long as the international community understands that it is taking place, Pakistan’s chances of surviving remain bright.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2012.

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