It is evident from Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s briefing in Lahore after his return from Washington that Pakistan has once more faced pressure to move into the North Waziristan tribal territory, now believed to be one of the areas over which militants retain an iron hold. There is a complication. These militants include the Haqqani network, the group which under Jalaluddin Haqqani fought valiantly against the former Soviets in Afghanistan and forged close links with the Pakistan military establishment. These bonds have continued, with the Haqqanis, now led by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin, who are said to be engaged in talks with the military. For the US in particular, Sirajuddin’s reputation as being ‘harder line’ than his father and of having evolved a relationship with al Qaeda will be a concern.
Pakistan’s official line on North Waziristan has been ambiguous. It has in the past indicated that it is planning to move in, but then not done so. The floods since July have played a part, with military efforts redirected towards rescuing people. The foreign minister now tells us there are already 34,000 troops in North Waziristan and the government will decide when the operation is to begin. While Mr Qureshi has focused on Islamabad’s role in this, the opinion of the military will play a part. Also of relevance is the degree of pressure applied by Washington. It seems likely that this was substantial given the repeated expression of US concern over the situation in the territory and the growing body of reports about US conditionalities attached to its aid package.
We come back here to a basic point. The will of Pakistan to fight militants and to end the process of dividing them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys is imperative. Only once this is accepted will any real progress be made in North Waziristan and the hesitant dance we see now ended.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2010.