Former army spokesperson Maj Gen (retd) Athar Abbas has disclosed that the army was on the brink of launching a military offensive in North Waziristan three years ago, but given then army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s reluctance, they were unable to.
In an interview with the BBC, former director-general of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Abbas said that the military leadership had given the go-head for an operation in North Waziristan in 2010, and preparations for it were made for one year, but it was pulled back at the last minute due to Gen Kayani’s indecisiveness.
“It had been decided in principle that preparations for the operation would take place between 2010 and 2011, and that it would be launched in 2011 to rid North Waziristan of extremists once and for all,” Abbas said.
When asked whether the reason behind his reluctance to give the final approval for the operation was due to his own weaknesses, Abbas agreed, saying ‘yes’.
“He was very reluctant when it came to the North Waziristan operation. Kayani thought the decision to launch the operation would reflect on his personality and people would take it as his personal decision, which is why he kept delaying the operation,” said the former DG ISPR.
Abbas further said that delay in launching the military offensive in North Waziristan has complicated matters as the militants have strengthen their position in the area and have also established contact with other militant groups.
According to him, the decision to launch the operation was taken after considering intelligence reports and consulting military officials posted in the area.
Abbas revealed that earlier, opinion over the operation was divided. One group was in favour of the operation, while the wanted to delay it.
Abbas said there were several reasons for supporting the delay in the operation, including how to deal with the Haqqani network and the problem of internally displaced persons.
He also claimed that the United States further complicated the situation by issuing statements which gave the impression that US was pressurising them to launch an operation in North Waziristan.
“We told the US that such statements are not helping us, and if we decide to launch the operation it would give the impression that we are doing it on the wishes of the US,” said Abbas.
He further said that the situation in the North Waziristan is same as it was in 2010; so if an operation can be carried out today, it could have been done back then.
“In my personal opinion, the operation should have been conducted in the 2011. We have wasted a lot of time due to which a lot of difficulties have arisen for all of us,” he said.
Maj Gen Abbas retired in June, 2012, and was replaced by incumbent DG ISPR Maj Gen Asim Bajwa.
As DG ISPR, Abbas had to regularly play down rumours of an offensive in North Waziristan.
In 2010, he had said that militant strikes in Mohmand and Bajaur have indicated that areas already ‘cleared’ by the military were still to be consolidated.
“And before we have done that, it is impossible to rush into another campaign,” he had told The Express Tribune.
“We have always been emphasising on consolidation in these regions … we have been saying let’s first secure our trail before going for something else,” he added, referring to a ‘pending’ operation in North Waziristan.
In 2011, a meeting of top commanders of the Pakistan Army decided that the military would not take action against the Haqqani network, despite US pressure.