Saturday, August 18, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Aug 19, 2012

General Kayani’s ‘hedging’ Ever since ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to Washington, the western press and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta have been saying that COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has committed to ISAF Commander General John Allen that the Pakistan army would launch joint operations with the US in North Waziristan. General Kayani, through an ISPR statement after meeting CENTCOM Commander General James N Mattis in Islamabad, has clarified that no such commitment has been made. General Kayani was at pains to underline that if and when the Pakistan army would conduct an operation in North Waziristan, it would be in the light of Pakistan’s and its military’s own considerations. The decision, its timing, etc, would be a Pakistani one, not under any external pressure, whether from the US or anywhere else. The statement went on to make a clear distinction between “coordinated actions” and “joint operations”, the former implying separate actions on each side of the border by either side, the latter joint operations on either side of the border. As far as the Afghanistan side of the border is concerned, it is understandable that the Pakistan army would not like to get embroiled, not the least because it apprehends the reaction from the Afghan Taliban, primarily the Haqqani network, which arguably has yet to be jettisoned by the Pakistan army as a proxy or ally despite its providing safe havens on Afghan soil to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), at war with the Pakistani state. On the other hand, joint operations on the Pakistani side of the border would imply American boots on the ground, something the Pakistan army has clearly spelt out after the Abbottabad raid is a red line it would not allow to be crossed again. General Kayani also said a joint operation, with all the above attendant meanings, would not be acceptable to the people or army in Pakistan. In this context it is pertinent to recall the reservations voiced by PML-N Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar the other day on any North Waziristan operation per se. Also, reports speak of uneasiness amongst some of General Kayani’s own aides, apprehensive of the fallout in terms of increased terrorism within Pakistan in the event of stepping into the militant hotbed. While all this is not entirely unknown and even to some extent understandable, there are problems with the formulation of the COAS. ‘Public’ sensitivities and ‘strategic assets’ considerations aside, ‘coordinated actions’ would fail to do some things crucial to success. First and foremost, such actions would fail to stop cross-border attacks both ways, the Haqqanis being at freedom to attack in Afghanistan from FATA, and the TTP at liberty, as it has been doing of late, to attack Pakistani security forces from Afghan soil since neither would be pressed by the respective allied forces on either side. Two, such actions would fail to seal the border to prevent the Haqqani network fighters and the TTP from fleeing across the border whenever under military pressure. A parallel may be drawn with the long-drawn-out operations the Pakistani military has been conducting for years in FATA. Piecemeal, Agency-specific operations have failed to seal the escape routes of the militants to other Agencies. When under pressure, they simply move to other Agencies and live to fight another day. Similarly, if there are no ‘joint operations’, at least to the extent of having an anvil on one side to the hammer of the respective military force pressing ‘its’ enemy, the porous border will continue to offer the mother of all escape routes both ways. The conundrum we have to revisit is the contradiction at the heart of the military’s policy in FATA in general and North Waziristan in particular: you cannot hunt with the Haqqanis and against the TTP when the two are collaborating with each other. And that brings us to the heart of the matter: if you persist with proxies to project foreign and security policy interests, the terrorist bug in your own home can never be crushed.

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