Monday, August 6, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Aug 6, 2012

Joint US-Pakistan campaign A Wall Street Journal report reveals that Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s first visit to Washington since taking over as ISI chief may have yielded unprecedentedly hopeful beginnings. After more than a year of acrimonious relations, it was not until the US finally found a way to apologise for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in the Salala attack that General Islam agreed to make the trip, having postponed it once in June. In his interactions with the head of the CIA, General Petraeus and other high officials of the Obama administration, the General seems to have conveyed two messages, one startlingly new, one old. The new message in essence recognizes that the Haqqani network, once the ISI’s proxies, have gone rogue. Their nexus with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been transformed into an alliance in which the Haqqanis attack the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan, while allowing the TTP to use safe havens in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan in the Haqqanis' control to attack Pakistani troops across the border. It follows logically from this development that Pakistan and the US have a mutual interest in cooperating against what may increasingly become a common threat to both. The ‘division of labour’ between the Haqqanis and the TTP may not hold, particularly if Pakistan and the US have agreed to conduct a joint campaign against the Haqqanis and TTP. Naturally the operational details of this campaign have not been revealed, but they do pose ticklish questions. For example, if Pakistan has agreed to an operation against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, how would this be conducted and by whom? If Pakistani forces launch the military offensive in North Waziristan, and the US/NATO move against the TTP in the border areas, this would require an unprecedented level of cooperation between Pakistan and the US. In some respects, this would be the resurrection of the old (but hardly tried) ‘hammer and anvil’ strategy, in which militants fleeing military offensives are prevented from fleeing across the border to safety. Although the Wall Street Journal expresses scepticism whether this level of cooperation between Pakistan and the US will be possible, given past differences, it also says the level of trust is higher as a result of General Islam’s meetings. The old message concerned Pakistan’s demand for a stoppage of drone attacks on Pakistani soil, a demand not so far conceded by Washington. Islamabad’s argument is that the drone attacks are not only a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, they are producing the unintended consequence of strengthening the extremists’ recruitment. That may well be because of the effect of collateral casualties, but the problem is that so far at least, the Pakistani demand provided no alternative to taking out prominent militants through drones in the absence of any Pakistani military action against the Haqqanis. Now, if the new scenario becomes a reality, the Pakistani demand could gather pace and even acceptance. Operation Tight Screw, as the North Waziristan campaign has been dubbed, could provide the opening for the US to reconsider the drone campaign in favour of other arrangements to build Pakistani capacity for the purpose. Both sides are discussing a refurbished counter-insurgency approach that does not exclusively focus on killing militants, but puts in place the structures of governance that would help prevent a resurgence of the extremists after the first flush of the military offensive is over. In other words, the ‘clearing’ operation must be followed by an efficacious ‘holding’ operation. This wisdom is obviously based on the experience of the Swat and South Waziristan campaigns of recent times. After initial military success, the problems of preventing the militants from once again infiltrating back into cleared areas and restarting their activities can only be combated by empowering the local people with the political, economic, and if need be military means to prevent a militant resurgence. Scepticism notwithstanding, if a turn has been taken towards recognising the Haqqani network as enemies of Pakistan for helping those waging war against the state (the TTP), this could be a historic positive.

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