Issue of sanctuaries in North Waziristan re-ignited

Asif Haroon Raja

North Waziristan (NW) has remained in focus of the US since 2010. No sooner our security forces were trying to regain their breaths after extremely arduous battles in Bajaur, Buner, Dir, Swat and South Waziristan and were trying to consolidate their gains, the US started pressurizing Pakistan that another major operation should be launched in NW. From early 2010 till April 2011, the crying theme was that bulk of al-Qaeda leadership was based in NW and involved in cross border terrorism. Gen Petraeus contended that unless NW was neutralized, security situation in Afghanistan couldn’t be controlled. Focus was shifted to Haqqani network (HN) when Sirajuddin Haqqani swore his allegiance to Mullah Omar and refused to play into American hands. 22 hour siege of Kabul by Taliban on 13 September 2011 followed by murder of Prof Rabbani on 20th flabbergasted US-NATO. To cover up their embarrassment, outraged Admiral Mullen blamed HN for the attacks and declared it as the ‘veritable arm’ of ISI. He and Kabul regime brazenly pointed fingers towards Pakistan and used harsh language. Salala was a retaliatory attack to avenge Kabul attacks. Extreme pressure was mounted on Pakistan to eliminate safe havens of HN in NW.

After Mullen’s diatribe, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has emerged as the chief basher of Pakistan. He has been spewing venom against Pakistan from the time he took over as Director CIA. He was the one who advocated making drone as a choice weapon in war on terror and in accelerating drone war in Pakistan since 2009. This is notwithstanding that the final approver is President Obama and he signs the death warrants. Despite Pakistan’s loud protests to put an end to extra judicial killings through drones which kills 97% of innocent people, Panetta arrogantly says that drone strikes would continue. His attitude towards Pakistan, particularly Pak Army and ISI has always been abrasive and hostile.

Arrogant by nature, Panetta sees everything in Pakistan with a jaundiced mind. We recall how he behaved after the shocking 2 May stealth raid in Abbottabad, asserting that either Pak Army/ISI were complicit or inefficient. He is principally responsible for dissuading Obama to extend a formal apology over Salala incident. He has been trying to intimidate Pakistan to reopen NATO supply lines and made an issue over cost of transit fee for containers. He provocatively stated that the US will not pay excessive transit fee of $5000 per container knowing well that the US is currently paying three times more to the Central Asian States to transport supplies via northern route. He is the one having created hype over conviction of traitor Dr Shakil Afridi who worked as CIA agent and was linked with a terrorist group Lashkar-e-Islam (LI). Afridi-Mangal Bagh connection is another clue that CIA is connected with LI.

Finding that his bullying tactics are not working because of the solid front put by Gen Kayani and new DG ISI Lt Gen Zaheer, his blood pressure has risen so high that he has become a wacky. On his recent trip to New Delhi, in an attempt to irk Pakistan, he sang the tune of Hillary Clinton provoking India to play a more active role in Afghanistan. At Kabul, he growled that the US is at war in Pakistan’s FATA. He said that the US had reached its limits of patience and it couldn’t tolerate Haqqani terrorists residing in North Waziristan (NW), come across the border, attack and kill ISAF troops and return back to their safe havens. He warned that Pakistan must eliminate insurgents’ safe havens in NW.

Let us examine the grouses of Panetta whether they have some meat, or are capricious and motivated. If the militants belonging to one-third force of Haqqanis under Sirajuddin are crossing over from 2-3 crossing points into adjacent Paktia and Khost provinces where bulk of Haqqanis under Jalaluddin are operating in eastern Afghanistan, why can’t ISAF and ANA equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment intercept the infiltrators crossing the border by manning border posts and mining crossing places? NATO had launched an operation in Khost last year; why couldn’t it subdue the main body of HN? Why can’t the infiltrators be caught and killed when they marry up with their comrades across the border and then travel upwards towards their intended targets well in depth?

Why does the 480,000 strong combined force of ISAF-ANSF-US security contractors expect Pak security forces to singly take on the dual job of fighting the militants in all the seven tribal agencies and adjacent settled areas as well as man 1000 border posts all along the porous western border and also check infiltration while the other side conveniently adopts a rearward posture to avoid battle casualties and bad mouth Pakistan? It complains like a fidgety and nagging mother-in-law. It wants Pakistan to continue deploying 147000 troops along its western front without expecting payments for services rendered. Rather, it wants additional forces at the cost of thinning its presence on eastern front to launch another military operation in NW but without asking for reimbursement of dues. Stoppage of $800 million CSF is not aid money but the arrear repayments of 2010/11, Washington owes to Pak Army.

The US is at war with Pakistan since 2002 but kept it hidden till Obama took over in January 2009. By accelerating drone war in FATA and stepping up covert war and propaganda campaign after declaring Af-Pak region as a single combat zone, the US had subtly converted its covert war to overt war. Since March 2009, SW and NW have been mercilessly hit by CIA operated drones killing hundreds of innocent civilians, mostly aged men, women and children, sleeping in their houses. Although big claims have been made that high profile al-Qaeda leaders were targeted by drones, the fact is that 97% of victims are civilians and veracity of 3% killed militants has never been substantiated. If the safe havens are in NW as alleged by Panetta, it boggles one’s mind as to why the Predator and Reaper drones, supposed to be precision guided systems   didn’t destroy any of them?

If the ISAF with the help of ANA had been successful in overpowering the strongholds of Taliban in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan, it could then justifiably lament over the adverse impact of safe havens across the border and blame Pakistan? Reality on ground is that the ISAF and ANA have utterly failed to contain the rising power of Taliban what to talk of subduing them. It was because of stiff resistance put up by the Taliban that the US was compelled to order complete withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan by December 2014. Hardly a day passes when no clash or bomb blast takes place resulting in fatality of occupation troops and such incidents occur in all parts including Northern, Western and Central Afghanistan including Kabul.

So how come, the whole onus of ISAF’s performance is attributed to few crossings in NW by elements of HN? How come, a tiny portion of HN in NW has become such a dreadful monster that it has crippled the military power of US-NATO-ANA? If it is such a horrifying fiend, why it is expected that it can be tamed by Pak military? Safe havens and HN are not the problem; the real problem is that groups under the command of Maulvi Nazir in SW, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Haqqani group in NW refuse to tow American line and are not confronting Pak Army. The US is forcing Pakistan Army to mount an operation in NW so that all militant forces including pro-Pakistan groups gang up against it and push it against the wall.

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