After much hesitancy, sidestepping and delay, the Pakistani army finally launched a major targeted air and ground attack in Waziristan last week against the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP). It is to be seen to what extent this campaign will be prosecuted, whether the South Punjab militants will be targeted, and what will be done with Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban which in Baluchistan is known as the Quetta Shura. The Waziristan offensive must be seen as a very important development to gauge what the powers that be in Pakistan, that is the Military-Intelligence complex think in terms of the country’s security and regional ambition. There is also the question whether the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is at some level against the counter terrorism agenda. How will the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani deal with the situation, to protect the fledgling democracy, when army pressure on it from one end, and opposition sniping on the other, keeps the leadership on its toes. It will be the worst thing for Pakistan if, at this critical time, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is torn by rifts, especially between Zardari and Gilani. Unfortunately, the strategic policy of the army and the intelligence, with some able support from Pakistan’s foreign office, remains blinded with the old Afghan-India strategy. They still view Afghanistan as their strategic extension and, therefore, the Afghan Taliban must be given safe haven in Pakistan and adequate military and financial support. The TTP was formed in 1998 by the Pak army and the ISI to support the Taliban when the latter set up the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA). Although the IEA was recognized by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan, there were others who played footsie with them, most prominently the USA and China. “9/11” changed the US policy diametrically, but one cannot say the same about China. Beijing’s connection with the Taliban has been through the Pakistan politico-military establishment, and this is not going to vanish overnight, notwithstanding its official relations with the government in Kabul. Continuing with the Afghanistan-India stratagem of Pakistan, Islamabad sees India’s interest in Afghanistan not only as a threat to its security but as a challenge to building influence beyond Afghanistan into Central Asia, and controlling some of the most valuable energy out flow arteries from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. Pakistan i.e. some political sections and the army-intelligence establishment are aware of India’s traditional goodwill in Afghanistan and Central Asia. This goes long before the 1947 partition of India. Even the Pashtuns, who comprise over 90% of the Taliban, have never been at odds with the Indians as opposed to the British colonial government in India. After all, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and many other Afghan leaders have lived and studied in India and have maintained good relations with New Delhi. They vehemently oppose the Wahabi Islam that Pakistan has employed in its strategy to control Afghanistan. While Pakistani leaders repeatedly accuse India of using its consulates in Afghanistan to run terrorist operations in Baluchistan and the Northern areas, the main stream Pakistani media’s demand for proof has been met with stony silence from the government. In the initial report last month on the state of Afghanistan from USA’s top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal, Cleary said that Pakistan was upset with India’s good work in Afghanistan especially with humanitarian assistance and in the infrastructure area. He expected Pakistani retaliation. The General was prophetic. The Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked soon after, and ISI foot prints were all too visible. While Pakistan romanticizes with its pet obsession, Kashmir, pushing in militants for terrorist operations, it expanded its asymmetric warfare with the attack on Mumbai on a scale unknown before. Leaving aside the claims by India and denials and subterfuge by Pakistan on this incident, what is important for Pakistan, and those engaged with Pakistan in the hope of eradicating terrorism, is the similarity of the Mumbai attack on Pakistan’s army GHQ in Rawalpindi in October, and the subsequent attacks in Peshawar on the Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA) building and two other security targets. The attacks on Mumbai, and Pindi and Peshawar were almost identical. The attackers did not just use suicide bombers as the TTP and Taliban generally do. These were commando attacks to inflict the maximum damage, take hostages, achieve other aims, and escape if possible. The training was highly military in scope and style, and technically sophisticated. The Indian government has given evidence to Pakistan that the attack was by Laskar-e-Toiba (LET), under the supervision of Jamaat-ud-Dawa Chief Hafeez Mohamad Saeed, the father of LET, with Pak army assistance. On the GHQ attack the Pak official position is that those involved in the attack were drawn from the TTP, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and Laskar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ). The name of LET was notably absent. The only terrorist survivor of the GHQ attack, Aqueel alias Dr. Usman was a former army nurse, whose links with the LET and JEM are well known. But naming the LET would bring focus on Hafeez Saeed, and the other LET Mumbai attack support group. One thing that has found little or no mention from the Pakistani officials statements is that Dr. Usman was arrested in connection with the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing last year, but was mysteriously released from custody. Following his release Dr. Usman was involved in two major attacks, one which killed the Pakistani army Surgeon General (February, 09) and the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in March this year, in Lahore. Was there an ISI connection at some level in these attacks? The Americans have given concrete evidence to the top Pakistani political and military leaders, showing ISI links with the militants who even passed on to them intelligence shared by the Americans on strategies and planned strikes. The problem with the top echelons of the Pak army and the ISI is that terror outfits like the LET and JEM were created by them to fight India, and LEJ indulged in anti-Shia and such sectarian violence. The Pak army’s ISI is like a dog with a stolen bone desperately looking for a place to hide it. Now comes the US Congress Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB), signed into law by President Barack Obama last week, despite desperate Pakistani pleading at the last moment to review the conditionalities attached. The KLB provides for $ 1.5 billion a year non-military aid to Pakistan for the next five years, totalling $ 7.5 billion. But the conditions are something that the US has attached to aid to Pakistan that provides for civilian supremacy. The US provides one billion dollars a year to Pakistan as military assistance. In addition, it provides $ 100 million a year for Pakistan’s nuclear security. But the KLB bill keeps the Pak military away from the pie, and has bound the US Secretary of State to certify every 180 days that the aid is being used for the purpose it is meant. But the “purpose” as such makes it incumbent upon Pakistan to dismantle terrorist networks and camps, including those targeting India. Finally, it says that this aid will be stopped if the army takes over the government. The message for Pakistan is clear. The United States stands behind a stable, developing and democratic Pakistan which no longer uses terrorism or militancy as state policy. President Obama is no longer willing to play the old policy on Pakistan. His Afghan-Pakistan strategy is slowly changing to “Pak first” strategy. Too much harm is being done to the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan by the Quetta Shura on which basically the Pak army remains in denial and is forcing the civilian government to echo their voice. Much will depend on how steadfast Obama is on this policy. It has been launched. It has put President Zardari and the army on a collision course. Previous American administrations including that of Bill Clinton initially showed support to the civilian government in Pakistan, but then fell in line with the army take-over. Having gone this far, President Barrack Obama has little space to exit. If he continues with determination and purpose he can bring about unprecedented stability in the region. Kashmir and Afghanistan issues can be settled. If he falters half way then the fire that engulfs the region will also be unprecedented. The bottom line is how a is the Pak army determined to root out the militant/terrorist assets they had created for the Afghan and Kashmir agenda, especially now that the south Punjab militants like LET, Jaish and LEJ are fighting along with the tribal militants. Their strategy to come to an “understanding with the Waziristan militant leaders like Maulavi Nazir and Gul Bahdur to “isolate the main target” may be tactically expedient, but could rebound strategically. “Supping with the devil” could be dangerous. We will have to wait and see.
( The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent analyst based in New Delhi.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)