Getting Waziristan Right

Pakistani soldiers in North Waziristan

North Waziristan figures prominently on the entire terrorism scene. Every terrorist or would be terrorist arrested indicates some kind of direct or indirect link to North Waziristan making it a point of convergence for anyone contemplating a terrorist act. All reports confirm the presence of Afghan Taliban personified by the Haqqani Network, the ‘Pakistan Taliban- Tehrik Taliban Pakistan and an assortment of Chechens, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Arabs and even Western origin people in North Waziristan together with kidnappers, drugs and weapon smugglers and criminals from Pakistan who go there to rest and recuperate after their latest venture and before the next one. The outreach from this area into the urban centers of Pakistan links it to various extremist militant outfits that are ready to do whatever is required for a price and with the added benefit of furthering their own ethnic, sectarian, political or resource gathering agendas. It goes without saying that there may be, and probably is, external exploitation of this complex situation. This cauldron of criminal, subversive, insurgent and militant activity is the single most important reason for Pakistan’s image worldwide as the epicenter of terrorism and for the economic decline fuelled by a destabilized internal security situation. The combined threat that this situation poses now threatens Pakistan’s existence as a state.

The Afghan Taliban were probably tolerated because their agenda was liberation of Afghanistan from foreign occupation and because they were seen as a significant element in any reconciliation process that could make them part of the eventual political dispensation in Afghanistan. They did not pose a threat to Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban, however, did not sanitize the areas under their control from those whose stated objective is the destruction of Pakistan and their various assorted partners. The result is that Pakistan is being attacked from across its western borders and its South Western province of Baluchistan is being set up for a full scale insurgency with considerable damage already done. The port city of Karachi has been plunged into violence and near total lawlessness. There is also the perception that the Taliban are aligned with Al Qaeda however truncated it may be in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United Front, that is the successor to the earlier Northern Alliance, never really accepted Pakistan’s role and aligned itself firmly with the West against the Taliban and indirectly against Pakistan. This created the perception of a US-India-Afghan government alliance against Pakistan. There is very little doubt that those who attack Pakistan have sanctuaries in Afghanistan and get support from external elements — the US either ignores this activity or has some kind of inspirational role because of the sanctuaries in North Waziristan. Leon Panetta the US Secretary Defense is on record as having stated in Delhi that the US was fighting a war in FATA — FATA, of course, is Pakistan.

Some time back Pakistan’s Parliament passed a resolution that the conflict in FATA should be resolved through dialogue — but dialogue with whom? Those who oppose the state, do not recognize its constitution and its laws? In spite of this the Pakistan military has been fighting the enemy in FATA for many years sustaining casualties on a daily basis. It is largely because of the military’s successful operations and continued presence that, except for North Waziristan where there has been no operation so far, the other six agencies in FATA and Swat are not mentioned in the context of terrorism. How long can a military, any military, sustain such a situation with no end in sight?  The sporadic acts of terror including the Malala episode can all be traced back to those given sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan. The situation raises several questions. Is Pakistan at war — considering the fact that war is being waged against it from within and without? Is Pakistan under attack for from some combination of a fourth and fifth generation war — insurgency as in Vietnam and Afghanistan plus loosely organized networks with a common objective ( as identified in a recent article by Babar Sattar in The News November 25,12)? If so, what should be Pakistan’s response? Should there be a declaration of war? Or should a strategic political directive be issued giving the threat and state response to it? In a recent speech the President highlighted the danger of retaliation across the country if a military operation was started in North Waziristan. Already the situation is that while the enemy has the run of Pakistan the state’s security forces cannot even step into areas controlled by the enemy for fear of retaliation that could exploit the many vulnerabilities in society. Does this imply that the state has capitulated or is in the process of capitulating to the forces that seem to be overwhelming it?

The problems and challenges that Pakistan faces are by no means unique to it. Usually problems within societies are latent and largely controllable. In Pakistan all the problems have surfaced simultaneously making a coherent response to them at the same time beyond state capacity. The response, therefore, has to be sequenced and prioritized. Baluchistan and the situation in Karachi have to be resolved politically. This should be the top priority. Extremist militants must be restricted and their activities controlled as the next step. Intelligence agencies, police and para-military forces need to be strengthened and given capacity to effectively cope with situations and for law enforcement in every sphere. Finally, once these steps have been taken and consolidated, the state can turn its attention to the FATA and specifically to North Waziristan. Right now the US is considering its withdrawal schedule from Afghanistan and its troop presence beyond 2014. The focus is on reconciliation to create the right environment in Afghanistan post 2014. Pakistan has taken steps to support this process. This is also the time to mend relations with both India and Afghanistan and to set US-Pakistan relations back on a strategic rather than transactional basis.

Tacstrat Analysis