North Waziristan operation likely to be of limited scale
ISLAMABAD: The armed forces will carry out a limited operation in North Waziristan primarily targeting Al Qaeda, Taliban and foreign fighters, as against the widely held belief that the focus will be exclusively on the Haqqani network.
In background interviews with Dawn, military commanders ruled out the possibility of a full-scale operation like the one launched in South Waziristan and said it was ‘unfeasible’ because of difference in ground realities.
South Waziristan, they said, was a “no-go area” when they launched a major military offensive in October 2009 to flush out terrorists. “But the northern part has a massive presence of military and there are peace pacts with tribes that cannot be ignored.”
The army has a division of troops stationed in the agency with headquarters in Miramshah and brigade level command centres in Mirali, Dattakhel and Razmak. The other factors preventing an all-out assault are its inhospitable terrain and geographic isolation.
A senior officer said: “The operation will be very selective and intelligence led.”
The military assessment is that there are only two to three pockets having terrorist presence which need to be cleared.
Although the military officials didn’t explicitly talk about sparing the Haqqanis, one can make out from the conversation that there is still no shift in policy about the group. They are of the opinion that the Haqqani network is more of a myth and the threat posed by it has been exaggerated.
A major target, it is said, will be Tehrik-i-Taliban militants who took refuge in North Waziristan after having been dislodged from south. “It will indeed be a big achievement if we succeed in neutralising some of the suicide bomber training centres,” an officer said.
Something that lends further credence to the possibility of a very limited scope of the operation is that military commanders aren’t expecting a major displacement from the region. On the contrary, press reports have suggested that aid agencies were directed several weeks ago to prepare for exodus of over 350,000 people from the area.
But what appears to be more significant is that the commanders are reluctant to take any technical or intelligence support from the US. It is not clear if the unwillingness is because of mistrust or fears of losing public support in the country rife with anti-Americanism.
“Using American help will be suicidal,” another officer said without elaborating.
The disinclination to benefit from US support appears to be a continuation of the policy adopted during Operation Brekhna in Mohmand when offer of maintenance support for helicopter fleet was turned down, though the airframes remained beset with less operational readiness.
Almost a year ago Pakistan had agreed in principle with the United States to clear the second largest tribal agency of militants but remained non-committed on the issue of timing, always insisting that it would be of their own choosing.
That resolve to rid the region of sanctuaries was renewed when both sides began discussions on ‘resetting’ the ties after the killing of Osama bin Laden. But during her brief visit last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was able to make a breakthrough by securing a pledge that the long-delayed operation would be initiated sooner than later.
At a media briefing after holding talks with the political and military leadership, Ms Clinton indicated that Pakistan would be taking “decisive steps in the days ahead”.
North Waziristan is considered to be the springboard for violence in Afghanistan and one of the most potent terrorist organisations operating from the agency is the Haqqani network which is operationally commanded by Sirajuddin Haqqani who is on the list of five top wanted men given by Washington to Islamabad. He is said to be commanding a militant force of about 3,000 hardened fighters.