Pakistan’s own war
WILL we or won’t we? Or is it a question of not if, but when? The mixed messages that have been emerging from the Pakistani and American security and foreign policy establishments about an operation in North Waziristan leave these questions unanswered. But the ISPR statement on the recent visit of the American military’s regional chief makes one thing clear: at the moment, at least, the Pakistani security establishment is more concerned about declaring its independence in the face of American pressure and denying the possibility of American boots on the ground than it is about building its own case for going into North Waziristan.
But that tribal agency is now a bigger problem for Pakistan than it is for the Americans. Not just a possible launching pad for Haqqani network attacks in Afghanistan, it is a refuge and training and planning ground for a number of groups whose attacks and criminal activities are carried out on Pakistani territory. The military leadership has been pointing out in recent days that any operation there will require political backing, which is another way of saying that public sentiment in favour of it would have to be drummed up. Such support has been created before, most notably for the Swat operation in 2009. And for North Waziristan, the case could not be easier to make. Reports are emerging that those who attacked the airbase in Kamra may have been trained in North Waziristan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur has banned polio vaccinations there. The Bannu jailbreak has been linked to the agency. Security forces posted there continue to be targeted. And these are just a handful of examples; as home to militant groups squeezed out of other tribal agencies, the agency has become a major source of instability at home.
Why, then, the focus on America instead? Maybe establishing that the operation will not be dictated by the US was a strategic move, an initial, and perhaps required, public-relations step before laying out Pakistan’s own reasons. And Gen Kayani took an important step on Aug 14 when he declared in general terms that the war is Pakistan’s own, and that it has to be fought. But if the decision to go into North Waziristan has essentially been made, it is time to start focusing publicly on our own reasons for doing so. The agency has been left to its own devices for far too long, and there is no shortage of arguments on the basis of which Pakistanis can be convinced that the area poses a security threat to their own country that should no longer be ignored.