WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan are not planning a joint military operation in tribal areas as Islamabad will not allow foreign troops on its soil, officials familiar with talks between the two countries on this issue say.
According to the officials, the two sides have discussed various options for combating terrorism in the tribal areas and Pakistan has assured the Americans that it too views the militants as enemies of the state and is already engaged in fighting them.
Pakistan also expressed its desire to conduct a military operation against the militants, particularly those hiding in Waziristan, but told the Americans it would itself decide “when and how to conduct that operation”.
In a recent meeting with American journalists in Washington, a group of Pakistani officials explained that the media was causing “much confusion” by using the term joint operation.
A joint operation, one official explained, would include troops from both sides while in recent US-Pakistan talks on various options for combating militants in Fata “neither side even vaguely suggested” sending US troops into the area.
“Both sides, however, did discuss options for squeezing militants operating along the Pak-Afghan border,” said an official familiar with the talks.
“They are believed to have reached an understanding which requires the other side to seal the border when one side conducts a major operation inside its territory,” the official said.
This understanding comes from the realisation that the Taliban had established safe havens on both sides of the border and were using them to attack targets inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.
US and Pakistani negotiators are also believed to have reached an understanding on improving intelligence sharing and on taking immediate action against a target identified by the other side.
Anti-terrorism experts in Washington say that a similar cooperation between security forces on both sides of the border led to Mullah Dadullah’s death last week.
Dadullah headed the Taliban militants in Bajaur but fled to the neighbouring Afghan province of Kunar when Pakistan recently increased pressure on the insurgents.
Dadullah and his deputy Shakir were killed in a Nato air strike last week.
Also last week, Afghan intelligence officials claimed that a leader of the Haqqani network of militants, Badruddin Haqqani, was killed in an air strike in Fata.
US and Pakistani officials have not yet confirmed Badruddin Haqqani’s death.
US anti-terrorism experts credit increased cooperation between US and Pakistani forces for these successes, although officials on both sides refuse to confirm these claims.
But official sources contacted by Dawn said there were and had been, “certainly conversations about this matter” between US and Pakistani security officials, “especially in meetings at Rawalpindi”.
They pointed out that the commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, Gen John Allen, is once again meeting the Pakistani army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in Rawalpindi on Thursday.
“They obviously will discuss various options for combating terrorists in Fata, as they did in previous meetings,” said one source.
The Americans claim that the Haqqani network has established a safe haven in North Waziristan and uses it to launch operations against US and Afghan troops inside Afghanistan.
US military commanders describe the group as “the most resilient enemy network” and as “one of the biggest threats to US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan”.
They want Pakistan to evict the group from North Waziristan through a major military operation.
A day before his scheduled meeting with Gen Kayani, Gen Allen wrote an article in The Washington Post, claiming that Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan along with his commanders.
“Omar lives in Pakistan, as do many of his commanders. From that safe vantage point, they've sent hundreds of young, impressionable, and helpless youths to their deaths and detention in Afghanistan,” he wrote.
US anti-terrorism experts interpret this as increasing pressure on Pakistan to launch the much-talked about military action against the Taliban without further delay.