WASHINGTON, June 14 The time is not right for a military offensive in South Waziristan as it will create more chaos and brings no real victory, warns a US scholar.
“The Obama administration has shown a refreshing realism in its policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan,” says Nicholas Schmidle, a fellow at the New America Foundation. “If it wants to succeed there, it should encourage the Pakistani army to stay out of Waziristan — at least for now.”
Mr Schmidle, who spent two years in Pakistan after 9/11, notes that although South Waziristan is slightly smaller than Connecticut, “Waziristanis have acquired an outsize reputation as recalcitrant tough guys”.
The writer then quotes Lord Curzon, an early 20th century British viceroy of India as warning “No patchwork scheme will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine.”
Mr Schmidle then points out that despite what he says in public, President Asif Ali Zardari doesn't want to start it either.
The author notes that South Waziristan, unlike Swat, has been under Taliban rule for most of the past decade. The March 2004 military offensive forced the army and the then military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf to seek an exit strategy.
Since then the Taliban have repelled several other operations and, in 2007, kidnapped more than 200 soldiers.
“Does that make it impossible for the Pakistani army to defeat them today? Not necessarily,” notes the author. “But it is unrealistic to believe that the Pakistani army could continue fighting Taliban remnants in Swat, remain heavily deployed along the border with India and dedicate enough troops in South Waziristan to resemble a steamroller.”
Another stumbling block for the Pakistani military in South Waziristan is that they have an almost equal number of jihadist friends and enemies.
Besides, Mr Schmidle points out, a noisy military operation is not a sure way to nab people like Osama bin Laden or his lieutenant Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
If drones and commandos haven't found them so far, a noisy, invading battalion of Pakistani troops probably won't, either, says the author.
Mr Schmidle claims that Swat and South Waziristan today are like Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 Rushing into the latter would almost certainly jeopardise success in the former.
The author points out that the Pashtuns who live on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are watching to see whether the army is serious about finishing off Maulana Fazlullah's Taliban in Swat. They are also watching more closely than anyone to see the fate of millions of Pashtuns who have fled their homes in and around Swat as a result of the army offensive.