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More US lawmakers likely to visit North Waziristan

Updated August 08, 2016

WASHINGTON: Pakistan plans to bring another congressional delegation to North Waziristan to prove its claim that it has eliminated all militant bases and ammunition dumps from the tribal area, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

Congressman Chris Stewart of the House Intelligence Committee will head this delegation, which will include senior policy advisers. They are expected to reach Islamabad in next few days.

This would be the second congressional visit to the area since Pakistan launched Operation Zarb-i-Azb two years ago to eliminate militant hideouts from Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, visited North Waziristan last month and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts in statements he issued after the trip. He urged Washington not to isolate Pakistan, as doing so would have dangerous consequences.

But last week, the US Depart­ment of Defence stopped $300 million of military assistance to Pakistan for its alleged failure to prevent the Haqqani network from using its territory for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Diplomatic sources in Washing­ton, however, said that Washing­ton acted in haste as Pakistan was seriously engaged in clearing its territory from terrorists. They argued that “a positive engagement” would work better in encouraging Pakistan to do more and that such punitive actions might have a negative impact.

The sources also underlined the measures Pakistan had so far taken to end cross-border attacks. They pointed out that Pakistan and Afghanistan came close to an understanding on border management that could have prevented the Haqqani network and other militants from conducting such attacks.

But a century-old dispute over the Durand Line prevented the two countries from finalising a standard operating procedure (SOP) for border management.

The other two major factors that thwarted efforts to end cross-border attacks were lack of intelligence cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Islamabad’s plan to repatriate Afghan refugees.

The 2,430km Durand Line is the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although established in 1893 by the then Afghan emir, Abdur Rahman Khan, and a British civil servant, Sir Mortimer Durand,

Kabul continues to view it as a dispute that needs to be settled.

The Pakistanis claim that they suggested the SOP for border management because they believed it was necessary for the success of anti-terrorist operations that both Pakistan and Afghanistan carry out on their sides of the border.

Afghan reluctance

Pakistani diplomatic sources in Washington say that initially, Kabul showed “keen interest” in the proposal but later backed out when “elements within the Afghan government argued that it would weaken their stance on the Durand Line”.

According to these sources, the two countries also came close to an agreement on intelligence cooperation “but similar political considerations in Kabul failed this effort too”.

“Those opposed to a working relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan leaked to the media that the two neighbours were finalising a memorandum of understanding on intelligence sharing, embarrassing both governments,” said a diplomatic source who did not want to be identified.

Another Pakistani proposal unacceptable to Kabul is the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Pakistan says that the repatriation will allow Islamabad to close down refugee camps that are often used as sanctuaries by the militants.

The Afghans, however, argue that they are not yet ready for such a large-scale repatriation, fearing that militants would also return with the refugees.

Washington opposes the repatriation on similar grounds but supports the proposals for border management and intelligence sharing. “But they are not willing to pressurise Kabul to accept the Pakistani proposals,” the source said.

Instead, the Americans want Pakistan to intensify efforts to fight militants on its side of the border and apparently, the move to deduct $300m was part of the US efforts to persuade Pakistan to do so.

The decision, however, was not sudden, as the Americans had warned Pakistan about two months ago that they were going to withheld this amount. It was also one of the provisions in the 2015 version of the US Defence Bill, which said that the administration could no longer give a national interest waiver to Pakistan.

Instead, the Secretary of Defence will have to issue a certificate, telling Congress whether Pakistan had completely expelled the militants of the Haqqani network from tribal areas. The secretary refused to issue the certificate.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that the Obama administration continues to increase pressure on Pakistan because it wants “some positive results” before completing its final term in January next year.

The Americans believe that Afghanistan alone cannot defeat the militants or force them to talk unless Pakistan takes similar actions on its side of the border.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2016