PESHAWAR, Sept 25: As the United States continues to put pressure to do more, Pakistan says it is the US which is skirting around the real issue of providing resources to enable it to deal with militancy in an effective manner.
“We have been saying this and raising this issue virtually at every tier, including at the highest level — give us the capability we need to effectively control the situation in our tribal areas, but the Americans have been skirting around the issue,” security officials said in background interviews with Dawn.
The issue was once again raised with the Americans in the last interaction they had when Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, visited Islamabad on Sept 17, according to these officials.
“When we ask for capability, they start talking about joint operations and training programmes. We tell them ‘give us the capability and you will see more effective control of the tribal areas’, and they tell us ‘we are looking into it’,” is how one military official described the Americans’ response.
“We have been saying this for the last four years, but there has not been any satisfactory answer,” he said.
These officials, who were privy to negotiations between the military leaderships of the two countries at various times, say that Pakistan has been asking for night vision devices (NVDs), good communication and surveillance systems which can detect and track down militants’ communication, besides transport and attack helicopters.
The price of one Cobra helicopter is said to be close to $40 million, making the demand by Pakistan for military assistance to help combat militancy and terrorism a multi-billion dollar package.
“What we need is air mobility and NVDs for night operations, and not any training programmes. For two years, we have been putting our battalion through six months’ rigorous counter-insurgency training programme before we send them into Fata,” the official said.
He acknowledged that massive deployment of troops alone would not solve the Fata conundrum. “The terrain is such that any number of army divisions would fall short. It is tough out there. It’s not an easy job. It’s an area where forces are prone to ambushes, rocket attacks and IEDs.”
They said that what was required was the multiplication of efforts in order to deal with militancy, on the one hand, and pre-empt collateral damage, on the other.
“That’s why we say that we need air mobility in terms of air assault capability, communication and surveillance systems and night vision goggles,” another official said.
He said that these issues were raised by the military chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Chief of General Staff and the Director General of Military Operations in their meetings with American counterparts.
Officials in the know of the Bajaur operation acknowledged how severely handicapped Pakistan felt on account of limited air mobility when helicopters were diverted from one area to the other.
“After one hour of operation, helicopters require nine to ten hours of maintenance. There is tremendous load on these helicopters from Bajaur to Swat to Darra Adamkhel,” one official said.
“So when the Americans demand that Pakistan take action in the length and breadth of Fata to combat militancy and terrorism, we know what our handicaps and deficiencies are.
“That’s why we have made our own priorities. There can be one operation in one area at a time. This is our handicap. We don’t have the capacity to engage all the tribal regions. The Americans will either have to understand this or help us by giving us the capability we need,” the official said.
He said that Pakistan needed to refurbish its helicopters and get sophisticated communication and surveillance system to outdo the militants who, he added, were using one of the best communication systems. “We still use the age-old communication system. This needs to be replaced,” he said.
Level of Trust
According to the officials, the irony is that the Americans collect the few NVDs provided to the Pakistan Army for routine re-inspection after every three months.
“Such is the level of trust between us. They fear that some of these NVDs may fall into the wrong hands.”
The level of trust deficit is such that some circles in the government strongly suspect American motives for putting more emphasis on training and joint operation than on providing necessary hardware to help Pakistan overcome problems in its own backyard.
Some government circles are also wary about and suspicious of large American foot-prints in Pakistan.
“They want to penetrate our systems and they think that we are too naïve to know what they did in Vietnam and Cambodia,” said one sceptical official requesting, like other officials, not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter.
Pakistan has received $ 6.7 billion since 2002 in Coalition Support Fund for logistic services, but knowledgeable sources say that the military has received only a fraction of that sum, while most of it went into other projects.
Some senior officials are miffed that while the security forces are fighting a hard battle against militants in Bajaur, the US-led coalition forces across the border have done nothing to stop Afghan Taliban and foreign militants from getting into the Pakistani tribal region.
A security official said that the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Gen David McKiernan, admitted that the level of violence in the Afghan province of Kunar, which is adjacent to Bajaur, had dropped by almost 70 per cent due to Pakistani security engagements in Bajaur.
“The level of violence in Kunar has decreased at the expense of Bajaur, where it has gone up, and that’s basically because of the Afghan Taliban led by Qari Ziaur Rehman and his Al Qaeda cohorts,” the official said.
“Now one may ask, why our American friends who have been asking us to do more, not been able to do more on their side of the border in Kunar by stopping the infiltration of Taliban and foreign elements coming into our territory.
“They have better capabilities, certainly better than the capability of a third world country,” the official remarked.
Suspicions are further compounded when, the security official said, the Americans did not act on Pakistan’s intelligence to take out some of the key tribal militant leaders. “We gave the intelligence and the coordinates but they took no action,” the official said. “They don’t seem to have any interest in our bad guys,” the official said.
The American version
One Pentagon official said that it was hard to put a $ value on the Pakistan military’s wishlist but said that “it’s a continual list. It never ends”.
In some cases, like the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, and the more advanced Cobra helicopters, the US is unwilling to sell that technology to the Pakistan government, the Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the issue of US policy.
In others, like the overall helicopter maintenance programme, the source said there had been disagreement over how the Pakistani military structured the programme and dissatisfaction within the US administration that capable-flight rate was so low.
In other cases, the official said, the US and Pakistan governments had conflicting views on the priority of the specific piece of equipment or system.
“So don’t look at this as a single, comprehensive request,” the official said. “The US views sale of some of this stuff favourably and others not.”
On the training programme, the US officials claimed that they had practically begged the Pakistan Army, in particular, to engage in broader training with US forces, including the Special Services Group and Frontier Corps training, but that the military and the government had refused.
The United States is providing $75 million for direct support of the Frontier Corps, and includes about 13,000 sets of body armour and Kevlar helmets, 330 vehicles, numerous radios, binoculars, first-aid kits and low-visibility imaging systems, as well as money to set up the two FC training facilities, including the first one in Warsak, near Peshawar.