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The two North Waziristans

Published Aug 19, 2012 12:20am


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SUDDENLY, everyone’s got an opinion on North Waziristan.

But what the experts say and what they mean and what reality is are often very different things. Separating spin from substance has never been more difficult.

At least in the media, the Glocs-cum-apology deal reinvigorated the will-they, won’t-they debate on NWA: will the army rumble into action in NWA or won’t it?

Then the ISI chief’s DC visit turbocharged the debate, as both the American and Pakistan sides started leaking furiously.

The initial mistake — now slowly being clarified — is that everyone assumed there is one North Waziristan. But in this debate there are actually two North Waziristans: Miranshah and Mir Ali.

Loosely, Miranshah represents the American fixation: the Haqqanis. Mir Ali represents the Pakistani focus: the Pakistan-centric militants.

As ever, neither the American nor the Pakistani side is entirely truthful about what they want and why.

Start with the Americans. The story the Americans like to tell is of the Haqqanis as the devil incarnate. Much will improve in Afghanistan if Pakistan did something about the Haqqani sanctuaries in NWA, according to this tale.

The Americans aren’t asking for the Haqqanis to be destroyed, just for them to be ‘squeezed’. This to them means three things: slow the flow of funds to the Haqqanis; cut the information lines that keep the Haqqanis one step ahead of the Americans; and do something about Miranhah, the spiritual home and nerve centre of the Haqqanis as far as the Americans are concerned.

The why, as it’s told, is rooted in two reasons. The Haqqanis aren’t responsible for many attacks in Afghanistan but the ones they are responsible for are disproportionately high-impact. Haqqani attacks grab headlines, undermine the war effort and further erode the sliver of political support for the war in the US.

The other reason is the post-9/11 mindset: attack US interests viciously and spectacularly and the hammer needs to be brought down.

The truth, hard as it is for the Americans to swallow, is that those reasons aren’t good enough for the Pakistan Army.

Within the framework of the security paradigm the army here follows — setting aside whether that paradigm is genuinely in Pakistan’s national interest or not — the American reasons for squeezing the Haqqanis don’t make sense. For there is an alternative: the Haqqanis can be dealt with on the Afghan side, if the Americans are willing to accept the existence per se of the Haqqanis is not inimical to American interests — which it isn’t.

The Haqqanis seek to dominate Khost, Paktia and Paktika. They have no national ambitions. As luck would have it, the geography of those provinces is such that fencing them in is a very real possibility. If the Haqqanis still try and sneak out and hit Kabul — a red line for the Americans — they could be whacked.

So why obsess over the Haqqani safe havens in Pakistan?

The answer to the Haqqani-NWA fixation seems to have much to do with the dysfunctionality in the theory and practice of the war in Afghanistan.

The boys with the toys on the American side — the military and intelligence folks — sold the theory that the North Waziristan safe havens were the main problem in containing the Haqqanis, and that has been internalised across the American policymaking spectrum.

The army here knows this. It knows the American obsession is misplaced and that an alternative exists. So the core of the American demands against the Haqqanis in NWA is likely to be rebuffed.

That settles one of the two North Waziristans.

Turn to Pakistan. When the fight to recover Fata from the clutches of the Pakistan-centric militants began, it was always known that the Waziristan agencies would be the final battle for control of territory. The Waziristan agencies, for reasons of ancient tribal and more recent jihad history, present a challenge unlike any other agency or settled district.

Overall, the approach to recovering Fata has been fairly consistent: ensure adequate military resources are available for the fight; move to deny the militants physical space; and then consolidate the war gains by rehabilitating local security forces and the political administration.

That eventually the Pakistan-centric militants in NWA would have to be taken on was always known. That the army has understood and accepted this — as opposed to trying to bring rogue militants back into the pet jihadist fold — is also largely true.

Inside the army, the question is less if the Mir Ali version of North Waziristan should be taken on at all and more about when and to what extent.

Operationally, until central Kurram and Orakzai are consolidated, the Pakistan-centric in NWA militants will have another place to escape to — defeating the strategy of incrementally denying the militants physical space.

Additionally, for all the troops already stationed in NWA, they’re busy with defensive duties, meaning offensive forces will have to be drafted in. That means freeing up military resources elsewhere first.

If all of that sounds straightforward enough — just a matter of getting the timing and resources right — that’s precisely the message the army wants to put across.

Easy to guess, though, that isn’t the full story.

Officially, the hesitancy of the army is in the final reckoning linked to blowback: how to prevent escalating attacks inside Pakistan proper and on security targets when the army goes after the Pakistan-centric militants in NWA.

The threat of unmanageable blowback is real enough to count as a genuine reason for hesitancy.

But what the army won’t admit is another concern: the army’s self-created and self-perpetuated image inside Pakistan as the only viable institution.

If the blowback from an operation in NWA is fierce enough, the Pakistani public may begin to question whether the army is all that it’s made itself out to be, whether generals more interested in DHA plots and commercial interests have lost the security plot.

When everything else is in place — the right environment, the operational capacity, everything — the unmentioned fear may determine what will happen in North Waziristan.

Will the army risk its reputation in NWA to fight a battle it militarily knows it must fight but which could have unmanageable political repercussions for the army inside Pakistan proper?

On that question, more than anything else, may rest the answer to what happens in the other North Waziristan.

The writer is a member of staff. twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (25) Closed

Xanth Aug 19, 2012 09:27am
"Pakistan for its share has done enough in war against terrorism" - for the birthplace and haven of terrorism, there will never be 'enough' that Pakistan truly does against it
Chanda Khan Aug 19, 2012 09:06am
An interesting and thought provoking article. North Waziristan Agency has over the period of time been given an undue coverage in international media especially by Americans; albeit with nefarious intentions to malign Pakistan. They have been trying to make a case against Pakistan to seek leverage of US interests in the region. US wants to put continuous pressure on Pakistan while exploiting the mantra of safe heavens in North Waziristan Agency; off course to burry its own failures and blunders in Afghanistan. Pakistan for its share has done enough in war against terrorism and will continue, if deemed appropriate in its national interest, but on the contrary, US and ISAF need to look inward and do what they are incapable of doing with all military might, resources and diplomacy par excellence. The hesitation on part of Pakistan Army is not owing to political repercussions or incapacity but solely because of wanting the "right domestic environment". Don't worry Mr Panetta; Pakistan will do what it has to do considering its priorities and interests but you should do what you are incapable of doing inside Afghanistan.
Haider Aug 20, 2012 10:09am
Reading your articles always provides a fresh and unique perspective. Mehran base,OBL Raid, and the GHQ raid have tremendously dented the 'perceived invincibility' of the military forces inside the country and that maynot be a bad thing and may help the country and the army in getting their act together. Time to get serious, Ghalti ki Gunjayesh Nishta!
M Fahim Aug 19, 2012 08:49pm
Excellent..... what a analysis you have made.....!!!!! I would just say that we are facing the problem of finding the right choice....!!!! We are not in the war of destroying anything that comes in our way but we are destroying the selected (Choosy) things... That has created the mistrust between these so called partners.......!!!!!
MAHENDRA DEV Aug 19, 2012 08:02pm
Citizen Aug 19, 2012 05:06pm
Super analysis of a very complicated environment. The point on strategy and execution skills of officers with stars, in more ways than one, begs follow up. Pakistan has great cards but does it have the skill to play against a pro and win peace on its northern frontier. History has often found these stars to lack winning skills with disastrous results on inheritance of 1947.
Iftikhar Husain Aug 19, 2012 12:15pm
Pakistan army is professional and modern they can easily eliminate this menace on their own.
Khalid Latif Aug 20, 2012 01:03pm
Really? Did they find OBL in Abbottabad? People say it was a drama, similar to the 9/11. OBL had died some 6 years back.
Eddied Aug 19, 2012 11:23am
Can you hear the double dealing in the comment? He is a coward who think the Pakistan army should be afraid of the Haqqanis. Wake up, they are the source of terrorist attacks inside and outside Pakistan and if you continue to protect them they will bring down your country..
bilal Aug 19, 2012 11:10am
you really got to rethink and revisuallise your facts abt North one can ever subdue the militancy in north wiziristan less pak army. we have to prioritize our issues first then we can go for such misadvanture inorder to solve other's issue.nothing is impossible for pak army to tackle with.
Gulap Aug 19, 2012 10:50am
the problem with Indians is - they are indians.
ashwani dogra Aug 19, 2012 11:43am
Excellent analysis.This further clarifies the issue between 'good' and 'bad' terrorists. Our immediate problem is the terrorist bases/network making life miserable for ordinary Pakistanis as they desperately try to make ends meet and care for their families. No one doubts the enormous difficulties, but the essential first step is the acceptance that this is OUR war. It may be true that foreigners will benefit, but that is hardly a reason for the Government not to protect its own citizens. While the politicians haggle, inward investment and tourism is down to a trickle, we are a sporting pariah, the world has accepted the indian barb that we are the epicentre of terrorism - what are we trying to prove?
Gulap Aug 19, 2012 10:47am
haha - if Americans had to make against Pakistan they wouldn't have wasted it after they got OBL from Abbottabad - not from North Waziristan.
tahir Aug 19, 2012 10:42am
and for it media will be used
Sultan Khan Aug 19, 2012 12:00pm
It is not correct to say that Pakistani public and Pakistani soldier is a supporter of Taliban. Majority of Pakistanis hate these criminal Barbarians and modern day Kharjis as they are not only defaming the peaceful religion Islam but are doing every thing to wipe out the Islamic Republic of Pakistan from the map of the world.
JP Singh (@gary2008) Aug 19, 2012 07:45am
Interesting article but leaves leaves a few analysis out. Firstly - Haqqanis dont bother Pakistan so why touch them. They are strong and not an easy push over. In the Pak military scheme some of these groups maybe needed in the future for its own games to be played. Secondly - Reluctance to do away with your own creation this is where the old Afghan players come in. Thirdly - the inability or the lack of confidence on part of the army to take on the Haqqani group. Fourthly -- The Haqqani group is a needle to keep the Afghan issue alive. It can be used as a leverage to needle the Afghan government anytime. It can be used to influence Pakistans position with other taliban groups post 2014.
Hemant Aug 19, 2012 06:07am
Indian Army has long and successful experience in defeating insurgencies . Their help could be sought .
Falcon Aug 19, 2012 06:26am
Cyril - Your analysis is more incisive than the whole team of security analysts put together. Bravo. Simply impressive.
Shahid Bajwa Aug 19, 2012 06:27am
The disproportion between the forces for and against Taliban is so huge that the result is already clear. The real problem is that not only the Pakistani public but also the Pakistani soldier is a supporter of Taliban and does not want to fight against them. I dont think there will be any operation till a huge public anger develops against Taliban, like that against Swat lashings and Mahsud bombings.
Ali Aug 19, 2012 06:52am
I agree with Hemant above. I am a Pakistani and I think Indian Army's help should be sought. These brain washed men that need to be finished for which the civilised world needs to make a joint effort. Not Waziristan is not pakistani territory because at the moment even Pakistan army cannot go over there.
anony Aug 19, 2012 06:53am
Really? Indian army's help in diffusing internal Pakistani issue? Will the indian government allow Pakistan army to conduct operation inside india to defeat the ASSAM insurgency? Get real please.
JP Singh Aug 19, 2012 07:00am
hemant you have a good sense of humour
Mahaan Aug 19, 2012 07:06am
That is a ridiculous notion Pakistan needs to learn how to fight its own battles and I think the army is experienced enough to fight these insurgents on their own all that is needed is the full support of the Pakistani govt and people.
Cyrus Howell Aug 21, 2012 08:03am
That is what barbarians do. The Goths sacked Rome, and the Goths in the Roman army joined them.
Cyrus Howell Aug 21, 2012 08:18am
I'm not holding my breath until that happens.