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Signs of a deal

August 26, 2012

AS events in and around Fata continue to play out, there are tantalising hints that some kind of US-Pakistan understanding — denied by security officials here — has been reached on squeezing militants troubling both countries on either side of the Pak-Afghan border. So on Friday, the commander of the TTP in Bajaur Agency was killed by a Nato airstrike in Kunar province in Afghanistan — removing one of the irritants for the Pakistani side trying to deal with a spate of cross-border raids into Pakistan. Meanwhile, US drones have again rained down missiles on North Waziristan and, according to some security sources (though contradicted by the Afghan Taliban), may have killed Badruddin Haqqani, believed to be the operational commander of the Haqqani network. The relatively muted response of the security establishment here to the recent spate of drone strikes suggests there may be some kind of understanding in place.

Secret deals and covert understandings aside, the threat on either side of the Pak-Afghan border is all too real. The decision announced Saturday by the Taliban shura in North Waziristan that the local population would shift to Afghanistan in the event of a military operation in the Agency appears to be a new blackmail tactic: threaten to embarrass the Pakistan state by turning potential IDPs into international refugees in the hope that authorities will further delay military action against the militant strongholds in North Waziristan. Transparent as the threat may be, it was likely made precisely because there is still an unacceptable ambivalence within the Pakistani security establishment about when and to what extent militancy needs to be fought. Be it fear or desperate miscalculation that allows some forms of militancy to survive and thrive inside Pakistan, the plain truth is that there is no such thing as good Taliban/bad Taliban. In fact, North Waziristan is a sobering example of the extent to which militants have cross-pollinated and drunk from each other’s ideology and hate. Al Qaeda, the TTP, the Haqqani network, the Punjabi Taliban, foreign militants — all have found common cause at some point or the other, tactical survival and strategic cooperation melding into one another until it becomes near impossible to take on one while leaving the other unscathed.

Almost as perplexing, if not self-defeating, as the security establishment’s national-security paradigm is the army’s approach to building a political and societal consensus on the need for a military operation. Recent events on both sides of the Fata-Afghanistan border appear to have hewed more to a US-Pakistan timeline negotiated in secret than a Pakistan-centric timeline. How, then, will an already sceptical public here be convinced that a North Waziristan operation is necessary?