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Who’ll go first?

October 22, 2012

THE interior minister kicked off the speculation with his assertion that the attack on Malala Yousufzai originated in Afghanistan, and a handful of media reports have been suggesting the same. Maulana Fazlullah’s Swat Taliban are behind the attack, the argument goes, and they are located in eastern Afghanistan, where they fled after the Swat operation in 2009. Whether or not it’s true, this analysis has been enough to revive the questions that first came up after Pakistan began seeing cross-border attacks from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011: between Pakistan on the one hand and Afghanistan and Isaf on the other, who will tackle safe havens on which side of the border first? The Afghans are unlikely to go after Pakistani militants in Kunar and Nuristan until Pakistan tackles the Afghan Taliban on this side; if this wasn’t already clear, President Karzai’s remarks in response to the Malala incident — that “using extremists as a tool against others is not in the interest of Pakistan” — made it clear enough.

Which only intensifies the need for the state to seriously consider what it’s going to do about North Waziristan, a project it appears to have abandoned at the moment. There are least two goals in that tribal agency. For one, for its own survival Pakistan will have to tackle the militants holed up there, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, who have been carrying out attacks within Pakistani borders. Even if the Malala attack didn’t originate there, North Waziristan remains a threat to Pakistan itself. Second, it is also becoming increasingly obvious that pursuing the Haqqani network there is not just a matter of resisting American pressure. It is now also a matter of Pakistan’s own security, as nothing much is likely to be done in Afghanistan about Fazlullah’s increasingly dangerous organisation until some action is taken here against militants focused on attacking the Americans and the existing Afghan government. The origins of the attack on Malala might not yet be clear, but it has highlighted once again that a stubborn refusal by both sides to cooperate will only make both less secure.