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Unchecked threat: North Waziristan attack

March 26, 2013

THE suicide attack on a security check post in North Waziristan on Saturday that left nearly 20 dead may at first appear to be just another grim incident in a festering insurgency, but there is an emerging facet: the possible rise of new splinter groups. The bombing of the Peshawar judicial complex, the attack on the Jalozai IDP camp and now the attack in North Waziristan have not been claimed by the TTP, or even claimed at all. The Aafia Siddiqui Brigade’s claim of responsibility for the Peshawar judicial complex bombing is also shrouded in mystery: is the group real, and who are its protagonists? What this could indicate is that the toxic brew of militancy in North Waziristan is undergoing changes again, with alliances breaking and forming anew, and when that happens the outcome is usually even more lethal than what came before.

At this point the choice is between getting lost in the minutiae of sub-groups within the Taliban and why they are possibly in a state of flux again, and zooming out and asking what the state is doing about the overall problem: the fact that North Waziristan is the single greatest immediate threat to Pakistan’s internal security. The American demand to ‘do more’ and go after the Haqqanis in North Waziristan has receded into the background. The US Ambassador to Pakistan recently said in Peshawar that North Waziristan is a domestic security issue, not an international one as the US insisted for many years. If the ultimate fear was that going after the ‘bad Taliban’ in North Waziristan would also suck the state into fighting the favoured Haqqanis because of American pressure, then that pressure is no more — and yet North Waziristan’s sprawling militant complex remains unmolested.

With an election on the way and no government in place, the optics of a military operation in North Waziristan at this moment would certainly look bad. Additionally, going after the Taliban in their greatest stronghold with elections to be held could lead to unmanageable blowback. Then again, the Taliban have made clear that they consider democracy un-Islamic and that several parties are in their cross hairs, meaning that violence can be expected anyway. Ultimately, there is no ideal time to deal with the greatest internal security threat the country has seen since the break-up of Pakistan. More than the threat itself, then, the paralysis among those who are supposed to fight it is terrifyingly worrying.