The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen John Allen have blamed Taliban-linked Haqqani group for the deadly attack on a resort in Kabul on Thursday. He reiterated the US position that Haqqani network operates from safe havens in Pakistan and blatantly violates Afghan sovereignty.
The elite Afghan forces in collaboration with the NATO troops fought with the insurgents for more than 12-hours in which 20 people lost their lives. The attack accompanied media reports that the US is considering launching covert Afghan-US raids into Pakistan, often called troops on the ground scenario, to hunt down militant groups that are responsible for launching cross-border raids.
In the aftermath of Salala, this could develop into a serious regional escalation. However, reports appearing in Pakistan’s media indicate the government has taken a decision to conduct a military operation in North Waziristan.
According to US officials in Washington the joint Afghan-US raids have been discussed a number of times in recent months. However, each time the White House rejected it due to the expected intense diplomatic onslaught from Pakistan. In the aftermath of the Osama Operation and Salala check post incident last year, the relations between the two countries are already on the edge.
Since the Salala attack, Pakistan has kept the NATO’s Afghan supply lines suspended and has asked the US for a formal apology, including an assurance that similar attacks will not take place in the future. While US has continued with the drone strikes in FATA despite Pakistan’s repeated condemnations, another troop on the ground style strike will be considered the continued violation of its red lines.
On the other hand, while talking to Reuters Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated last week it was time to move ahead with US-Pakistan ties while ruling out an apology for the Salala incident. He said the regrets and condolences offered in the past should suffice and hoped the relationship could progress. “The time now is to move forward with this relationship, on the (supply routes), on the safe havens, on dealing with terrorism — on dealing with the issues that frankly both of us are concerned about,” Panetta said. While visiting Afghanistan earlier, Panetta had commented that US patience with Pakistan was running thin. Panetta also conveyed the US Congress is increasingly opposed to providing aid to Pakistan. In a recent testimony, Panetta had suggested conditioning US assistance to Pakistan with the cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
The issue of reopening supply lines has become entangled with the debate in Pakistan regarding US violations of its sovereignty. On the other hand, the US is equally frustrated by the presence of safe havens in FATA, which are used by militants to attack NATO forces across the border.
As both US and Pakistan appear unwilling to back down from their maximalist positions, it’s a matter of time when the US launches another ‘troops on the ground’ type strike. If it is a joint US-Afghan operation, as threatened, it can potentially transform into a wider Pak-Afghan conflict. A scenario Pakistan has always dreaded due to the involvement of Pushtuns on both sides of the border, with its serious implications.
As far as the domestic public opinion is concerned, Pakistan’s perceived inability to respond to any of the previous incursions and incidents leaves very little wiggle room for its military and the civilian government, in case there is another one. This time, the most likely reaction could be the shooting down of a drone.
Short of cutting the relation altogether, there is not much more Pakistan can do diplomatically at this point. Most of its Arab allies, including Turkey, are busy
dealing with Iran and the situation in Syria. While Russia has up the ante in the Middle East recently, any such escalation in AfPak will force China to take a position. In such an atmosphere, unless India does something untoward, Chinese are more than likely advising Pakistan’s leaders to tread extremely carefully.
Moreover, the countries mounting economic and energy challenges and the compounding ineffectiveness of its civilian setup, are already a car
use of alarm domestically and international actors. In case such incursions do occur from the Afghan side, the country will be forced to install an emergency government.
In this context, the deployment of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) USS Enterprise in the territorial waters of Pakistan near Gawadar is especially noteworthy. According to media reports, the aircraft carrier was moved there in the second week of June, carrying over 4000 marines and 80 fighter jets.
The surveillance system of the carrier covers over 1000 kilometers, which puts most of the Pakistan in its range. Enterprise is replacing CSG Abraham Lincoln that was located near the Iranian territorial waters previously and has now moved to the Persian Gulf. The placement of these carriers suggests that the US is preparing contingencies for a number of regional scenarios that can play out in the near future.
Meanwhile, reports appearing in Pakistan’s media indicate that a decision to conduct a military operation in North Waziristan has been taken by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and only the timing is yet to be determined.