As the Waziristan Operation Begins, Baluchistan Situation Worsens

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Context

184_abdulmalik-rigi_AKA_Abdul_Malik_BaluchSuicide Bombings in Sistan-Baluchistan Province of Iran

The much-anticipated (Pakistani military) operation in Waziristan has begun. The focus of the operation is South Waziristan, particularly the area previously controlled by the now-deceased Baitullah Mehsud which is now controlled by Tehreek-e-Taliban’s (TTP) new leader, Hakeemullah Mehsud. Meanwhile, the situation in Baluchistan region is expected to worsen. While Pakistan sees the operation as the final frontier in its campaign against terrorists, more trouble is brewing in Baluchistan and in Southern Punjab. Traditionally, improvement in Pakistan’s relations with the Persian civilization comes at the expense of Arabs, and vice versa. This article analyzes the Waziristan operation in the context of other regional developments.

Analysis

The military operation is already having a positive impact for Pakistan as the US has speeded up the provision of military supplies to Pakistan. Furthermore, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reportedly praised Pakistani resolve to fight terrorism. Currently, General Petraeus and Senator Kerry are also on their way to Islamabad to reassure the country of American support. This increased American support will not be pleasing news for the Indians, as India fears such assistance will ultimately be used against it. While the U.S. praises Pakistan for its resolve in fighting terrorism, India continues to propagate the idea that Pakistan has not acted against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and seems incapable of doing so.
Pakistan must have undertaken the operation after obtaining some level of confidence that Mullah Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the Haqqanis will remain neutral during the operation. Al Qaeda, and other parties who do not want this operation to succeed, will no doubt attempt to create discord and widen the scope of the operation, making it very difficult for Pakistan to achieve its aims.

Local experts have claimed that as long as the US is in Afghanistan, the scope of this conflict will only expand. While Pakistan believes that Waziristan situation will perhaps be the final challenge for it, the US and many other experts have already begun to talk about Baluchistan and Southern Punjab as the next destination for a potential operation.

The Situation in Baluchistan is worsening. This was evidenced today by two suicide bombings in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran. The attacks resulted in the killing of tribal elders from both Sunni-Shiites sects, who had gathered in Pishin District, near the Pakistan border, for a meeting. The incidents have also resulted in the killing of 7 senior commanders of Iran’s Elite Revolutionary Guard (IGRC). Iran has blamed US and Baluchi Sunni insurgent group Jundallah for the attacks while US has vehemently denied the accusations Jundallah has accepted responsibility. Jundallah’s leader, Abdullah Malik Regi, is believed to be in Pakistan. Attacking religious elders is a pattern similar to the one witnessed in the tribal areas of Pakistan as well as in Iraq.

The Iranian incident is sure to worsen relations between Iran and Pakistan and impact key commercial projects recently initiated between the two (e.g., the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project, the cargo train transit route from Pakistan to Turkey via Iran). The Iranian Foreign Minister has already cancelled a planned trip to Yemen, which was meant to convey a special message to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Arab-Persian proxy war on the Saudi-Yemini border area is intensifying as well. The impact of the Iran bombing on US-Iran negotiations remains unclear.

Pakistan’s progress in Waziristan will have an influence on President Obama’s Af-Pak strategy decision. If the operation goes well, Obama is likely to lean towards fewer troops and more surgical strikes option. If it turns out to be a quagmire, the request for more troops for Afghanistan will probably be accepted. The likely view of the Obama administration is that if Pakistan can effectively eliminate and control the safe havens in its territory, then the ground situation is bound to change in Afghanistan, thus pressuring the Taliban towards negotiations.

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