Pakistan’s impending military operation in Waziristan is significantly different from past ones: for one thing, the prior ones were conducted under Musharraf, the head of a military-led regime, while now a civilian government, albeit much discredited, heads the country. Popular support in the country for confronting extremism has never been higher. Another important difference is that there is now a much greater level of military cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.
In this article, we examine the potential of US-Pakistan cooperation during the upcoming Waziristan Operation. The brazen attack on the Pakistan army headquarters (GHQ) on October 10th has significantly changed the stakes. (PoliTact’s analysis of the implications of GHQ attack will be published in a separate article.)
To effectively deal with Waziristan, Pakistan needed to cut off the surrounding support and escape routes; so the most critical operation has been left to the last. The country first dealt with the Bajaur Agency, followed by the settled areas of Swat valley, then engaged in a number of small, surgical procedures in Khyber and the Orakzai Agency. In other words, there finally appears to be a grand strategy for dealing with the troubles in the tribal areas. Furthermore, for the first time a parallel political strategy has emerged to accompany the operations.
Drones have successfully eliminated many of the most notorious terrorist leaders in Waziristan. This could not have occurred without precise knowledge of their whereabouts. This is where the ground information provided by Pakistan comes in handy. So it can be safely assumed that the planning and coordination between US and Pakistan regarding the strategy for this operation has been going on for quite some time. Furthermore, just as the stingers turned the tables against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 80s, the drones could make the difference against Al-Qaeda and Taliban, provided the political controversy and sensitivities surrounding these attacks in Pakistan are addressed.
The nation’s military spokesman have acknowledged that the advanced mapping, imagery and targeting technology supplied by the US was instrumental in the success of the air campaign which accompanied the Swat operation. The US is believed to have also supplied the night vision technology required for planes to successfully carry out night operations. In addition, there have been numerous media reports regarding the presence of military advisors in Pakistan, providing counter-insurgency training to Pakistan’s Special Services Groups and Frontier Constabulary.
Perhaps the place where cooperation between the two countries matters most is the border crossings. As the pressure increases, the extremists will leave and thus it is critical to block and man the escape routes.
The US entered the region after 911 with insufficient ground intelligence, making it dependent on Pakistan. As a result of the emphasis put by 911 Commission Report, US has worked on this handicap as a priority. Moreover, other countries such as France, Israel, UK and India have also developed capabilities to sense the ground realities in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan. It’s not clear if these players are pooling their resources or working against each others interests, as they fight against extremists. One thing is clear; the regional tussles are heating up sharply, as it becomes obvious that something is about to give in Afghanistan.
October 8th bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul (the second one; the first was in July 2008), followed by the Peshawar bombing on 9th and attack on Pakistan’s GHQ on the 10th, are part of this regional great game; another, in 2008, was Afghanistan’s expulsion of two British diplomats, Michael Semple and Mervyn Patterson. These two were not only in contact with the Taliban in Helmand, but at the time of their arrest, possessed plans for training camps for 2000Taliban, supposedly intended to entice them to switch sides.
Thus, trust levels between the US and Pakistan and other allies are key to the success of the Waziristan Operation. Meanwhile, Pakistani politicians can regain their public credibility by being honest with the public about the context and extent of US Pakistan cooperation. Meanwhile, it must be said: the language of the Kerry-Lugar bill has not helped to win Pakistani hearts and minds and alleviate unfavorable impressions regarding America.
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