Realizing that time is not on his side, with economic worries escalating in the US and Europe, and an election year approaching, US President Barack Obama clearly intends to speed up political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Differing with the assessment of the military leadership, President Obama announced a more aggressive plan for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, for the plan to work it requires the cooperation of Pakistan, as indicated by the newly unveiled US counter-terrorism strategy. That cooperation does not appear to be forthcoming after the unilateral US operation in Abbottabad to take out Osama bin Laden. The strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistan has been unable to produce the shift in Pakistan’s behavior that the Americans desire. This has led PoliTact to conclude that the US is prepared to take a more forceful route, including more unilateral raids in Pakistan.
With the US announcing troop withdrawal plans from Afghanistan, and the shift in the newly announced counterterrorism strategy, the focus of the US is clearly moving towards the safe havens in Pakistan and what the country will or will not do to eradicate them. The US wants Pakistan to cut its ties with the Haqqani network, to conduct a military operation in North Waziristan, to provide intelligence on the five most wanted extremists, and to take action against the network that assisted Osama in his refuge in Abbottabad.
Since the Osama operation, the Pakistani side has been especially quiet about what change, if any, is occurring in its position. Although, the Pakistan military has conveyed that any operation in North Waziristan would be based on its own need and timing. Additionally, Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaque Pervez Kiyani announce on June 23rd that security forces would be pulled out from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) once tribesmen take up their responsibilities.
While it is unclear what exact step Pakistan is taking, a number of incidents indicate they are increasing pressure on terrorist networks: A high-level target, IIyas Kashmiri, is believed to have been killed in a June 4th drone attack in South Waziristan. However, it’s not clear what role Pakistan played in it. Additionally, the country has recently detained a serving Brigadier for links with extremists and is also investigating four Majors. A commission to investigate the Osama operation is also in the process of being formed in Pakistan.
On the other hand, it’s clear that the US is now using drones against what Pakistan considers “good” and “bad” Taliban. This must be very disconcerting for the Pakistan military. Furthermore, the US has sought to portray the role of Afghanistan and Pakistan as essential in any Afghan reconciliation process with the Taliban, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s Foreign Office have claimed they are not part of talks that have occurred so far.
Less than 12 hours following US President Obama’s announcement of a phased troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced a barrage of questions regarding Kabul and more particularly Islamabad at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 23rd. Describing the US-Pakistani ties as frustrating, Clinton said Washington wasn’t backing out of the relationship. However, she said the US wasn’t willing to continue with the same amount of military assistance to Pakistan, unless there are some changes in the ties. Though Clinton didn’t specify those changes, she stressed that it was time for Pakistan and America to make sure their actions and interests are aligned. At the same time, she played with Pakistan’s insecurities by stating that Pakistan does not want Pahstuns on both sides of the border to unite, and maintaining that their disunity is one of its aims.
Thus it is clear that US is impressing upon Pakistan and Afghanistan that it can go it alone and implement its own vision of the future. However, practically, Afghanistan and Pakistan recognize that in the long run such an approach is unlikely to work. Meanwhile, both countries are sending strong signals to the US that they have other option by flirting with Iran, and the Chinese and Russian dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The following reasons have convinced PoliTact that the US is likely to carry out another unilateral raid in US.
According to media reports, the US was aware of Osama’s safe house for some time. Thus a question is raised about why it decided to act on May 2nd. PoliTact believes one of the main reasons was the situation in the Middle East and the growing involvement of Pakistan’s military in the affairs of the Gulf region just weeks before Operation Geronimo. At the grander level, the US does not want Al Qaeda and linked groups to exploit the present situation in the Arab region and thus it wants to exert pressure in an area that it thinks is the epicenter of extremism. On the other hand, while the US had wanted to speed up the operations against terrorist networks, Pakistan had slowed the pace of its activities against extremists. The presence of Osama in the military town of Abbottabad must have raised an hypothesis regarding the collusion of Pakistan’s military in protecting Osama, and thus while the US waited, it would have also wanted to look for evidence of any such cooperation.
Secondly, as the US starts to withdraw from Afghanistan, it does not want to leave the region with Pakistan in a position to exert influence and control over Afghanistan via groups it terms as “good” Taliban. Therefore, the US wants Pakistan to either end its connections with the Haqqanis, or it will unilaterally go after them. The signs that the US is preparing for further worsening of relations were witnessed at the Pakistan American friendship day at Capitol Hill, held on June 21st. The members of Congress that attended the event were consistent in conveying to the prominent members of the Pakistani-American community that their loyalties should be with the US as events unfold in the region. Clearly, members of Congress are worried that as the US and Pakistani policies and interests diverge in the region, the prospect of home grown terrorism in the US is likely to increase. Preventing the possibility is one of the other key emphases of the new US counter terrorism strategy.