Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Afghanistan : the fallout of operation Waziristan
Pakistan has opened an offensive against members of the Pakistan Taliban in the mountains of south Waziristan near the Afghan border. Quite apart from what it means for the Pakistani state as it engages in its toughest battle yet with the militants, the obvious question to ask is what impact will the Pakistani thrust into the rugged region have on the war next door in Afghanistan ?
One assessment is that the Waziristan operation may have a limited impact immediately. The Pakistani army hasn’t given any details of mission objectives, but most people reckon that it is for now targeting Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who has declared war on the state, and a band of Uzbek fighters who have set up base there. There are no indications so far that it intends to take on other powerful militant leaders such as Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Mullah Nazir or the Haqqani network who are focused on Afghanistan as the Long War Journal and others note. And therefore this one is more about Pakistan itself, of seizing the initiative back from the militants in an “increasingly bloody domestic struggle against Islamic extremism,” as the Washington Post put it.
But some experts say the Waziristan operation cannot leave Afghanistan untouched one way or the other. At its simplest, the operations, if successful, could put pressure on Al Qaeda, a pivotal supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan, providing training and strategic planning as the New York Times notes.
But it could also have some other, unintended consequences. Winston Churchill once said attempts to subjugate the turbulent region were as “painful and tedious an undertaking as to extract the stings of a swarm of hornets, with naked fingers.” So if the Pakistani army has stirred the hornet’s nest, by going in, there is every possibility that it could force hundreds of militants back into Afghanistan, argues Joe Klein in a Time magazine blog.
Or it could convince some of the foreign fighters, including the leadership of Al Qaeda, that Pashtunistan (loosely the Pashtun-dominated area straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan) has gotten too hot for comfort and leave the area altogether, Klein writes. They might decide to move elsewhere, perhaps Yemen or Somalia.
Stratfor carries the idea further and makes two interesting propositions. One, because South Waziristan has since the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan become “jihadist central” hosting jihadists of every stripe stretching from Uzbek to European militants, it is going to be an impossible task for the Pakistani army to distinguish the good jihadi from the ones that have turned against Pakistan.
“Both the good Taliban aligned with Islamabad that carry out their operations in Afghanistan and the bad Taliban fighting against Islamabad are based in South Waziristan, and telling the difference between the two factions on the battlefield will be difficult — though undoubtedly elements of Pakistani intelligence will attempt to help their Taliban friends (like the Haqqani network and Mullah Omar’s network) avoid being caught up in the coming confrontation,” Stratfor wrote.
And so some of these fighters will move to North Waziristan, Peshawar, Quetta and other population centres. Some others, and this is more ominous, will move back home or take refuge elsewhere. So while the exodus will disrupt the militant infrastructure in Waziristan, it will also force hundreds of people trained in terrorist tradecraft to live elsewhere – and operate.
“As these foreign militants scatter to the four winds, they will be taking their skills with them. Judging from past waves of jihadist fighters, they will probably be found participating in future plots in many different parts of the world,” Stratfor warns. This migration from South Waziristan, which has almost certainly begun given that the army operation was months in the making, is going to give counter-terrorism officials from Boston to Beijing cause for worry , it says.
[Photograph of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and women in a Kabul street]