Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
You got to do more, Pakistan tells United States
The shoe’s on the other foot. The Pakistani army is saying that it’s being let down by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan just when it has made hard-fought gains against militants along its stretch of the border.
Some 700 militants have fled a successful military offensive in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency to the Afghan province of Kunar just over the border but no action had been taken against them, according to a Reuters report from the area.
That’s the sort of criticism that U.S. military officials had repeatedly levelled against Pakistan over the past couple of years and only in recent months some of it has quietened down as Islamabad turns up the heat on the Taliban.
Is there really a lack of resolve on the Afghan side of the troubled border? Or is it that the Americans are changing strategy? Foreign troop presence has been thinning in recent months in sparsely populated Kunar under U.S. and NATO commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal’s new counter-strategy focused on improving security in population centres.
Indeed this week the United States completed its pullout from the remote Korengal outpost in Kunar after four years of trying to crush the insurgency in near daily battles in a place that came to be called the Valley of Death.
Under the new strategy it’s better to put soldiers in cities and towns where they could protect people and help them connect to the Afghan government instead of fighting for isolated mountain regions such as the Korengal.
“The area was once very operationally important, but appropriate to the new strategy, we are focusing our efforts on population centers,” said U.S. Army Col. Randy George according to a NATO statement announcing the pullout. He said they will still be able to conduct operations there even without the base.
But how will the withdrawal impact Pakistan in its fight with the Taliban? The army says many of its problems in Bajaur where it deployed in late 2008 are now caused by fighters coming over from the border belt where they can find sanctuary and buy arms in a large swathe of territory up to the Kunar river.
“Afghanistan is the breeding ground for problems in Pakistan, and not the other way around,” army Col Nauman Saeed said.
Some people are saying the withdrawal of forces undermines Afghan security as much as it does Pakistan’s. Insurgents could use Korengal as a haven to plan attacks in other parts of Afghanistan the Washington Post writes.
It could also offer proof to other Afghans that U.S. troops can be forced out. Though sparsely populated, Kunar and Nuristan provinces have a long history of strident resistance to outsiders. Kunar was one of the first places to rise up against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, giving the area the label of “cradle of jihad”. Among the groups that have operated here in the past is the Lashkar-e-Taiba, long seen to have links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence which probably makes the Pakistani task a bit more difficult.