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After Times Square scare, Pakistan under greater pressure to go after militants?
Pakistan has come under renewed spotlight following the arrest of a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent for a failed bombing in New York’s Times Square and claims of responsibility by the Pakistani Taliban.
It is too early to confirm the plot was tied to any of a multitude of militant groups operating in Pakistan. Indeed, security experts have been sceptical about the claim by the Pakistan Taliban saying they doubt it has the reach to strike in Manhattan.
But if the Pakistani connection is established, the one area that will almost immediately come under focus is North Waziristan, the rugged tribal belt in the northwest that is home to a complex web of militant groups, more so since the Pakistani army launched an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan last October.
Bill Roggio writing in The Long War Journal quotes a U.S. official as saying that North Waziristan is the heart of al Qaeda’s external operations network. Previous al Qaeda plots, such as the attempted suicide attacks in New York’s subway system in September 2009 by Najibullah Zazi and his accomplices, were hatched in North Waziristan. Zazi, an Afghan citizen, travelled to North Waziristan for more than three-and-a-half months of training.
Paul Cruickshank, an alumni fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security says al-Qaeda will continue to enjoy a safe haven in North Waziristan unless the Pakistani military extends its campaign there. “The area in and around Mir Ali, the second-largest town in the tribal agency, has arguably been ground zero for al-Qaeda terrorist plots in recent years,” he says in a study for The New America Foundation on the militant pipeline between the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the West.
It is quite possible that the United States which has in recent months sought to build a more trusting relationship with the Pakistan military may lean on it to mount a full-scale operation in North Waziristan. The military has resisted all along saying it is already too stretched trying to hold the areas such as South Waziristan and Swat that it has wrested back from Taliban control.
“Pakistan may have to prepare to make more sacrifices and wage a much more intense use of force such as search and destroy operations, more systematically,” Rifaat Hussain, head of the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad told Reuters.
At one level, the militant havens in North Waziristan are proving to be a problem for the Pakistani army itself as it tries to secure the southern part. Army casualties have been rising in South Waziristan as a result of road side bombings, ambushes and raids by militants operating from North Waziristan, the Dawn said in a detailed report last week.