After the media frenzy following last weekend's failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.
Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called "Punjabi Taliban" - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state. The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.
But it is by no means clear that the Pakistan Army will be rushed into launching a big offensive in North Waziristan. It is already stretched fighting in other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including in South Waziristan, where it embarked on a major operation last year. Before starting any new offensive, it needs to be sure it is not going to be attacked from the rear, or become so thinly stretched that it loses hard-fought gains elsewhere. As one senior military official told me, you have to be very sure-footed, consolidate your gains, and make sure your bases are secure.
That said, even before the failed Times Square attack, the New York Times suggested Pakistan was beginning to weigh the possibility of tackling militants in North Waziristan. But its decision on timing is unlikely to be dictated by one incident, however dramatic. The Pakistan Army has put considerable energy into improving its image after the tarnishing of the Musharraf years, and is determined to show that when it does launch military offensives, it does so to win. And if there is one thing worse than not going into North Waziristan, it is going in there and losing.
Increased drone missile attacks on targets in North Waziristan are another option. But for drone missile strikes to be successful - taking out militant targets while limiting the civilian deaths which make them so unpopular in Pakistan - you need good intelligence on the ground. The killing in North Waziristan last month of former Pakistan intelligence officer Khalid Khawaja, who reportedly had strong contacts with al Qaeda and the Taliban, leaves a question mark over whether anyone now has really good intelligence on what is happening there.