Stirring the hornet’s nest in northwest Pakistan

June 15, 2009

It was Lord Curzon, Britain’s turn of the century Viceroy of India, who said it would need a brave man to subjugate Pakistan’s rebellious Waziristan region and he was not up to it.

“No patchwork scheme—and all our present recent schemes…are mere patchwork—will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine,” he said in remarks that have oft been repeated each time anyone has attempted to bring the region under control.

Is Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari up to it?  Pakistan’s military has been ordered to carry out an offensive against Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and his fighters believed to be in the South Waziristan region, according to the provincial governor.

Pakistani wants to build on the momentum of its operation in the Swat Valley, but is it taking on more than it can by going into Waziristan? Nicholas Schmidle, writing in the Washington Post, says it is completely unrealistic to believe that the Pakistan army could continue fighting Taliban remnants in Swat, be heavily deployed on the eastern frontier with India ,and dedicate enough troops to resemble the steam-roller that Lord Curzon spoke of.

Eric Margolis, in a piece written a while ago, was more blunt, warning of the risk to Pakistan from such a course of action, which he said was clearly under U.S. pressure. “The real danger is in the U.S. acting like an enraged mastodon, trampling Pakistan under foot, and forcing Islamabad’s military to make war on its own people. Pakistan could end up like U.S.- occupied Iraq, split into three parts and helpless.”

The Waziristans are the poorest of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and home to its most recalcitrant tribes as this piece notes.

They don’t like the Pakistan army being in their lands. An offensive 18 months ago resulted in around 200,000 people being lodged in camps for several months, before the army realized it was pointless holding empty territory and allowed them back.

Pakistan is already paying a price and there could be worse to come, cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan is quoted as having said. He thought his country was on a suicidal course and that the offensive against the Taliban will backfire and fuel more extremism and bomb attacks.

I’m not pro-Taliban,” he said. “But my point is: shouldn’t we have looked at other options? How do you justify using heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16 fighter-jets in civilian areas? Who in the world does this?.”

And it is a war that pits Pakistanis against Pakistanis, Muslims against Muslims, – unlike in the past when all all its wars have been against India. For the soldiers who are fighting and for the families forced to bury their sons, the struggle seems to go against their very DNA, as this piece in the Washington Post argues.

{File photo of Taliban fighters  waiting for Mehsud during a media visit last year]


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Sanjeev, please refer to the link above I would like to share.

Here is a snippet from the article:

“By boldly threatening the very existence of the Pakistani government, the Taliban may have miscalculated. President Asif Asardi and the army finally seem to agree that their most lethal enemy may not be India, but the Islamic extremism of the Taliban and al-Qaida. ”

Could the Punjabi Pakistani’s army hatred towards India be thawing? Time will tell. It is still a big step that these two groups are agreeing that India is not the enemy.

Islamic Extremism in Pakistan is the most Lethal enemy to Pakistan, since the Taliban are challenging the Army and the Pakistan gov’t itself.

I am wondering if sanity will prevail in the army and the civilian government and army decide to take much bigger steps and cleanup the eastern side jihadi proxy armies as well. Time will tell if the proxy army assets will continue to be used to commit terrorism on India. History has shown that LeT, JuD and HuM and other GODLY charities are alive and well, running terrorist training camps, ready at a notice to cross the LOC to commit murder on Indians.

We hope the Army and Civilian gov’t recognizes that all forms are terrorism are unacceptable.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive


While it appears that the Pak Army says that it must catch the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, in the past, if it is true, Kayani was heard referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as a “strategic asset” in a transcript passed to Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, in May 2008.

Let’s see if Kayani is honest and will go after Jalaluddin , the so called “strategic asset” as well. If he does not, I doubt the Pak. Army is sincere and probably still playing games the U.S., India and the world. Time will tell.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

What is being done now, should have been done in 2001 when the Taliban was driven out of Afghanistan. Allowing Musharraf to accommodate Al Qaeda and Taliban in NWFP and Waziristan so that he could keep these “strategic assets” for use against India was a big error on the part of the US. They were too focused on Iraq and allowed Pakistan to keep these elements hidden. I am glad the Obama administration has turned the screws tight. Now there is no option but to fight the Taliban head on. But it is not enough if the Pakistani army declares victory one day and leaves it at that. They need to root out terrorism and sponsorship of it completely. There should be nothing in reserve meant for India. Taliban itself was meant as a strategic depth against India. Pakistani military should convince itself that India is not such and evil enemy and give up covert proxy wars. If they are sincere in their efforts in wiping out radical Islamic terrorism in all forms in their country, they can go forward towards strengthening their democracy. Any hesitation to do so or any insincerity on their part means disaster. India will always support any effort to wipe out extremism and terrorism. I hope wisdom prevails. If the Americans stick to their old habit of getting their end of the bargain fulfilled and leave the rest to fester, it will bite them back again. This has to be a thorough job. And it is going to hurt.

Posted by Mauryan | Report as abusive


Are you suggesting that, in principle, Taliban should be left alone because the wise Lord Curzon and his predecessors gave us a good excuse? Or, are you objecting to the method in which the Pak army is attacking – or pretending to attack – the Taliban?

We know that many parts of Pak’s western border are badlands which are beyond the control of the govt. Indirectly, the US is doing Pak a favor by helping it to establish writ of the local government in that unruly region.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive


Everything changes with time. It’s been more than 100 years since Lord Curzon said those words. No country can shape their policy around that. The modern day warfare equipment,communication, satellites, aerical routes- I think all these would make difference to Pak Army’s operations. Having said that, no opeartion is a permanent solution until local population is being won over. I think after military operation, Pak govt need to do a lot to eradicate the poverty and illiteracy in that area. May wisdom and good will prevail for the welfare and good of common people.

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

And what about the badlands of India where the government has no control in 182 districts out of a total of 612 districts, where is the Government’s writ ? And what about the proxy Indian Army assets; LTTE.
In the end it certainly does hurt !!

Posted by NKO | Report as abusive



Do not bother to high-light other countries problems for which you have no tangible proof when situations in your own country make dire news headlines every week, month and year.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive


You fell for the impulse of lashing out on others. Anyway, the Indian army fought against the LTTE in the 1980’s as a peace keeping force in Sri Lanka. There is no parallel with LTTE and the Indian army.
There is little resemblance between the Naxals and the Taliban. The Naxal threat is real but often exaggerated in the media across the border. Naxals, unlike Taliban, were not planted and supported by the government to score against neighboring country in return for money. Also, India, unlike Pakistan, is not running from pillar to post requesting for money and weapons to fight the Taliban.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

In thirty years Iran has gone from an American Ally to becoming its worst percieved enemy. The LTTE has gone from being percieved as a hurdle to India’s strategic interests to the status of India’s strategic asset now facing oblivion in the great game. What does it really tell you? In the great game todays’ friend can be tomorrows percieved enemy

Posted by Anis Abbas | Report as abusive


I’m not clear what you want to say. I don’t want to digress in to Tamilian dispute in Sri Lanka when we’re talking about Pakistan.

What the disputes tell me is that the strategy of planting and supporting militants against neighboring countries is suicidal. The militants often turn around and bite the host nation. I assume Pakistan is learning that lesson the hard way.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

Imaran Khan says “How do you justify using heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16 fighter-jets in civilian areas? Who in the world does this?”
You are absolutely right Mr. Khan, but there are other things as well that the rest of the world does not do; No one begs for money from the rest of the world for the problems in their own home, but Pakistani (current) leaders are just hungry for collecting as much money as they can, no matter what means they have to use including selling or killing their own people.

Posted by Ibrahim | Report as abusive