Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

May 6, 2010

karachiAfter 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.

Meanwhile, uncertainty over the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is not helping – you can already hear Pakistan Army officers wondering aloud why Pakistan is driving militants out of its tribal areas only for them to escape across the border to live to fight another day. 

Nor are tentative peace talks with India likely to lead to a sudden change in Pakistan’s military posture, under which it keeps the bulk of its army on the Indian border.  The Pakistan Army already moved a significant number of troops from its Indian border to fight Taliban militants on its Afghan border last year and is unlikely to redeploy more despite an easing of tensions with India – its army chief is reported to say that the military deals with capabilities rather than intentions.

Moreover, the talks are not expected to yield an early breakthrough on Kashmir, belying hopes the two countries might be able to find their way back to a  compromise roadmap for peace on Kashmir agreed with India by former president Pervez Musharraf.  Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi repeated this week that Pakistan is returning to its historical stand on Kashmir after “wavering” by the Musharraf government.

Beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas is a nexus of militant groups and militant sympathisers, any one of whom could have helped Faisal Shahzad find his way to Waziristan. And that too is unlikely to change soon.

Karachi is full of Pashtun labyrinthine no-go areas where even the police do not dare go.  As one Karachi-based senior journalist graphically put it, at the outer edges of these areas you can still buy CDs and Pashtun porn. Further in, are any number of places where Taliban commanders and other militants can hide.  Yet as is the case everywhere in South Asia, you can always find someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who will lead you to a militant commander if you really want to find them.

 So far it is unclear whether Shahzad was radicalised in the United States and followed that route through Karachi in search of training – if so, as Steve Coll suggests,  he might have been treated as a possible U.S. spy and given only rudimentary training – or whether Pakistan-based militant groups played a more active role in recruiting him. If it is the former, you are stuck with the problem of policing a country of 170 million people with a relatively weak police force. If it is the latter, you come back to the limitations of the North Waziristan offensive.

The country’s heartland Punjab province has long been a base for militant groups, some of whom were originally nurtured to fight India in Kashmir.  Among them, Jaish-e-Mohammed has been linked to Shahzad; while the Lashkar-e-Taiba was blamed by India for the Nov. 2008 attack on Mumbai. But Pakistan is reluctant to open a new front against militants in Punjab, with officials saying they  fear this may make the situation even more unstable by driving some groups together while also further splintering a militant movement whose fragmentation is making it harder and harder to control.

None of that means nothing will change in Pakistan. It just means that whatever happens will be slow, fragile and open to reversal.

Peace talks with India could ease tensions between the two countries over Afghanistan where both have competed for influence for decades. Over the very long haul, a peace agreement with its larger neighbour could help resolve an identity crisis which has gripped Pakistan since Muslim leaders of then British India insisted on creating their own nation in 1947 hoping to build a state which would offer peace, security and democratic rights  to the people of the minority religion of the subcontinent.

Pakistan has also begun a painful transition to democracy after years of on-again off-again military rule.  If the current civilian government serves out its full term and then is replaced by another civilian government in a democratic election, it will be the first time in Pakistan’s history that this has happened.

It is also a country which historically has had a tendency to be heavily affected by external events, not just limited to its immediate neighbourhood, although these have been dramatic, particularly after the Islamic Revolution in neighbouring Iran in 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later that year.  As a Muslim country, popular sentiment in Pakistan is also strongly influenced by less proximate developments like the situation in Iraq and the Middle East.  So what happens in Afghanistan will be a crucial, but not the only, factor in determining what happens in the months and years to come in Pakistan.

What does seem unlikely is that a country which has been wrestling with many contradictory currents for more than 60 years will change overnight in a way which will make the people of the United States less jumpy whenever they see an SUV parked in a crowded place without a driver.


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Most probably Shahzad tried to prove his sincerity in Jihad to his militant mentors in Karachi by staging a demonstration at Times Square. That would have enabled him to win their trust. He could still be a CIA mole. Or he could have become one.

Or what happened at Times Square was a dry run to test the alertness of the US security apparatus. If Shahzad has escaped out of US, that would have completed the dry run. It did not happen that way. So I expect to see a can of worms to open now.

I think the US is trying to push its way into Pakistan. Since Pak army is not being sincere towards decimating all its terrorist progenies, it would be easier to stage a disaster in New York and use that as the next excuse to hit directly at the heart of Pakistan. Afghanistan has been laid flat. Without resetting Pakistan, no improvements will materialize. Pakistan is sucking all the juice out of Afghan efforts dry. The CIA might be working its way into Pakistan to spin the country into chaos. If that happens, then it would be easy to direct the various militant groups (including the Pak military) against each other and allow them to hack each other out of existence. Shahzad might be the starting point for that operation.

India, Kashmir etc are Pakistan’s desperate attempts to avoid sinking into the whirlpool.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

any efforts on this war on terrorism will yeild negligible results if US and its people fail to realize the nefarious designs of Pakistan.

Posted by rrdas | Report as abusive

Of course a phenomenon that took so many years to establish cannot be reversed in a month or a year. It will take time, but it is not suitable to undermine the efforts of our army.

Posted by SZaman88 | Report as abusive

[…] is another good Reuters roundup on the geopolitical situation in Pakistan right now, with peace talks starting with India, large […]

Posted by Times Square Bomb Plot by Faisal Shahzad Could Lead Obama to Send Troops to Pakistan | Big News | Report as abusive

It is strange that events like the Time Square incident happen just when the US wants Pak to start a new campaign into N. Waziristan. How convenient. The key thing to realize here is that Pak needs to be helped and stabilized for the region and the world as a whole to feel secure. That means giving Pak the help it needs and wants, giving it the funds that have been promised and not yet delivered, giving it the fighting tools that it needs in terms of weapons and armour etc. There is no use asking the country to “do more” when the world itself does not honor its own commitments made to the country!!

Posted by AbdulAzizAnis | Report as abusive

Abdul there are no free lunches. Pak should look to set its own house in order. Even if Pak were to receive aid from US it would ultimately be detrimental to Pak. As US would have its vested interests.

Posted by rrdas | Report as abusive

Debate on Expanded Presence in Pakistan asia/07diplo.html?th&emc=th

-It seems very ironic when i read the article above, as if history is repeating itself. Just as once Soviet Union started out by sending its military advisors to Afghanistan and eventually took over the country. Now US is doing the same thing with Pakistan, this will push us towards civil war. History will repeat itself if we don’t learn from the past, Pakistan is a huge country of 170 million muslims, an Army and nuclear stockpile. US better refrain from recklessness here as it will be difficult to get away with it. Last time Soviets made a mess out of Afghanistan, my hope is Americans don’t succeed in dictating terms with Pakistan. Pakistan will have to put its act together to face the challenges ahead. Unforunately Pakistan is being pulled in several different directions all at one time. This is one reason I believe its a resilient nation and will stand together, as it has shown in the past.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive


The US has absoluetely no inetentions of invading & taking over Pakistan. We are only interested in eliminating the terrorists on your soil who are planning attacks on american interests as we speak & in destroying their infrastructure for good. There would’ve been no need for American presence in Pakistan right now if your administration (military & civilian) would’ve cleaned it’s house instead of breeding, supporting & abetting terrorism in the name of ‘strategic depth’. I hope your leaders have learned from past mistakes & are sincere in eliminating all forms of terrorism from your country, as they say they are because if not then there would be no other option but to do it ourselves.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

A good article in Dawn about the mindset of Pakistani youth like Shahzad: -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/edit orial/faisal-shahzads-antiamericanism-85 0

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive


Like you said earlier, “It is all happening.”

The US has changed its tone and is now pushing your brave military into North Waziristan. I saw in BBC news where Hillary Clinton has even hinted at going after the elements inside Pakistan if another attempt by radicals succeeds in New York or elsewhere in the US. This is basically throwing in the bait. I am sure your strategic elements will take it and stage a show in the US. Their goal is to get the US to come to war into Pakistan. This way they can push the Pak military to either come on their side or perish. If the Pak military comes on the side of the extremists, that will be the end of your military. So let us know if your think tank is working on strategies to draw India into a conflict somehow.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

I think the article posted by Mortal1 is brilliant. It is only introspective articles like these that can pull Pak out of their troubles. Mere rabble rousing or blaming all and sundry for their ills will not achieve anything. The world in general or US in particular owe no favours to anyone. Pak must act in such a way that is in the long term interests of itself. The culture of hatred towards the west will ultimately lead to its complete decimation.
In the current globalised world it makes more and more sense to integrate with everybody.

Posted by rrdas | Report as abusive

Nobody expects a quick change of heart in Pakistan, to be sure. But with every incident of an American/NATO soldier getting killed in Afganistan by a Pakistani hosted militant or the US itself coming under threat by Pakistani jihadists, it impacts the US views on Pakistan. Watch how US attitudes towards Pakistan are changing.

In years past, when India and Pakistan went at it, there were politicians and public figures who defended Pakistan as “the little guy” in the fight. Kind of like another Israel. That’s no longer the case. Media coverage of Pakistan is negative. Public stances by politicians on Pakistan, stress the need to be tough.

Slowly but surely, the American vice-grips are tightening. It was one thing when Pakistan’s “not-state actors” were killing Indians. It became another matter when they killed American citizens in Mumbai and now try to kill American citizens in their homeland.

The only reason the US has held back until now is because of the need for Pakistani co-operation in Afghanistan, Pakistan nuclear proliferation record, etc. But now that Pakistan’s activities directly threaten the security of the US, American attitudes are hardening. Just watch what happens to Pakistan after the US draw-down in 2012-13.

Those gloating that Afghanistan is another Vietnam should keep in mind what happen to Vietnam after the Vietnam war and how long it took Vietnam to recover…..and the US doesn’t see Afghanistan as the main playground anymore. It’s Pakistan now.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

It is strange that events like the Time Square incident happen just when the US wants Pak to start a new campaign into N. Waziristan. How convenient.
Posted by AbdulAzizAnis

Just like the Mumbai bombings happened just as the US was demanding that Pakistan ramp up it’s commitment to securing the FATA? How convenient?

While in your country it might be acceptable for government officials to plan and execute attacks against their own citizens, it’s not acceptable here in the West. Keep your conspiracy theories where they belong. They don’t apply here.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

Pakistan is a huge country of 170 million muslims, an Army and nuclear stockpile. US better refrain from recklessness here as it will be difficult to get away with it. Last time Soviets made a mess out of Afghanistan, my hope is Americans don’t succeed in dictating terms with Pakistan.
-posted by Umairpk

Oh it won’t be that difficult. Given that Pakistan survives on something like 3 weeks worth of crude oil, it really wouldn’t take too many sanctions to bring Pakistan to its knees. There’s even some wondering here as to why India didn’t blockade Pakistan post-Mumbai to do just that.

As for the nukes. Who cares? They can’t reach the US. And if they do (let’s say by suitcase), you can be sure that for every one that lands up in the US, at least 10 will come the other way. If anything like that ever happens, Pakistan will become, what those of us in uniform call “a glass parking lot”. Heck, you better pray that some jihadi minded scientist isn’t slipping out special nuclear materials from a lab as we speak. And by the way that guarantee applies to any attack on any US ally as well. Let’s say that suitcase was to end up in Canada or Japan or Israel or the UK, you can expect a similar American response.

Pakistan will have to put its act together to face the challenges ahead.
-posted by Umairpk
How long have we been hearing that line now? We have a saying in the West, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” If Pakistan can’t get the job done, just get out of the way, and let the Yanks do the job. If Pakistanis are so dedicated to their sovereignty, they better make sure that their “non-state actors” doesn’t impinge on the sovereignty of other nations. Nobody will give a fig about Pakistani sovereignty if Pakistan doesn’t do more to ensure that jihad central in the FATA isn’t shut down.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive


Look at Faizal Shahzad’s CV. That could easily have been you.

I hope you finally realize how the anti-americanism, anti-Indian, anti-Jew, anti-Christian, anti-West propaganda is proving corrosive to Pakistani minds, the world over.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive

actually if the muslims didnt have indians, jews, americans etc to fight against they would still be fighting – against each other.

Posted by rrdas | Report as abusive

rrdas says:
“actually if the muslims didnt have indians, jews, americans etc to fight against they would still be fighting – against each other”

My take is that even if all pakistani muslims are transported to some other planet leaving everyone else behind (or vice-versa), they will still be planning & executing terrorist attacks on the other planet and dream of bringing infidels under those glorious days of islamic rule.

I’m not sure if same can be said about Turkey, Iran, or Arabs.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

The only way out of this quagmire is for Pakistan to be further partitioned, as it partitioned from India – as it was partitioned from Bangladesh.

Partitioned into manageable 3 or 4 states and let their civil society be given a chance to progress. At the moment its the Pakistani Army that own a country unlike normal countries that have an Army.

Posted by NONPAK | Report as abusive

@NONPAK, Keithz,

It seems like the great Punjabi Experiment of Pakistan is really, when you look at its totally from its inception an utter failure.

Sure muslims wanted to separate from India, that is fine, but those muslims did not want forced punjabi rule. This is the cause of all terrorism in Pakistan, at the end of the day, India is being used as a enemy and the politics of religion and hatred as a tool for unity, it is not working and will fail, eventually.

It is best if the world think tanks, come up with a way to re-distribute and re-equalize power between all the muslims equally in Pakistan and even look at facilitating Pakistan’s division into 4 or 5 autonomous states with greater equal voices in Parliament and decentralization. This is one way to keep all of the ethnicities that have grievances, to keep them happy. They are tired of being ruled over.

If this does not happen, you can expect to see hundreds of Failal Shahzad’s in the future, as there are many more in the making and the central power brokers in Pakistan lack the spine, will and resolve to really want to do any thing about it, as they are quite ok with their septic tank overflowing into other people’s back yard.

The stench to the rest of us is unbearable though.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


I do agree with you, Pakistani’s are a resilient tough bunch. But you must realize even steel, if it is pulled hard enough, will snap. Pakistan will come to a point, where it will be pulled hard in every direction and snap.

What happens after that, really depends on how you punjabi’s choose to co-operate with your nuclear masters. Things can be very good for Pakistani’s or the exact opposite. There does not have to be any civil war.

The world is getting tired of being held hostage by Pakistani student terrorists. We have right to dictate terms, if we are giving money, aid and having our families butchered in Afghanistan.

Pakistani’s need to wake up and go with the flow and demand democratic reformation of Pakistan. That meaning, Punjabi’s step back a little, give the Balochis and Pashtuns a greater voice, if you keep people happy, they will not want foreign fighters and terrorists on their soil. And finally your army must eliminate all terrorist camps and shut down the madrassa-suicide factories and all Anti-India elements.

The world demands this of Pakistan, wholeheartedly and fully, no exceptions. The best way to save your country and stabilize it, is to purge it of all jihadi elements, bar none.

As you see, when we see Faizal Shahzad’s in New York, while Pakistan continues to make nukes out of IMF loan money, you truly have to understand our point of view, just step back and try it for once, we see only chaos coming out of Pakistan, in its current course.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


“There’s even some wondering here as to why India didn’t blockade Pakistan post-Mumbai to do just that.”

–>Keithz, simple answer, while India is willing to do battles with Pakistan, at the end of the day, Pakistani’s are Indians. We Indians do actually have a soft heart for Pakistani’s because they are Indians, that is why we returned 90,000 POW’s unharmed. That is why during 1965 and Kargil, we left Pakistan alone. Indians have no desire to hurt, maim or kill unarmed defenseless Pakistani’s muslims, because they are our family at the end of the day, we can never hurt family. Albeit, a dysfunctional family. Yes, we could have hit Karachi, their oil depots, or damns, but we Hindus actually do not want to hurt Pakistan or Pakisatani’s, because they are Indians, despite partition and despite being muslim.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


I sincerely hope that the U.S. is not contemplating a thrust into the heartland of Pakistan.

Pakistani’s need to realize that better co-operation with the U.S. will actually lead to their success in Afghanistan and their leaving quicker as well.

If Obama fails to deliver Afghanistan, you can bet, I guarantee you 1000% the warhawk neocon Republic Americans want to attack Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to secure energy highways and pipelines.

If Pakistan fails to help Obama win Afghanistan and curb its militantism, Pakistani decision making is actually aiding and abetting and allowing the NEOCONS to create reasons to start more jousting with Iran and invade Pakistan. Nobody wants that. That is why Pakistani’s need to comply more and bend over backwards to deliver.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

You have lost the bet sir. Obama is unlikely to deliver Afghanistan to neocon republicans. Perhaps you should give him a tip how to exit without suffering the fate of Vietnam. Pakistan is in no position to help Obama either in this endeavour. Wars are fought on battle grounds and not in the congress, they also have their own momentum. The US is in no position to take on a fight with the nuclear armed country otherwise they would have incvaded Korea and Iran long time ago. Who says that Iran does not have a nuclear arsenal of their own. Let us leave Pakistan alone, its army has more lethal force than the vietnamese army. Remember the old Indian saying, the barking dogs seldom bite. I would not take threats from the lady seriously. The threats from the defence secretary or the President are usually serious and can sometimes cause the reaction from the thratened party prematuredly. The US is a bankrupt country and in no position to start a third front in the subcontinent next to China. The US would have delegated this task to India who I doubt has the stomach for a nuclear response.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

[…] The Pakistan Army says it is already stretched fighting in other parts of the tribal areas and is reluctant to rush into a new offensive in North Waziristan until it has consolidated its gains elsewhere.  It launched a major operation in South Waziristan last year, and is now engaged in heavy fighting in Orakzai to the north after clearing out other tribal areas.  As a result it is slowly tightening a noose around North Waziristan.  (The Long War Journal has a good map showing where Orakzai is in relation to North Waziristan.) […]

Posted by In Pakistan, making sense of the “do more” mantra « Read NEWS | Report as abusive