Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
According to Dawn newspaper, the Pakistan Army is poised to launch a major military operation in South Waziristan, stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.
It quotes senior military and security officials as saying that the army would launch what it called “the mother of all battles” in the coming days.
“If we don’t take the battle to them, they will bring the battle to us,” it quotes a senior military official as saying of the militants. “The epicentre of the behemoth called the Taliban lies in South Waziristan, and this is where we will be fighting the toughest of all battles.”
“For three months, the military has been drawing up plans, holding in-depth deliberations and carrying out studies on past expeditions to make what seems to be the last grand stand against Pakistani Taliban in the Mehsud heartland a success,” it says.
A single paragraph in General Stanley McChrystal’s leaked assessment of the war in Afghanistan has generated much interest, particularly in Pakistan.
“Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment,” it says. “In addition the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India.”
Back in 2008, even before Barack Obama was elected, Washington pundits were urging him to adopt a new regional approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan involving Russia, India, China, Saudi Arabia and even Iran. The basic argument was that more troops alone would not solve the problems, and that the new U.S administration needed to subsume other foreign policy goals to the interests of winning a regional consensus on stabilising Afghanistan.
It would be simplistic to suggest that the Obama administration’s decision to cancel plans to build a missile-shield in eastern Europe was motivated purely — or even primarily — by a need to seek Russian help in Afghanistan. But it certainly serves as a powerful reminder about how far that need to seek a “grand bargain” on Afghanistan may be reshaping and influencing policy decisions around the world.
Following up on my earlier post about what is happening behind the scenes in the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, it’s worth keeping track of this report that Islamabad is considering appointing former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue with New Delhi known as “backchannel diplomacy”.
As discussed in this story there has been much talk about trying to get the backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan up and running again, both to reduce India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan and to prevent an escalation of tensions between the two countries themselves. So any forward movement on the backchannel diplomacy, if confirmed, would be important.
Saeed Shah at McClatchy has an interesting story about Jaish-e-Mohammad, an al Qaeda linked militant group, building a big new base in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The group, which was blamed for killing U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and for an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, already has a headquarters in the town of Bahawalpur in south Punjab.
Every now and then, either when there is a fresh setback or a key moment in Afghanistan’s turbulent history, like last week when it went to the polls to choose a president, the debate flares anew.
Bruce Riedel, who led a review of the “Af-Pak” strategy for the Obama administration, says the United States must now target Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, following the apparent death of the chief of the Pakistani Taliban this month.
The one-eyed, intensely secretive founder of the Afghan Taliban is a much more elusive and important player in the “terror syndicate” attacking Pakistan, Afghanistan and the NATO mission in Afghanistan than Baitullah Mehsud, reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike, Riedel says.
The obvious question to ask about the apparent death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone attack (apart from the question of proving his death) is what, or who, is next? Does the Pakistan Army still go into South Waziristan to fight the Taliban, or does it consider it “mission accomplished”? And after apparently eliminating a militant leader who had focused on targetting Pakistan, will it now go after other militants whose main area of operation is Afghanistan?
As discussed in my last post, Pakistan’s military offensive in South Waziristan was framed in the context of a punitive mission against Mehsud based on Raj-era notions of retribution, and was therefore quite different from its operation in Swat, which aimed to re-occupy territory seized by the Taliban and restore the writ of the state. So if Mehsud is indeed dead, the Pakistan Army may already have met its objective.
Pakistan’s military campaign against Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan has been seen very much as a punitive mission - and that has just been forcefully highlighted by reports that the Pakistani Taliban leader’s wife was killed in a missile strike. A relative said that Mehsud’s second wife had been killed when a U.S. drone fired missiles into her father’s house in the village of Makeen. He said four children were among the wounded.
The Pakistan government in June ordered an offensive in South Waziristan after Mehsud was accused of masterminding a string of attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. So far though, that offensive has been dominated by bombardments with air raids and medium-range artillery, while a full-blown ground offensive has yet to materialise. Attacks by U.S. drones have also increased, fuelling speculation that the CIA-operated missile strikes, though condemned by Islamabad, are being coordinated with Pakistan’s own military operations.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his political reputation on talks with Pakistan, earning in equal measure both praise and contempt from a domestic audience still burned by last November’s attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.
“I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open,” he said in a debate in parliament on Wednesday. ”Unless we talk directly to Pakistan we will have to rely on a third party to do so… Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way, but to go step-by-step… dialogue and engagement are the best way forward,” Singh said.