ISLAMABAD: Following Leon Panetta’s disclosure, for reasons best known to him, that Pakistan Army was planning an operation in Waziristan, General Kayani’s remarks on 14 August that ‘war on terror is also our war’ must be appreciated as a bold step, setting right direction for the army, if not for the nation.
However, these remarks in no way imply that the military would undertake operation in North Waziristan on the US’ dictation. Certain considerations would dictate whether the operation should be undertaken or not and if the decision is in affirmative.
Certain pre-requisites must be met before embarking on this venture. These considerations should be:
(1) Is the Pakistani public in favour of such an operation? (2) In spite of the general perception in Pakistan that foreign forces are presently occupying Afghanistan, the worldwide view is that they are UN mandated and supported by a legitimate Afghan government. That be the case, are local militants within their right to undertake terrorist activities in Afghanistan? (3) If the local Taliban do not accept Pakistan government’s writ and go across to Afghanistan to hit the Nato/Afghan forces, how should the Pakistan government respond to any counter action by them? Should we put our country at stake for those who do not evven accept government’s writ (4) A friendly and stable Afghanistan is surely in Pakistan’s interest. This being the objective, are the local militants part of the solution or part of the problem? (5) Notwithstanding emotional outbursts which some of our leaders display, is the nation prepared to face the consequences of local militants’ continued declared interference into the internal affairs of Afghanistan? If not, how to stop them? (6) Negative international perception about Pakistan with regard to ongoing militancy. (7) And finally, internal fall out of any such operation and its ramifications.
If as a conclusion to above considerations, an operation is deemed necessary, the same be undertaken after meeting certain pre-requisites, especially in view of our past experiences.
While considering the external factor, we must never forget that in the eighties, Pakistan fought along-side US and together we were instrumental in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan. After achieving their objectives, however, the US left us in the lurch to face the consequences.
Similarly, not very long time back, our forces undertook operations in Swat and South Waziristan and since the border on Afghan side was not sealed, the terrorists not only went across but since then are conducting terrorist activities against Pakistan, with impunity, from their safe-havens in Afghanistan, if not under the patronage of Nato/Afghan forces but certainly from areas presently controlled by them.
In this backdrop, it would be natural for the Pakistani leadership to be apprehensive about the US intent behind compelling us to undertake the operation in North Waziristan. We must never preclude the possibility that the US only wants us to attack the militants so that the weakened militants could be pressurised by them into negotiations for extracting a better deal, which may not be in Pakistan’s best interests.
Besides, the backlash, if also sponsored by hostile intelligence agencies, would be crippling for Pakistan. As such, Pakistan Army must not undertake this operation unless the border across is sealed by Isaf/US forces and guarantees are given that the retreating militants would not be given safe passage to be used against Pakistan in the future.
Also, Pakistan must be included as a party in any future negotiations, overt or covert, with the Taliban.
Internally, the experience shows that successful military operations in Swat and South Waziristan were not backed by the required political process for seeking permanent solution. The army still is deployed and committed in these areas. As such, any future military operation must be preceded by shaping of environment for which the political leadership must take full ownership and media should be effectively used to educate the masses.
Well-planned covert operations must be undertaken to isolate the militants from the locals, though a difficult proposition till the time locals carry the impression that militants are waging ‘jihad’ against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Speedy rehabilitation and initiation of political process after successful military operation are imperatives for a permanent solution, which must be planned in advance. The political leadership must also be fully prepared to deal with any internal fall out of such an operation.
And finally, in the prevailing regional environment, sincerity of purpose is of prime essence. Both Pakistan and US must learn from the past mistakes, recognise the threat in its larger context, formulate a comprehensive threat response and then appropriately deal with the rogue elements.
Double games by the US or Pakistan or both have neither served their interests in the past nor they would in the future — the threat is too grave to play around.
By Major General (R) Tahir Ali
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
The News Pakistan