Pakistan Military: Stabilize Gains Before New Operations
Meredith Buel | Islamabad VoA News: North Waziristan is inside Pakistan, but outside the law. Located along the border with Afghanistan, North Waziristan has become a crossroads for terrorism.
It is a mixed cauldron of armed jihadi organizations including the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida and one of the deadliest insurgent groups, the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The United States wants Pakistan’s army to attack these insurgents in the North Waziristan region who are staging deadly assaults on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, calls North Waziristan the “epicenter of terrorism.”
Pakistani officials say they will not be rushed into military action there.
Mohammad Kamran Khan represents North Waziristan in the Pakistani Parliament.
“The situation in North Waziristan is not good,” Khan says. “Because everyday there are gun attacks, and there is target killing, kidnapping.”
Khan estimates there are 5,000 to 6,000 foreign militants currently in North Waziristan.
Local tribal leaders say Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens and fighters called “white jihadis” – meaning European militants – have come to North Waziristan to fight American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has indicated it will consider mounting a military offensive in North Waziristan, but only when other tribal areas are stabilized, which military officials say could take another six months. Pakistani Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik is the top military commander in the region.
“What we have to do is we have to stabilize the whole area. I have a very large area in my command. So I must stabilize all the other areas, and then maybe look at North Waziristan,” Malik says.
South Asian analysts say when it comes to militants in North Waziristan, Pakistan and the United States have potentially conflicting interests.
They point out Haqqani has close ties to Pakistan’s intelligence and security establishment and is viewed as a potential ally who can help Islamabad regain control of territory on its side of the border in a post-NATO Afghanistan.
Haqqani and his network of fighters are not currently a threat to Pakistan says Kamran Bokhari, who is from Pakistan and is director of South Asia analysis at Stratfor, a private U.S.-based global intelligence company.
“Despite having the relationship with the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida, he is not part of their joint efforts to wage war in Pakistan, Bokhari says. “His view is that the war, the real war is in Afghanistan and we should limit ourselves there.”
Tucked in the valleys of North Waziristan, families survive in mud houses behind 10-foot walls, cooking over open fires and sleeping under the sky. Most are poor and uneducated.
North Waziristan’s representative in the Pakistani Parliament, Mohammad Kamran Khan, says residents there are widely sympathetic to the Taliban, who are waging the insurgency to oust Western soldiers from Afghanistan. He believes if Pakistan and the international community want more support they should provide essential services to the people who live there.
“There is no education, no health facilities, no road infrastructure, no electricity, no drinking water,” Khan points out. “So they should provide these things so that common people should say that we are Pakistanis.”
North Waziristan’s population is mainly Pashtun, the same ethnic group in Afghanistan that forms the backbone of the Taliban.
Rugged mountain paths lead across the unguarded border into Afghan provinces that are Taliban strongholds.
The United States has greatly increased drone attacks in North Waziristan in an effort to deny the militants a safe haven. But both Washington and Islamabad know that such strikes alone are not likely to stop the militant activity in what is becoming known as the epicenter of terrorism.