RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Friday made it clear that a joint Pak-US action in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) was unacceptable to the people and armed forces of the country, adding that if an offensive was undertaken, national interest would be the prime consideration in arriving at a decision.
The Chief of the Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, stated this in categorical terms late Thursday night when the US Centcom Commander General James N Mattis met him.
General Kayani discussed the Pak-US security relations with General Mattis and declared: “This has always been our clearly stated red line. We might, if necessary, undertake an operation in NWA, in the time-frame of our choosing and determined only by our political and military requirements. It will never be a result of any outside pressure. Pakistan’s national interest continues to be the prime consideration for any decision in this regard.”
However, neither General Kayani, nor the Pakistani government or any other government spokesmen has ruled out what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on July 3 “coordinated actions against terrorists who threaten Pakistan and the region”.
This key military-to-military interaction between top generals of Pakistan and the United States took place just a day after the terrorist attack on the Minhas Airbase located in the neighbourhood of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra – a highly sensitive place where potent PAF assets are located.
The dialogue also took place in the backdrop of ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam’s visit to the United States where he held talks with key US officials, including the CIA director. It was General Islam’s first visit to the United States as the ISI chief and he has already briefed the corps commanders about the outcome of his visit.
The army chief forcefully dispelled speculative reporting in the US media regarding an understanding given to Isaf commander General John Allen about the Pakistan Army’s readiness to launch joint operations in the NWA. A few days ago, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had claimed that the Pakistani leadership had given Gen Allen its word about the NWA operation.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was the first to express a serious concern over reports of a military operation in the NWA. He asked the military leadership to refrain from any such action that would give way to a new wave of terrorism in the country, adding that the PML-N would not support a military operation in the NWA. “It is feared that any military operation in North Waziristan will result in a new wave of terrorism in the country,” said Nisar in a recent press talk.
On Friday, General Kayani also clarified Pakistan’s position by referring to Secretary Clinton’s statement of July 3. “It is important to distinguish between coordinated action and joint operation. Coordinated action implies that Pakistan Army and ISAF conduct operations on respective sides of the Pak-Afghan border. For such actions intelligence sharing is the mainstay of mutual cooperation. On the other hand, a joint operation implies that the two forces are physically employed jointly on either side of the border. A joint operation in this sense is unacceptable to the people and the armed forces of Pakistan.”
It might be a coincidence that the May 2, 2011 incident took place just two days after General Kayani’s speech at the Shuhada Parade, while the Minhas Airbase attack was carried out two days after Kayani’s speech on the Independence Day. “Somebody, somewhere may be trying to undermine what General Kayani has been telling the nation,” said one defence analyst.
Other defence analysts say that it is typical of the Americans to come to meet top Pakistani leadership at a time when Pakistanis are confronted with a difficult situation, since this is an appropriate time to dictate terms. They say General Kayani should have avoided meeting any American general at a time when the US defence secretary spoke of the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
“The Minhas Airbase attack was no doubt an eye-opener, as many believe that a powerful hidden hand has been masterminding such attacks on the assets of the Pakistan armed forces through mercenaries,” said one observer.
Officially, it is also said that both the sides discussed matters of mutual interest at length and expressed satisfaction over the level of cooperation between the two militaries and resolved to continue to further improve the relations between the two countries.
Agencies add: General Mattis acknowledged the sacrifices rendered by the Pakistani military in their fight against violent extremists, and offered his condolences for the nearly 5,000 Pakistani military personnel who have fallen in support of that cause.
General Mattis reaffirmed the importance of the US-Pakistani security relationship – not only to ongoing operations in Afghanistan but also to regional stability.
The two sides agreed to continue meeting periodically to further the common objectives on cross-border cooperation and regional security.