Media reports indicate that, in the next few days, or possibly shortly after the month of Ramazan, a military operation is about to be launched in North Waziristan at the behest of the US.
What would such an operation achieve and how would it help in dealing with violence in the area needs to be carefully and dispassionately considered.
The Americans argue that their forces are coming under attack inside Afghanistan from volunteers of the Haqqani “network” and some other militant outfits who they claim are based in North Waziristan. The destruction of such “sanctuaries,” the US believes, will take care of such attacks inside Afghanistan because the fighters linked with the Haqqani group will no longer have a place to hide and regroup.
Firstly, the US military needs to answer this question: If the militants or volunteers from North Waziristan do actually go across the border in such numbers, how and why have Coalition forces not been able to attack, intercept, and capture them on their way to their destinations, deep inside Afghan territory, or on their way back to North Waziristan?
Why are they allowed to penetrate so easily, considering the strength of the Coalition forces, 130,000, which are equipped with the most lethal weapons and latest military technology, not mention the 350,000-strong Afghan National Army? Pakistan is being penalised by being forced into launching an assault against its own people because of the failure of the Coalition and Afghan forces in dealing with the militants.
Secondly, if the Haqqani “network” is indeed responsible for some attacks inside Afghan territory, then two things must be remembered: this group operates only in three provinces, Khost, Paktia and Paktika, and occasionally becomes part of attacks on coalition forces in Kabul. How, then, can one explain the insurgency in about 22 other provinces in Afghanistan? And why the raging insurgency in areas that do not border on Pakistan, like Qundus, Baghlan, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, Herat and Balkh?
Whom will the Pakistani military target in such a wholly senseless operation? The Haqqnis have never attacked or harmed any Pakistani forces. Is it fair to demand that Pakistan antagonise a pro-Pakistani faction to oblige the US establishment? Are we not then generating anti-Pakistan hostility? Even Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who is a resident of the area, has not been attacking government positions, with the odd exception of a few skirmishes which occurred because of a misunderstanding.
By attacking such groups in order to please the US Pakistan would be losing the support of all relevant factions in the resistance and that would gravely impact on Pakistan’s credentials as peace-broker. It would make Pakistan irrelevant as far as reconciliation is concerned, because the country would comprehensively lose the trust of all groups in Afghanistan, whether they support or oppose the government in Kabul.
Finally, such an operation is likely to end up, as did those before it, as an operation against the population. Because those the operation seeks to neutralise will not be found but tens of thousands of tribesmen will be killed, wounded and displaced. If the Haqqani group had any fixed bases, camps and fortresses, would the US drones have spared them?
For all practical purposes, it will be an assault on the helpless tribesmen, who will undergo suffering to enable the Pakistani state to please the US establishment – which at the end of the day will be raising more demands. Will Pakistan’s unleashing its military power against its own people serve any purpose? Has it served any purpose in other areas?
As experience has shown, all such operations that are predicated on earning the goodwill of the US end up producing more militancy, more violence, more destabilisation.
Can Pakistan afford such suicidal actions?
The writer is a former ambassador.