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October 18, 2011

Offensive mode?


October 18, 2011

The United States and Nato have shifted hundreds of troops, heavy arms and gunship helicopters to the Pak-Afghan border along North Waziristan and sealed it for all types of movement. Tribesmen living in the border areas report curfew in the Gurbaz area of Afghanistan’s Khost province and say that the US and Afghan authorities are carrying out house-to-house searches. This comes after weeks of tension between Pakistan and the US over the Haqqani Network and US demands that action be initiated against it as a group responsible for staging attacks inside Afghanistan. The key question right now is: What exactly are US-Nato intentions in making this move? While the abrupt deployment of forces has escalated tension in militancy-plagued North Waziristan, it may also have ended the long debate over sealing the Pak-Afghan border as the only viable cure for the cross-border infiltration of militants and subsequent attacks carried out by them. Whenever US-Nato troops have faced a setback in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban, American security authorities have claimed that the Haqqani group based in North Waziristan engineered it. Experts have been suggesting for a long time that, if the US and Nato believe their problems are caused by the groups allegedly based in Pakistani tribal areas they should seal the Pak-Afghan border. Just as different Taliban groups move from Pakistan to Afghanistan, there is traffic also from Afghanistan to Pakistan. On its part, Pakistan has more security posts on its side of the border than American or Afghan security posts on the other side. Hence some have termed the US act of sealing the border a welcome development in terms of checking militants’ movement.
But, as happens in a game of chess, the prime purpose behind the move may also be to exert pressure on Pakistan and see how it will react to it. If this is so – given the tone and tenor consistently used by US officials over the past few weeks – the heat is on and there is

some danger of fire. Tribesmen in the area have already vowed to defend their territory. Some analysts seem to believe that the move is essentially a bluff and the US will not move forward any further. After all it has not had much military success in Afghanistan, and would in all likelihood prefer not to spread itself still thinner. Others have cautioned about the risks involved if US forces are sent into Pakistani areas; this would undoubtedly be an undesirable development, to put it very mildly, and would jeopardise Pak-US cooperation again. All this means Pakistan will have to consider all its options very carefully. A unilateral military move by the US will only accentuate US-Nato security problems and cause yet another crisis in relations with Pakistan. The Obama administration has already decided to pursue a more aggressive approach toward the Haqqani group and an increase in drone strikes is expected in the days ahead. But aerial bombardment or special operations inside Pakistan will be disastrous at a time when the US has started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. It will negate the spirit of drawdown without providing a guarantee of overcoming the Taliban challenge.

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