Brig. Farooq Hameed Kan(R)
The US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s latest warning that his country would do everything it can to defend US forces from Pakistan based militants staging attacks in Afghanistan reflects the growing US frustration over its failure to overcome Afghan resistance even after ten years of waging a bloody war in Afghanistan.
Coming in the wake of September 13 deadly attack by Afghan militants against heavily fortified US embassy, NATO/ISAF HQ and the country’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) in Kabul’s high security zone, Panetta’s threat pointed towards heightened Pak- US mistrust and possibility of unilateral US retaliation against alleged Haqqani network in N.Waziristan.
While Taliban claimed responsibility for Kabul strike the Americans were quick to blame the Haqqani group. US ambassador Cameron Munter’s unprecedented statement about evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government which blamed the ISI indirectly for Kabul attacks openly violated diplomatic norms.
Admiral Mike Mullen during meeting with Army Chief General Kayani on the sidelines of a NATO conference in Spain also called for action against Haqqani network. In a speech at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, Mullen was more direct in asking the ISI to sever ties with Haqqani group and that the presence of Haqqani sanctuaries in N. Waziristan potentially jeopardized the outcome of the war.
While Americans basked in the glory of the May 2nd Abbottabad strike, recent spate of militant attacks against US/NATO troops in and around Kabul exposed the poor security situation in Afghan capital. It also raised questions regarding the ability and effectiveness of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and police to defend Kabul and other parts of country against Taliban /militant attacks.
Bagram air base, considered to be the most secure place for US troops in Afghanistan, was attacked by Taliban on May 19 this year. A day earlier, a suicide bomber targeted a NATO convoy in Kabul, killing five US troops taking the death toll for American soldiers past the 1,000 mark. A Taliban bomb attack on September 11 against a coalition base in eastern province of Wardaq had left at least 77 American soldiers wounded.
If after spending billions of US dollars that has brought US economy on the verge of collapse and the much trumpeted Obama’s surge strategy, Kabul and Afghan countryside still remain vulnerable to daring Taliban daylight attacks, then Pentagon has a lot to answer to the angry American public.
The US obsession for action against Haqqani network is not new. Pak Army has resisted the US demand for a crackdown on the Haqqanis in North Waziristan for almost two years now. The Army believes that it would decide its operational priorities in FATA keeping in view ground realities, act according to its own timeframe and will not accept US dictation in this respect.
With its resources already overstretched, the Army’s emphasis remains towards consolidating its operational gains in South Waziristan , Bajaur and other FATA agencies like Mohmand and Orakzai where anti militant operations and sporadic skirmishes with militants’ remnants still continue. The Army recently completed Operation Koh-e-Sufaid in Kurram agency aimed at clearing the region of militants indulging in kidnapping and suicide attacks on security installations and forces as well as re-opening the strategic Thall-Parachinar road.
The top US military leadership’s accusation of Pakistan influencing Haqqani group’s actions is perhaps an overkill. It goes against our security interests to guide the Haqqanis to attack US/NATO Headquarters in Kabul at a time when Pakistan seeks earnest efforts to remove obstacles in the complex peace process and help bring stability to war torn Afghanistan.
It is strange that the US is bent upon blaming the Haqqanis when Taliban claimed responsibility for the latest Kabul strike. If US attack drones could kill Al Qaeda militants in N. Waziristan, what stops them from targeting Haqqani fighters operating within Afghan territory? It is also incomprehensible that Haqqani fighters could travel all the way to attack US/NATO forces deep within Afghanistan and return to their bases on the Pakistan side without being intercepted or challenged by allied troops.
Siraj uddin Haqqani, recently announced his group’s willingness to join the Afghan peace process if the Taliban joined the same which should be a positive signal to the Americans. He also declared that Haqqani fighters no longer operated from North Waziristan and had moved their bases inside Afghanistan. This appears plausible in view of the US drone attacks that reportedly targeted Haqqani leadership in North Waziristan in the past as well as pressure from Pakistan’s security establishment to make a total shift.
But Pakistanis are also furious over the ‘deliberate failure’ of US/NATO and Afghan forces to stop series of cross border attacks by Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants into Dir and Chitral, in which dozens of our para military troops , government officials and innocent civilians were executed. The US/NATO forces’ withdrawal from Kunar and Nuristan facilitated TTP militants’ regrouping across the Pak- Afghan border. In effect, US/NATO succeeded in activating another front for Pak Army which recently was forced to deploy additional troops in Dir and Chitral.
The Pakistani civil and military leadership appear in no mood to budge under US pressure. Rather the Americans were warned to refrain from another Abbottabad style unilateral military action on Pakistan’s soil, as it would have disastrous ramifications for the already heavily strained bilateral ties between Islamabad and Washington. Any US attempt to escalate the situation would neither serve the cause of peace in Afghanistan nor facilitate an honorable US exit from the region.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, too, has rejected US media reports that in her latest meeting with Secretary of State in New York, Hillary Clinton gave an ultimatum to Islamabad to launch the anti Haqqani offensive. However Pak- US political and diplomatic engagements must continue to restore trust and confidence between two ‘most allied allies.’
If the US desires to bring the Taliban and Haqqanis on the negotiating table, they must weaken or defeat them within Afghanistan to the point that the Americans can deal with them from a position of strength. With the increased intensity of Afghan resistance witnessed in recent months, such a situation seems no where visible on the horizon.
Why is the US making Pakistan the scapegoat to cover up its own strategic failures and blunders in Afghanistan? Why should Pak Army attack and alienate the Haqqanis with whom we have no dispute? Any offensive in North Waziristan could also endanger Pak Army’s peace agreements with various tribal groups, thereby disrupting the Army’s strategy to isolate the TTP and other hostile militant bodies.
Washington’s targets are undoubtedly both Pak Army and the ISI, their old allies that the US now perceives as the stumbling blocks in its grand designs. The Haqqani hype provides yet another opportunity to defame both. Pak Army must not fall into the American trap in N.Waziristan which could get the Army entangled into a complex situation with heavy blowback in our cities/towns.
NOTE: This is a cross post from THE NEWS.