With each passing day, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Obama administration’s so-called Af–Pak policy is simply not working. The fraudulent Presidential elections in Afghanistan, coupled by the rampant corruption in all walks of life in that hapless country, have not made the NATO-propped Karzai government in Kabul either stable or popular. And what is worse, the Taliban (and al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden), the main target of the American intervention are gaining ascendancy in the “war on terror”.
Secure in their safe sanctuaries in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been launching highly successful attacks on the Afghan and NATO troops. President Obama is desperate that Pakistan does something to contain these elements in its territory. In return, he is pursuing the traditional policy of rewarding Pakistan through military and economic assistance, which, over the last seven years, have exceeded 12 billion dollars. That Pakistan is not doing the needful and diverting most of the American assistance towards measures against India is another story.
The army leadership in Pakistan is of the strong opinion that there is a large difference between the situation in Afghanistan and that in Pakistan and if the US tried to implement the same policy in Pakistan then it would not only yield negative results but it will also affect Pak”“US relations.
It is not without substance that many international observers believe that Pakistani intelligence is actually helping the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The CIA covert operation that has used armed drones to attack insurgent targets inside Pakistan, the Waziristan region in particular, has become highly controversial in Pakistan. The Pakistan Army leadership has informed the US administration about its reservation over the new US policy regarding the Pak–Afghan region.
The military top brass, including Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majid, has made it clear to the US leadership that the same policy for both Pakistan and Afghanistan by the US would not prove successful. The army leadership in Pakistan is of the strong opinion that there is a large difference between the situation in Afghanistan and that in Pakistan and if the US tried to implement the same policy in Pakistan then it would not only yield negative results but it will also affect Pak–US relations.
The fundamental flaw in America’s war on terror in Afghanistan is appearing to rely on belief on Pakistan. A stable and secure Afghanistan is not in the interest of the forces that run Pakistan today. There are many reasons for this, including the so-called strategic depth that Afghanistan provides to Pakistan in its war against India. But the most important one happens to be the fact that once Afghanistan becomes strong, secure and stable, it will demand the return of its territories, particularly Waziristan. And this is something Pakistan will not easily allow. This article intends to highlight this theme.
Waziristan covers an area of 11,585 square kilometers (4,473 square miles) and is divided into what are defined as North and South Waziristan agencies. The total population today is estimated to be around a million. The region is one of the most inaccessible, has an extremely rugged terrain and has remained outside the direct control of the Pakistani government. Hitherto, it has only been controlled nominally by the central government of Pakistan. The Waziri tribes that inhabit the region are fiercely independent. However, they had not bothered the Pakistani government till the fall of the Taliban government in neighbouring Afghanistan, when the region turned out to be a good sanctuary for the fleeing al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.
Since there is no clear demarcation of the Pak–Afghan border, the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters sheltering in the tribal belt under the control of Wazirs, Mehsuds and Dawars, easily cross the border and attack their targets on Afghan soil, using the mountain terrain to strategic advantage, and then melt into the villages located in the Pak–Afghan border areas. The result is that the al-Qaeda-backed Taliban resistance movement in Afghanistan continues to gain strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan, which provide natural strategic depth to Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
Since there is no clear demarcation of the Pak”“Afghan border, the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters sheltering in the tribal belt under the control of Wazirs, Mehsuds and Dawars, easily cross the border and attack their targets on Afghan soil, using the mountain terrain to strategic advantage
No wonder why hardly a day passes when the Karzai administration in Afghanistan does not urge Pakistan to do more to help overcome insurgency in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. The anxiety being expressed by the Karzai administration is understandable and not entirely misplaced, given the fact that much of the trouble along the border areas of Afghanistan happens to be a result of the Taliban militia crossing over from the Pakistani side of the border. In the past, the Afghan mujahideen, too, had bases in the Waziristan region, which they used as launching pads to make frequent incursions into Afghanistan to target the occupying Soviet troops.
Under these circumstances, the Pakistani leadership is often blamed for whatever is happening in Afghanistan, given the quantum of activity within close proximity of the Pak–Afghan border. Many visiting US officials have stated time and again in the recent past that Islamabad should fulfill its international obligations by curtailing the movement of miscreants from its side of the border, as it cannot simply absolve itself by asking Kabul to tighten control on the other side. They have made it clear that the issue is not just placing 80,000 Pakistani troops on the border, but rather how effective that force has been in accomplishing its mission objective.
Of course, there is a theory that many elements in the Pakistani armed forces and the ISI are jehadists by inclination and that they are not sincere in fighting the Taliban. But then, without going into the merits and demerits of this allegation at the moment, the question is whether Pakistan, given the history of Waziristan, can ever be able to rise to the occasion. We may now look at that history.