Pakistan might fight - for a price
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's inaction against the network of Jalaluddin and
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the most effective of Afghan Taliban groups and which
operates out of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, is a constant
irritation in relations between Washington and Islamabad, with senior United
States military officials even accusing the Pakistanis of having ties with the
However, Pakistan has made it clear to Washington through diplomatic channels
and most recently during this weekend's visit to Pakistan of US special AfPak
envoy Richard Holbrooke that every sacrifice has a price tag. Islamabad argues
that if it is to launch a major military offensive in North Waziristan against
militants, including al-Qaeda, the monetary costs will be high, as will the
risk of a militant backlash across the country. The war itself could also drag
on for many months.
The US is desperate that militant bases in North Waziristan be destroyed as
these feed directly into the ever-growing insurgency across the border in
Afghanistan. As the Americans see it, without an operation in North Waziristan,
the chances of US troops beginning a withdrawal by next summer are slim.
A major offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar province has already been
delayed for another few months, in part pending Pakistani action in North
Waziristan. All that Islamabad will say is that while it is committed to an
operation, it will do so at a date of its convenience.
This is despite the fact that Pakistan's political government and security
apparatus are as a whole very much onboard with American policies.
Pakistan's position comes at an awkward time for Washington. Many of its allies
in Afghanistan, including Britain and Canada, aim to distance their troops from
hot fronts such as Kandahar.
United States Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has expressed
his exasperation; he is one of those to have alleged that Pakistan has ties to
Before the arrival in Pakistan of Holbrooke, who was accompanied by Under
Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs David Lipton, Islamabad had
made it clear to Washington that it would need military hardware worth US$2.5
billion to launch an operation in North Waziristan.
Speaking to The Washington Times, Pakistani ambassador in Washington Husain
Haqqani said the equipment was needed to take the war against al-Qaeda into the
mountains bordering Afghanistan. He said Pakistan required new helicopter
gunships, including the Apache-64-D, AH-1W, AH-6 and MD-530 Little Bird.
Haqqani said utility and cargo helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk, the
CH-47 D Chinook and the UH-1Y Huey would also be required. He pointed out that
Pakistan only had eight second-hand Mi-17 transport helicopters at its
disposal. Two separate demands were conveyed to Washington through public
forums as American demands for an operation mounted.
On Thursday, the Public Accounts Committee said 170,000 soldiers were deployed
on the Afghan border. However, a close friend of army chief General Ashfaq
Parvez Kiani, Secretary of Defense Lieutenant General (retired) Syed Athar Ali,
told the same meeting that if Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money was not
released, the troops at the Afghan border would be pulled back.
Ali added that Pakistan had spent an additional 10 billion rupees (US$117
million) moving the army to the border areas and needed to be compensated for
this from the CSF.
Diplomatic contacts tell Asia Times Online that Pakistan has also told
Washington that if the Americans want to take surgical strikes against
militants like Sirajuddin Haqqani, they can go ahead.
The impasse between Pakistan and the US over North Waziristan comes at a time
that both sides are having a rough ride at the hands of insurgents.
A United Nations report released this weekend gave a grim picture of the
security situation in Afghanistan, saying roadside bombings - up an "alarming
94% - and assassinations - up 45% - had soared in the first four months of the
UN officials said the number of coordinated attacks had also increased, with an
average of two per month, about double last year's average. Coalition
casualties are rising, with at least 53 troops killed this month, including 34
US service members.
Across the border, despite intense military operations in Orakzai Agency, South
Waziristan and Mohmand and Bajaur tribal areas, militants have made a comeback.
In the past week, they have attacked military positions in Mohmand and Bajaur.
In one unconfirmed incident, reports said several soldiers were killed and 54
others were missing.
Security officials who spoke to Asia Times Online believe that the next few
months will be critical for the US if Pakistan does not begin an operation in
North Waziristan within a few weeks.
If the North Waziristan operation is delayed for a few more months, it is
unlikely the Kandahar offensive will be effective, while the Taliban are
strengthening in Helmand and, Kabul and Uruzgan provinces, besides Khost,
Paktia and Paktika (bordering North Waziristan and South Waziristan) and Kunar,
Nuristan and Nangarhar in the east.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to visit Pakistan next
month for another round of dialogue in which officials are likely to address
Pakistan's strategic as well as economic interests. There could be some fiery
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]