Pakistan-US plan falls into place
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The seamless friendship between the chairman of the United States
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff
General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, has cemented the relationship between the military
establishments of the two countries to levels not seen since the 1950s, when
Pakistan was a frontline state against communism.
The result is that Islamabad and Washington are in a position to implement
coordinated, long-term policies in the region, which include action against
militants, moves to improve ties between Pakistan and India, especially their
dispute over divided Kashmir, and the evolution of a broad-based, stable
civilian government in Pakistan.
However, just as the US and Pakistan have forged a united front, so too have
the previously splintered militants and groups that
oppose them in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, setting the stage for a struggle
of unprecedented proportions.
The new relationship between the US and Pakistan, supported by a host of
American advisors based in the capital Islamabad, is expected to play out on
two main fronts.
First, Pakistan will launch a comprehensive battle against all Taliban groups
in the country, irrespective of whether they are perceived as good or bad. Over
the years, there have been numerous attempts to split the Taliban by making
deals with the good ones, that is, those seen as more moderate, to bring them
into a peace process.
Second, an initiative will be made by the Pakistani government, supported by
the country's Western allies, for better relations with India, strongly
mediated by the Pakistan army. The aim will be to reopen the dialogue process
on Kashmir which was stalled following the Pakistani-linked terror attack on
the Indian city of Mumbai last November in which 166 people were killed. This
could also help in building a joint mechanism for cooperation between India and
Pakistan with the US in fighting terror.
In recent months, different militant groups located in the North Waziristan and
South Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan have united. At
the same time, an al-Qaeda group led by Abdullah Saeed is participating in the
belated spring offensive in Afghanistan - it marked this by shooting down a US
aircraft in Paktia province last week.
The powerful Haqqani network is also flexing its muscles - it is behind the
capture of a US soldier who appears on a recently released video that has
caused outrage in the US over the abuse of prisoners of war. The prisoner is
believed to be at a Haqqani base in North Waziristan. The group is beefing up
its military presence in and around the two Waziristans in an area said to be
the headquarters of three powerful networks that have allied.
The networks are that of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South
Waziristan, al-Qaeda's at the crossroads of the two Waziristans and Sirajuddin
Haqqani's group in North Waziristan.
Asia Times Online has learnt that Pakistan has gradually moved its forces into
Bannu, the principal city of Bannu district in North-West Frontier Province
(NWFP), and Dera Ismail Khan, another city in NWFP. It has also stationed
troops in the Waziristans. Tension is rising there, with the Taliban having
disrupted the supply lines of troops based in North Waziristan.
The deadline for the beginning of an all-out operation is not known. It will be
the first time that all Taliban groups are targeted - the Sirajuddin network
has traditionally been pro-establishment.
The good and now the bad
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), US intelligence and Arab states
have for many years maintained excellent relations with Jalaluddin Haqqani, the
legendary Afghan commander against the Soviets in the 1980s. Haqqani, now
seriously ill, supported the Taliban movement in the mid-1990s on the
instructions of the ISI. But the Taliban never considered him a part of the
movement, more as a warlord who had allied with them.
As a result, Haqqani was never given any significant position in the Taliban
regime. When the Taliban abandoned Kabul in the face of the US-led invasion in
late 2001, Islamabad tried hard to get him to abandon Taliban leader Mullah
Omar and become the next head of the Afghan government. He flatly refused the
proposal and went to a base in North Waziristan.
In 2006, he was elevated by the Taliban to the number one commander in
Afghanistan. Pakistan was not too concerned as Haqqani had never meddled in the
internal affairs of Pakistan, never allied with a Pakistani political party or
group and he had never supported any mutiny in Pakistan.
But now that Haqqani is ill and bed-ridden, his power has been handed to his
son Sirajuddin. Siraj's strength, like his father's, is his Punjabi comrades,
but his friendship with al-Qaeda's Arab ideologues has influenced him.
Unlike his father, Siraj is close to Pakistan militants hostile to the
establishment. The intelligence apparatus was prepared to overlook this, but
not any more.
Some while ago, Siraj's brother, Dr Naseer Haqqani, was arrested while
attending a meeting that included several wanted people. To the surprise of the
security forces, Baitullah Mehsud negotiated for his release, agreeing to swap
a few Pakistani soldiers for the detained man. Subsequently, Baitullah and
Sirajuddin became close.
This explains the failure of the recent operation to get Baitullah. It depended
on the cooperation of local anti-Baitullah tribes who happened to be Taliban,
such as those of Mullah Nazir and Gul Bahadur and the now slain Qari Zainuddin
Mehsud. Sirajuddin quickly sent messages for all commanders to unite in support
of Baitullah, and their compliance ended any hope of him being isolated.
It also explains why the Haqqani network is now in the sights of the military
as it prepares for a renewed battle against militants.
On the domestic front, the friendship of Kiani and Mullen has led to the
acknowledgement that if military goals are to be achieved, the country needs a
stable democratic government.
This explains President Asif Zardari's recent visit to opposition leader Nawaz
Sharif, the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), at his residence
near Lahore. Zardari proposed to bring the PML-N into the ruling coalition
government, possibly with Sharif as prime minister.
Sharif's reservations over extensive presidential powers are the main stumbling
block. But whether or not Sharif accepts cabinet portfolios for his party or
the premiership for himself, his party is completely onboard with the
government's national and international policies.
"In principle, Pakistan has agreed on a stable government, cordial ties with
India and support of the war on terror. But for the first time, Admiral Mike
Mullen and Ashfaq Parvez Kiani have made a joint initiative to implement this
principle under a set mechanism so that there can be no deviations," a senior
Pakistani diplomat told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity.
The militants, too, have their mechanisms in place, and they too don't plan to
deviate. A mighty collision is inevitable.