Pakistan, US undeterred by Afghan setback
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - The recent American withdrawal from the strategic Korangal Valley
in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar was largely seen among the old-guard
mujahideen as a replay of the Soviet withdrawal from that area in 1986.
After the Red Army left the valley, the mujahideen, operating from their bases
in the Pakistani tribal areas of Bajaur and Mohmand directly across the border,
had a free hand. They subsequently opened up a path all the way to the Taghab
Valley in Kapisa province that eventually led to the mujahideen attacking the
capital, Kabul. Within three years, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan.
The withdrawal of American forces from Korangal Valley is a
direct result of the failure of the Pakistani armed forces to tame militants in
Mohmand and Bajaur, where as in the 1980s, they have vital bases in support of
the struggle across the border.
In August 2008, Pakistan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
launched a joint military campaign, "Operation Lion Heart", with the Pakistanis
concentrating on Bajaur and Mohmand and NATO targeting Nuristan and Kunar in
After eight months the operation was declared a success, but it soon became
apparent that the militants had simply dispersed into the Hindu Kush mountains
and after a few months they came back with renewed vigor and by November 2009
had forced NATO to withdraw from three of its four main bases in Nuristan.
Pakistan launched another operation in that month and claimed that all of the
Taliban's top commanders had been killed. This was not the case and the
militants fought on, culminating in the American pullout from the Korangal
"The reason for the failure of Pakistani troops in the tribal region is their
naivety," a senior United States official told Asia Times Online in Islamabad.
"There is no doubt that the Pakistan army is fighting against the militants
with maximum conviction. Their earlier mindset has very much changed, before
they thought of the militants as their boys who could be tamed at any time.
"Former president [General Pervez] Musharraf's unpopularity was very heavy
baggage for the military and after his departure [August 2008], by which time
the militants had expanded their presence up to Swat and Buner, the Pakistan
army had become such a joke that the military leadership decided to restore its
image at all costs, and so they went very hard against the militants. For us
[the US] this was a big change. Now they consider the militants as a bigger
threat than we do," the official said.
"Now the problem is not a lack of conviction but a lack of professionalism. For
example, we are blamed for drone attacks and for the collateral damage they
cause. Drone attacks might be killing a few additional people, but when the
Pakistan army conducts operations in the tribal areas they unnecessarily turn
whole areas into rubble.
"Undoubtedly they routed the militants, but in the process there is no place
for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people to come back. That is
one example of their non-professionalism. Now they are asking us to provide the
money for rehabilitation work and delays are allowing the militants to come
back," the official said.
Despite this view, relations between the Pakistan military and the US are at an
all-time high, with unprecedented levels of coordination.
The US official also had his views on the arrest in February of Mullah Abdul
Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's supreme commander in Afghanistan. He was appended
in the Pakistani port city of Karachi during a raid by Pakistani and US
"The Pakistan army's mental block about the Afghan Taliban is still there. They
still believe them as their connection in Afghanistan. Mullah Baradar's arrest
was not deliberate, it was a mistake," the official said.
"At the time of Baradar's arrest, all the [Pakistani] bosses [chief of army
staff and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence] were in
Brussels. We got a hint that somebody very important was lurking in Karachi. We
informed them [Pakistanis] and jointly we went there. At the time of the arrest
neither we nor the Pakistanis were aware that they had rounded up Baradar," he
"It is quite possible that he will be disconnected from the Taliban, but he has
not been useless. We knew that Baradar had treasures of information so we used
our rapport with Pakistan and now we are getting access to Baradar and are
getting precious information from him," the official said.
After being joined in an often stormy marriage of convenience in the "war on
terror" for nearly a decade, Washington and Islamabad are now beginning to
trust one another. Pakistan is ready to give up its concerns and fully
facilitate the American war in Afghanistan and the Americans have overcome
their worries that Pakistan will use US military aid against India.
On Tuesday, Pakistan and United States signed a US$65 million contract in
Washington for the transfer of the USS McInerney. The contract for the
"hot transfer" of the Perry-class guided-missile frigate was signed by senior
officials of the two countries. Under the agreement, the Pakistan navy will
take over the vessel on August 31.
The sale of the frigate, which will be inducted into the Pakistan navy as PNS
Alamgir at a ceremony in the US, was approved by the United States
Congress in September 2008.
Commissioned in 1979, the frigate will be handed over after a refurbishment
that includes anti-submarine capability that has been paid for with the foreign
military aid provided by the United States to friendly countries.
The successful conclusion of this contract will pave the way for the
acquisition of more vessels of the same class. Pakistan is designated a major
non-NATO ally and is able to receive older unneeded US military equipment. The
US is also expected to transfer some technology related to unmanned drones.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com