Richard Barrett, coordinator of the UN Al Qaeda-Taliban Monitoring Team and a former British intelligence officer, in an interview with Anirudh Bhattacharyya on Pakistan and its terror problem.
Q: What sort of results do you expect from Pakistan’s operations in South Waziristan?
It’s a very difficult area to operate in. And indeed the remaining weeks of the year in which the army can operate successfully are fairly limited. I imagine towards the end of next month, the winter conditions will begin which will make it very difficult for the Pakistan Army to continue major ground operations.
Expectations shouldn’t be terribly high but I’m sure what the army wishes to do is to assert some control in some of the key areas of South Waziristan.
Q: What is the fallout going to be?
Failure is not an option for the Pakistan Army. Whatever happens, they’ll have to claim success. And failure for the Pakistan Taliban is also not an option ... So, it’s very difficult to see that this campaign will come to a very positive outcome in the remaining weeks available.
Q: How does Hakimullah Mehsud differ from Baitullah Mehsud?
Hakimullah has a reputation as being rather uncontrollable, a bit of a hothead, a man who takes risks perhaps needlessly. Maybe he doesn’t have the strategic vision, the long-term vision you might have associated with Baitullah. He’s a man, I would have thought, who would fight first and think about it later. I think Hakimullah will be less easy to strike an effective deal with than Baitullah.
Q: You spoke about the alliance the Tehrik-e-Taliban was forming with the Punjabi groups. What form have these alliances taken?
They’re probably relatively strong. No doubt, the attack on the Pakistani Army HQ is a very high-profile, deliberate attack, was seen to support the objective of both. I think there must be joint training if they’re operating together.
Q: Do you think the Pakistan government and army will go after these Punjabi groups? One hears the army is very close to these groups.
I think in the past I’m sure they were. I don’t think anyone disputes that. But the point is these Punjabi groups have morphed since then, they’ve got out of control. They’re not doing what the army would like them to do.
Q: Pakistan authorities would like LeT to return to its original form, as a potential asset. Isn’t that right?
That is true. What I mean by an asset is a group that did things according to your bidding rather than did things independently. They could tolerate their existence if they didn’t do anything unless they were told to do so.
Q: It is said that Pakistan takes a different view towards groups that threaten its internal security and towards groups that threaten India.
Our opinion in the United Nations is that all these groups are affiliated and tied together so you can’t cherry pick. You can’t say if I deal with that, the other ones aren’t a problem. They’re all a problem and the one group supports the other groups ...
Q: Does the Al Qaeda feel comfortable with its base in Pakistan?
It does seem comfortable there. Some Al Qaeda members have been in Pakistan for close to 20 years. They’re probably very well established there. Also, in that area they have been able to make allowances with local people and live relatively untroubled. In Afghanistan, it’s a little bit harder for them.