A zero-sum game

Updated on Aug 31, 2012 07:11 AM IST

The rumour doing the rounds in Islamabad is that the Pakistan army may be planning to conduct an operation in North Waziristan (NW), a restive area that borders Afghanistan. Ayesha Siddiqa writes.

None | ByAyesha Siddiqa

The rumour doing the rounds in Islamabad is that the Pakistan army may be planning to conduct an operation in North Waziristan (NW), a restive area that borders Afghanistan. It was initially Central Intelligence Agency chief Leon Panetta who announced the Pakistan army's intention to undertake an operation. He also claimed that the army will probably target the Pakistani Taliban only and not the Taliban in general. The terrorist attack on the Pakistan Air Force's Aeronautical Complex at Kamra followed Panetta's disclosure. This chain of events raises two questions: first, does the military have strategic capacity to launch an operation in NW? Second, did the army chief ever intend to start an operation at all?

There is no evidence that the army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, means business when he talks of an operation in NW. Notwithstanding an old policy of not touching the Haqqani Network because they are not unfriendly towards the Pakistani State, the real issue is that of preparing the military and society for a possible operation. Thus far, there is no evidence to support the idea of a plan except for a political statement that the army chief made at the military academy in which he talked about the biggest threat to Pakistan being terror.

A natural question that comes to mind: isn't making such statements and publicising what might have transpired between the American intelligence and the army without making preparations tantamount to exposing the military and the country to greater threats? It is not a secret that the Haqqani Network does not operate in a vacuum but with the help of numerous other groups that are operating freely in the country. General Kayani should have planned an operation to mop up these other groups before launching an operation in NW.

It is important to note here that there is no clear-cut division between the friendly or non-friendly Taliban. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of militant groups operating in Pakistan: (a) friendly group(s) such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), (b) fence-sitters such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HuJI), and (c) the unfriendly groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, all these categories are problematic because those who eventually become part of the third category initially join one of the first two. The military and its intelligence unit have continued to keep its contacts alive with the first two for information on new entrants joining the bad Taliban.

Nevertheless, none of the groups is above board as there is no mechanism to control these groups. So the Qari Yasin group, which is held responsible for the Kamra attack, might be dangerous at this point in time but the fact is that it was once a part of the HuJI. But the more important issue is that there is no evidence of the military taking action in curbing any of these groups.

Analysts like Amir Rana of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies believes that the Haqqani Network has made links with the TTP and other groups which also means that today the Haqqani Network has greater capacity to strike the State. So, does the army chief want the military and the State exposed to greater threat as he announces the launching of an operation?

Could this be a recipe for another failed policy initiative? Since an increased threat from the Taliban will make Pakistan vulnerable, there will always be an excuse to roll back the operation. There are domestic political forces such as the militant-friendly Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which was recently launched by Imran Khan, which will protest against any American-sponsored initiative. Even if General Kayani calls an operation in NW Pakistan's own war, Khan and his partners - some of whom like Sheikh Rasheed and General Hameed Gul are rabidly pro-Taliban - will paint any military operation as one forced by the US.

There are serious issues of strategic capacity of the military in launching an operation. It is not just about having the right number of war machines, the aircraft and the guns and tanks, but about having the doctrinal and operational capacity to launch an operation. There are forces within the military that are at least ideologically inclined towards the Taliban.

There is no evidence of a rollback of the original policy to support militant groups. But even if that was the intent, the problem is that the army is not trained in counter-insurgency operations. In fact, evidence suggests that counter-insurgency operations in South Waziristan and Swat areas resulted in greater collateral damage and that had angered the civilians. A counter-insurgency operation is always tough and problematic, as is clear even in India, because there is always the temptation to use greater firepower and force that causes needlessly high casualties.

The general might have announced the operation to keep the pipeline with the US running. But the operation is a non-starter. If it does happen in the next two to three months, it may not reap the results Pakistan wants as the military is not ready to experiment. The political fallout of any operation in North Waziristan could do more damage to the country than benefit it.

Ayesha Siddiqa is an Islamabad-based writer and author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy

The views expressed by the author are personal (C) Right Vision Media Syndicate, Pakistan

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