North Waziristan – The key to peace in Pakistan

Pakistani army getting ready to attack North Waziristan.

Bilal Khan of Revolution Observer writes how the Pakistani army’s offensive in North Waziristan against the Taliban only strengthens the US and India.

Over the past sev­eral weeks the Pak­istani mil­i­tary under­took a series of airstrikes in North Waziris­tan, a strong­hold of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pak­istan (TTP). The lat­est of these strikes claimed 30 lives and were in response to the exe­cu­tion of 23 para­mil­i­tary sol­diers in the Mohmand Agency. The exe­cu­tions were in response to the extra-judicial killings of 23 TTP held pris­oner by the gov­ern­ment (which secu­rity offi­cials denied). In effect, the Pak­istani forces and the TTP have locked them­selves in a series of vio­lent exchanges.

Peace talks

This recent surge in vio­lence comes in the midst of a num­ber of inci­dents. Talks between the TTP and the Pak­istani govern­ment have effec­tively bro­ken down. How­ever, it was clear from the onset of the process that Nawaz Sharif was never seri­ous about resolv­ing the con­flict (in Pak­istan) through talks.

Com­pound­ing this sit­u­a­tion has been the pre­vail­ing envi­ron­ment of inse­cu­rity and insta­bil­ity in the coun­try result­ing from bomb­ings and other vio­lent activ­i­ties in major cities, such as Peshawar. Although an all-out offen­sive in North Waziris­tan has yet to take place, plans for the oper­a­tion have report­edly been set and are await­ing the approval of General Raheel Sharif, the Chief of Army Staff. Nonethe­less, the recent air strikes were suf­fi­cient to spur the TTP leadership to declare “war” against the Pak­istani mil­i­tary. Com­bined with the exist­ing insta­bil­ity in the region (e.g. Peshawar bomb­ings), a new con­flict between the mil­i­tary and TTP will plunge Pak­istan into another costly con­flict with itself.

Sup­port­ing the US-led War on Ter­ror has already cost Pak­istan upwards of $100bn in the way of direct costs and indi­rect impacts. In effect, another con­flict between the two sides will serve to weaken Pak­istan and the Tal­iban, and on the other hand, strengthen America’s capac­ity to main­tain a firm hold of the region.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Upon assum­ing office, Nawaz Sharif was vocal in his call for con­duct­ing talks with the TTP. How­ever, as far as the con­flict within Pak­istan is con­cerned, achiev­ing a gen­uine solu­tion was never an objec­tive. The pop­u­la­tion sought an end to the inter­nal fight­ing and insta­bil­ity, and the promise of talks was pushed by Nawaz Sharif as a means to partly sat­isfy pub­lic dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

How­ever, the terms set by Nawaz Sharif essen­tially demanded the uncon­di­tional capit­u­la­tion of the TTP, whereas the TTP demanded that Sharif and his gov­ern­ment cease coop­er­at­ing with the US. It is clear that Sharif never intended to accede to such demands, espe­cially after he per­son­ally went to Wash­ing­ton in Octo­ber to secure $1.6bn in Coali­tion Sup­port Fund­ing for use in fight­ing the TTP.

TTP

Despite its sin­gu­lar label, TTP is still at heart a coali­tion of dif­fer­ent armed groups from the tribal areas. Groups belonging to dif­fer­ent tribal agen­cies are sus­cep­ti­ble to hold­ing vary­ing views of thought on pol­icy. For exam­ple, the Mohmand Agency chap­ter of the TTP allegedly splin­tered and called itself “Ahrar ul-Hind” in order to denounce the talks between the TTP and Nawaz Sharif gov­ern­ment. This dynamic makes TTP sus­cep­ti­ble to a lack of agree­ment and coor­di­na­tion on pol­icy, and at worst, infil­tra­tion and exploita­tion by out­side elements.

As in prior years, the con­flict within Pak­istan will have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the wider region, par­tic­u­larly in regards to America’s pres­ence in Afghanistan. With the Bilat­eral Secu­rity Agree­ment (BSA) tabled, the US intends to main­tain a long-term pres­ence in South-Central Asia. How­ever, given its fis­cal and eco­nomic trou­bles, as well as the sheer expense of its cur­rent over­seas efforts (cost­ing $85bn+ in 2014), this pres­ence must be rel­a­tively light. In order to achieve that goal, the Tal­iban must cease being an active bel­liger­ent against US inter­ests in Afghanistan.

TTP is a loose coalition of different tribal groups from NWFP.
TTP is a loose coalition of different tribal groups from NWFP.

A full-scale oper­a­tion in North Waziris­tan would result in weak­en­ing the Taliban’s capac­ity to fight in Afghanistan, espcially since the tribal areas in Pak­istan have been a zone of mobi­lisa­tion, train­ing and sup­port (since the Soviet occupa­tion in the 1980s). If the Tal­iban are crit­i­cally weak­ened, the US would be in a bet­ter posi­tion to pull the Tal­iban onto the nego­ti­at­ing table in Afghanistan, and in the process, neu­tral­ise the Tal­iban as a threat.

The US have already made moves towards open­ing talks with the Tal­iban. If the Tal­iban are forced to accept the status-quo in Afghanistan (e.g. the BSA), the Amer­i­cans can pro­ceed with main­tain­ing a sus­tain­able pres­ence in the region.

The sec­ond major achieve­ment of an offen­sive in Waziris­tan would be the weak­en­ing of Pak­istan. By hav­ing to sus­tain a war within its own bor­ders, Pak­istan will have to sus­tain exces­sively high costs to its econ­omy and sta­bil­ity. This in turn will undoubt­edly derail the objec­tives of its mil­i­tary, i.e. to strengthen its strate­gic capa­bil­i­ties, mod­ern­ise its equip­ment and main­tain itself as a viable threat to India.

Pakistan’s fis­cal prob­lems have already scut­tled a num­ber of major pro­grams, such as the FC-20 (aka J-10B) fighter purchase from China, among oth­ers. Another con­flict over Waziris­tan suits Amer­ica pre­cisely because it keeps a coun­try with increas­ingly strong anti-American sen­ti­ments too dis­tracted (and inca­pable) of threat­en­ing US inter­ests in the region, espe­cially in the long-term.


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