- by Harris Bin Munawar
When America’s top military official hinted at direct US action in the tribal region where it believes Pakistan shelters and works with the anti-American Haqqani Network, among the first to respond was the network’s top leader. “The US would suffer more losses in the North Waziristan Agency than they did in Afghanistan,” Sirajuddin Haqqani said, daring the US to send its troops into the tribal region that the Pakistani army itself has refused to enter.
This means: 1. His network is entrenched in North Waziristan 2. It is their responsibility to defend the agency 3. They would prefer to do so over several years in Afghanistan-style guerrilla warfare
Pakistan Army says it is not ready to take on the influential pro-Taliban leader, effectively giving up a claim on the territory he controls.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani says a raid on the Haqqani Network would be an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty, as if the defence of North Waziristan has been outsourced to the Haqqanis.
Prone to the drone:
If Pakistan Army indeed lacks capacity, or will, to reclaim North Waziristan where Afghan insurgents are believed to hide, regroup and plan new attacks, that means it has no effective control over the region.
Pakistan says that: 1. Its army does not have the means or resources to control that territory 2. The government will lose political credibility if it orders an operation in the North Waziristan 3. Taliban reaction to such an operation will destabilize the entire country
If that is correct, Pakistan has lost de facto control over the area and it cannot claim sovereignty. That gives the US a justification to go after its enemies itself. And that is what the US does with missile attacks by unmanned aircraft.
A government that has been holding tribes collectively responsible for violations committed by their individual members has no moral authority to suddenly invoke modern notions of justice or mourn the death of innocent civilians who shelter the Taliban.
So little leverage:
If Pakistan is collaborating with, or supporting, or merely avoiding confrontation with a group it has long-standing ties with, a group it believes or hopes will have a significant role in the post-US Afghanistan, there is no reason it will stop doing that for an ally that is about to leave the battlefield.
Washington wants to put its foot down. It wants Pakistan to stop supporting its enemies. But “the problem is”, security analyst Caroline told Reuters, “we have so little leverage”. Because:
1. America cannot engage in a long-term battle inside Pakistan with its economy worsening, troops thinning, and a complete withdrawal from the region already announced
2. It has no identifiable target in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network does not have too much of a stationary central command that it could attack
3. Now that they are expecting an attack, members of the group will disperse
4. If the IsI is supporting the Haqqani Network, killing one or two of its leaders will not significantly hurt the group’s capability to attack US interests
What can America do?
1. The US can make a May 2 style incursion into Pakistan and go after the top leader of the Haqqani Network. After his father Jalaluddin Haqqani’s retirement, Sirajuddin the most influential insurgent figure in that region. But the impact of his killing might not be more than that of the killing of Osama bin Laden
2. It can make a number of simultaneous raids under air cover on several key targets in North Waziristan – people or buildings that might include Pakistan Army’s check-posts. Like the May 2 raid, the legitimacy of the operation will depend on how successful it is
3. The US can carry out a series of individual strikes followed by periods of calm. That way it will continue to meet its goals and embarrass the Pakistan Army, while making sure the tipping point is never reached
4. Washington can impose an economic embargo on Pakistan, stop all aid, freeze its accounts and declare the ISI a terrorist organisation. It can also use its influence on international agencies to end all aid and loan programs to Pakistan. That will be deathblow to Pakistan’s ailing economy
5. It can increase drone strikes in the Tribal Areas and take out targets with virtual impunity
Neither of these steps is new or extraordinary, and neither of these steps will dramatically reverse the US predicament in Afghanistan.
What can Pakistan do?
Any US move against Pakistan does not have to be new or extraordinary to hurt Pakistan. Pakistan Army has influenced public opinion in the past to create an anti-America feeling that it can then cite to seek concessions from the US. In doing that, it has entrenched itself into a position where it will have no choice but to respond to a US strike.
As an immediate response, Pakistan can:
1. Retaliate and fire at intruding US aircraft or men. Claims have been made that Pakistan can shoot down predator drones, but it is less likely Pakistan can detect and attack US fighter aircraft. The Osama bin Laden raid has also raised doubts about Pakistan’s ability to detect and attack intruding helicopters
2. Carry out a delayed but full-fledged counter-attack on US bases in Afghanistan that it believes were used in attacks on its soil. That may lead to a US counter-counter-attack and an all out war. How long can Pakistan sustain that war is an important question
3. Increase attacks on US interests through any Taliban factions or other insurgent groups that are ready to support Pakistan. If Sirajuddin Haqqani has made an offer to defend North Waziristan, the Pakistani military might take them up on that. Sooner or later, the US will withdraw anyway. But is there a guarantee these groups will not go rogue like many in the past? Can a modern Pakistani republic reconcile with their version of the Muslim faith?
4. Step back and start an operation in North Waziristan. But with the US leaving, will Pakistan want to alienate its supporters in Afghanistan? One way to deal with the problem is to continue the policy Pakistan is accused of. The army can hide key figures of the network and then conduct a fake operation for several months until the US is pressured by its politics or economics to leave the region. But then, how will Pakistan deal with the network and reclaim its territory after the US leaves?
5. Not retaliate with a military move, and just end diplomatic ties with the US, losing a key source of aid. Closing down NATO supply routes will hurt the US immediately. But if the supplies are stopped for too long, the US will find new, although more expensive, ways to get supplies to Kabul. If that happens, Pakistan would have burned up a very important advantage.
6. Go to China for help. China’s key security officials came to Pakistan last week. Pakistani analysts saw that as a sign of support. But the Chinese delegation is on a scheduled visit to discuss terrorists hiding in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas that fight against China in its Xinjiang province. It is not likely China support Pakistan on some of the possible plans we have discussed. Nor is it in China’s interest to jump into a US-Pakistan conflict.
Can Pakistan sustain a war?
Opinion leaders in Pakistan believe the resource-rich republic can sustain confrontation with a defeated US empire. Such self-deception has cost Pakistan dearly in the past. Let us look at the key resources needed in a war:
Troops: Pakistan does not have enough troops to guard both the Indian and Afghan border. We have grouped India with the US as a matter of policy, and will have to pay for that by being sandwiched between two hostile neighbours
Weapons: The weapons and equipment used by Pakistan Army come from the US and its allies. That means we will soon run out of ammunition and cannot repair or service the equipment
Money: Pakistan’s economy cannot pay for a war, especially after an embargo by the US. Hit by floods two years in a row, suffering from an energy crisis, cash-strapped because of huge government spending, and dependent on foreign aid, how long will its money last?
Communications network: Pakistan’s communication system can not bear the burden of war with a dysfunctional railways. With engine shortages and trains stopped half way for up to 20 hours because there is no diesel, how will Pakistan fight a war?
Intelligence: If Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are to be believed, they had no clue about the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in Pakistan, a planned US raid to kill him, or even about the activities of Raymond Davis and CIA contractors like him. On the contrary, it is accused of targeting journalists who there is a general consensus are not American agents. Pakistan’s intelligence network does not look like it is ready to fight a war
Diplomatic support: Every single country in this region was hurt when Pakistan had influence in Afghanistan the last time. Insurgents from China and Central Asia were sheltered and trained in Afghanistan, Iran was unhappy because tens of thousands of Shias were massacred, and India was among the victims of guerrilla warriors too. The International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia is asking for former ISI chief Gen Javed Nasir. Who in the region will support Pakistan in its battle to control Afghanistan?
Domestic politics: Hundreds of people have been killed in ethnic and political battles in the crime-infested economic hub Karachi, Punjab is suffering from a new epidemic, Sindh is submerged in floods, Balochistan is fighting an insurgency and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is dysfunctional because of terrorism. Pakistan’s domestic situation is less than ideal for a war.