Unreasonable American demands

While the US is now openly acknowledging that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is in negotiations with the Taliban, with its blessings, it has kept putting pressure on Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan where a powerful Afghan Taliban group known as the Haqqani network is said to be holed up.Defence Secretary Robert Gates told American journalists the other day that “They [Pakistanis] have talked about taking action in North Waziristan, and our hope is that they will.” Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff adopted a rash line, saying “General Kayani has committed to me to go into North Waziristan, and to root out these terrorists,” adding, “he clearly knows what our priorities are”.Indeed, Islamabad’s stated position has been that it will go into that part of Fata at a time of its own choosing. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reiterated that stance while responding to a local journalist’s question about Mullen’s remarks. He said “the government is committed to taking action wherever any terrorist threat exists, but before taking any such decision it will consult the political leadership as it had done before launching operations in Swat and South Waziristan.”

That is how it should be in democracy. In fact, COAS Ashfaq Parvez Kayani himself has averred on earlier occasions that the military needs the backing of the people in order to succeed in its ongoing war against terrorism. The people must assume its ownership. Which is why the government has been working hard to convince the public it is ‘our war’, not ‘theirs’. Mullen’s presumptuous remark that “he knows what our priorities are”, to say the least, is unhelpful.Pakistan, of course, has its own priorities that may be different from those of the US. Washington’s main interest at this point in time is to obtain a face-saving end to the war so it can go back home. Islamabad has to look beyond the end as well, because it is to remain where it is located to deal with the aftermath.

It needs to decide on its own whether or not it should launch a military operation against the Haqqanis, who are Afghans and have a role to play in the future shape of things. Nonetheless, its apparent reluctance to go into North Waziristan may have to do with another important consideration. Those familiar with the situation say all kinds of extremists have taken refuge in the area, and launching a military operation there would be akin to touching a hornet’s nest. Prudence, therefore, advises a policy based on patience and tactical measures.It certainly suits the US’s objectives to have Pakistan put military pressure on the Haqqanis to improve its negotiating position in the talks Karzai is conducting. But, as noted earlier, Pakistan has to think of the future too. It is good to note that this important reality is recognised by Washington as well. And Pakistan has a place at the negotiations table in Kabul.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley acknowledged as much, saying at his Friday’s briefing that “in the present strategy, we are focusing significant attention not just on Afghanistan but also on Pakistan, because we do understand that the solution to the region rests on both sides of that border.” Hopefully, other American officials will also display a better understanding of Pakistan’s position and refrain from making demands that smack of imperial hubris – Brecorder