Playing with Fire

The past month will go down as one of the most politically volatile and grisly periods in Pakistan’s history. Where the nation was still reeling from the superfluity of ‘gates’, scandals and courtroom theatrics, this week brought news of Taliban resurgence; the presence of TTP safe havens across the border; the killing and beheading of seventeen Pakistani soldiers, during a cross border skirmish by Afghan Taliban in north-western district of Upper Dir.

A video released on Wednesday by the Pakistani Taliban revealed that the erstwhile count of seven beheadings was actually higher. A voice recording by Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud  precedes gruesome footage of the heads of seventeen officers lined on a white sheet. Intelligence gathered suggests the militants were the TTP faction expelled from Swat that regrouped in Afghanistan under Maulvi Fazlullah. Pakistan criticized NATO and Afghan forces for lapse in security which allowed the hundred strong militants to raid the Upper Dir check post. Very little sympathy was offered as Pakistan has time and again refused to carry out operations in the Upper Dir region where the Haqqani Network has built safe havens.

The attack brings attention to the threat posed by the TTP despite several army offensives against them. TTP now not only commands presence on Pakistani territory but also has the ability to carry out sneak attacks from across the border. There is little love lost between TTP and Pakistan’s military; however both have intelligence and diplomatic ties with the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.  When the Lake side Hotel was besieged this week, the Haqqani Network was blamed and by extension so was Pakistan. Reports, rumors and the fortuitous timing suggest that the attack on Pakistani soldiers was carried out in retaliation for allowing the Haqqani Network to operate freely in the Waziristan region. Since planning a Military Operation in the area is now underway it would seem to be a mission accomplished. However assuming this to be mere conjecture, the question remains: How can Pakistan unfreeze its rigor mortis?

Pakistan’s diplomatic strategy with militant outfits in the region has so far yielded scant benefits. It has on the other hand been forced to deal with international isolation, US pressure; massive slashes in foreign aid and drone strikes which ended up killing more civilians than militants. On the other hand Pakistan claimed to use foresight in the matter: after 2014 when US presence in Afghanistan fizzles to a few training brigades, the popular Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network are expected to get up and usurp their former position of power. The deadlocked attempts by Karzai to hold talks with the Taliban and discuss a strategy for power sharing are a cause for embarrassment for the Afghan government and will lead nowhere. In such a situation developing close ties with the Taliban makes sense. Once the US leaves Pakistan will have to secure its border and counter terrorism on its own. In light of recent events however such a strategy needs a thorough reevaluation.

America and the Karzai government are currently looking towards India to assume the power of economic and political ‘lord protectorate’. The chasm that develops in the absence of US will be filled by another strong regional power. Billions of Indian Rupees have already been invested in Afghanistan and Foreign Minister SM Krishna has begun encouraging private investment there too. Two scenarios present themselves: once the US leaves these investments might become targets for the Afghan Taliban who historically have not warmed to India and might try to expel them by targeting their economic interests. In this case a Taliban friendly stance by Pakistan will leave it sandwiched between hostile Afghanistan and India; as well as flood in international back lash for supporting terrorism in a country. The ensuing isolation and economic sanctions is something we’re not new to but not fond of either. On the other hand reports suggest that the Taliban have already recast their rhetoric vis-à-vis India and might not even oppose it. Pakistan loses either way. Thus a thorough reevaluation of our diplomatic ties with these outfits is required. Once Pakistan sends the message to the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban that they are not welcome anymore it might see a resurgence of terrorist activity by TTP within the country. Such a move needs to be anticipated and counter measures must be taken in advance. A political approach should of course be the first step but considering the rigidity of Afghan Taliban in sitting down for power sharing talks, it might not lead anywhere.

While an operation in the region is the modus operandi, a joint operation with the US might lead to swift but not so agreeable results for Pakistan. Mistrust and outright dislike for America might turn into full-fledged hatred. This mistrust and dislike while mutual, has made political representatives of Pakistan belligerent towards the US and the issue of reinstating GLOCS has been shelved till an apology from the US is received. Such an attitude might lead the masses to heap laurels on Foreign Minister Khar but the writing on the wall spells trouble for all those who don’t comply.

Pakistan at this stage has enough internal political and economic problems to eat away at the nation’s grey matter. The energy crisis has reached unprecedented levels and there are no signs of measures being taken to salvage the situation. At this point terrorism and cross border attacks are a blow to Pakistan’s Achilles heel. Whether this was a bare faced message from the US or our ‘brothers’ across the border, fact of the matter is it is high time the War on Terror ended. Instead of negotiating favorable terms of engagement and apologies six months after the Salala incident occurred, GLOCS should be brought to the Parliament floor without further ado. By asking the US to build metaled roads along the supply route, Pakistan can not only gain for itself infrastructure that way but also ensure greater trade and jobs along the route.

More importantly Pakistani politicians need to end the rat race to one up each other for political gain. It’s time to stop cheating the masses by telling half truths and playing blame games; the public needs apt leaders to bring it on board with policy makers at this point. If fundamentalist leaders approach the grass roots to gain support for their cause our politicians need to take up the mantle to start countering the situation festering by the minute.

As far as Pakistan’s foreign policy is concerned, joint military and political cooperation with Afghanistan, India and US is required to achieve a viable semblance of peace in the region. We need to start recognizing India as a key player in Afghanistan and play our diplomatic cards right. Our strategy of aloofness has not gained much at this point and now that one of the most politically strategic military operations is soon to take place, Pakistan needs to be backed by as many ‘strategic partners’ as possible.

Spearhead Analysis – 29.06.2012

By Sarah Eleazar
Research Analyst
Spearhead Research