Pakistan will mount military assaults against terrorists in North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda along the Afghan border, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States vowed.
“It’s only a matter of how, when and in what manner do we conduct operations there against the extremists and terrorists,” Ambassador Husain Haqqani said in an interview at the Bloomberg Washington Bureau yesterday. Pakistan has amassed 38,000 military and paramilitary forces in the tribal area in the past few months, he said.
Pakistani military action in North Waziristan would address criticism from some U.S. officials, who have questioned whether Pakistan has done enough to drive Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda from the region. Pakistan does not want U.S. troops on the ground there, Haqqani said.
“Only Pakistan will determine what to do and when to do it,” Haqqani said. Putting U.S. “boots on the ground is not going to happen, and it’s not needed,” he said.
In 2009, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari launched an offensive against domestic Taliban militants in the Swat valley. He has extended the fight to six of Pakistan’s seven tribal regions, with the exception of North Waziristan.
Pakistan now has 147,000 armed forces in the northwestern regions, Haqqani said, noting that the previous government, led by General Pervez Musharraf, never launched assaults in tribal areas.
Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan today will be an opportunity to reaffirm the allies’ strategic partnership, and ensure that “we understand each other’s needs and objectives” and that they are “matched by operational capacities,” Haqqani said.
Pakistan’s armed forces are overstretched from manning both the Afghan and the Indian borders, and they also need better resources and training for fighting insurgents in mountainous areas such as North Waziristan, he added.
The Pakistan army’s inability to stabilize recaptured areas such as South Waziristan and Swat has left it “literally pinned down,” Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg in an October interview.
Haqqani called Biden a “very strong” friend of Pakistan who has focused on building a “long-term partnership.” Biden will meet civilian and military leaders during his trip, state- run PTV reported yesterday.
The vice president will likely “talk about providing equipment and counter-insurgency tools so that the military could take action in North Waziristan,” Talat Masood, an independent political analyst and retired lieutenant general based in Islamabad, said.
Zardari will be in Washington Jan. 14 to attend a memorial service for Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died last month. He also will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials, Haqqani said.
Asked about the covert CIA program to use unmanned Predator aircraft, known as drones, to target militants on Pakistani soil, Haqqani said his country has been “a partner” to the U.S. in cases where “the United States is using technical means at its disposal to get rid of terrorists who cannot be eliminated in other ways.”
“But we want our sovereignty to be respected and we certainly will stand up against civilian casualties,” he said.
Drone Aircraft, F-16 Sales
Haqqani affirmed that the U.S. has made a decision in principle to sell Pakistan unmanned, unarmed observation aircraft to provide “eyes in the air” in its fight against militants.
Pakistan has bought 18 new Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 jets from the United States, equipped with night-flying capabilities and precision munitions. Those aircraft, which Haqqani said are not yet fully deployed, will enable Pakistani forces to drop laser-guided and satellite-guided bombs under cover of darkness.
The Pakistani air force has so far depended on 35 older- model F-16s built in the 1980s, which Haqqani said have been used in the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas. The new jets “will be used against terrorists and extremists, whenever they are needed,” he said.
Last month, President Barack Obama concluded a review of his strategy to boost troops in Afghanistan and increase aid to Pakistan. One finding of the report was that Pakistan failed to crack down on terrorist havens in North Waziristan, harming U.S. efforts to end the Afghan war, U.S. officials have said.
Haqqani underscored that a decision to clear out the terrorist refuge in North Waziristan does not mean that his government is caving in to U.S. pressure or responding to criticisms in a White House review that faulted Pakistan for making the Afghanistan war more difficult.
While “it’s very legitimate to say we’re not meeting many benchmarks,” Haqqani conceded, “Pakistan is not being given credit for what we’ve done in the last two years” of democratic rule.
U.S. officials say militants in Pakistan have for decades enjoyed protection from some members of the country’s intelligence services who view Islamic extremists as a useful ally against India, the country’s traditional foe.
Extremists a ‘Small Minority’
Haqqani said those who support extremists in Pakistan are a small minority in a nation of 180 million. The media, he said, have given undeserved attention to the tens of thousands of radical sympathizers who rallied in Karachi in support of the alleged assassin of the Punjab provincial governor, Salman Taseer, who was killed Jan. 4. A bodyguard admitted killing Taseer over the governor’s efforts to liberalize the nation’s blasphemy law.
“Let’s be real here: 30,000 people marching in a city of 12 million is not really evidence of enormous support,” Haqqani said. “If these guys could actually get elected, they would. They use the gun because they can’t get elected.”
The government cannot immediately roll back the blasphemy law as a message to Taseer’s killer and his supporters because issues concerning religion have to be handled with sensitivity, he said. Still, Haqqani said he believes that Taseer’s killing “will be an impetus for reform.”
Haqqani noted that Pakistan’s military has lost more soldiers fighting terrorists in the last two years than any other nation, and said the Obama administration should publicly give credit to its partner for its sacrifices and accomplishments.
Anti-U.S. sentiment is strong in Pakistan, which receives billions of dollars in military, economic and humanitarian aid from Washington. “If the United States were more respectful” of Pakistan’s efforts, Haqqani said, “it would be so much easier for Pakistan to be America’s partner.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Indira Lakshmanan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.