Categorized | South Asian Politics

Sharif government reluctant to launch against Taliban, Military not so much

Posted on 28 May 2014 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

Lahore     

  The second round of Afghanistan’s Presidential election will be held in mid-June between Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Both have similar views on foreign policy and how to deal with the Taliban. The new Afghan President will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States that would permit the stay of around ten thousand American troops in Afghanistan. They are expected to maintain the control of two airbases. However, these troops will not be doing any internal security duties. The Afghan National Army and Police will be responsible for internal security and control of the Afghan Taliban.

 The relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s new president will be greatly influenced by how the two governments deal with the Taliban challenge. When the Afghan Taliban step up their activities after the withdrawal of American/NATO troop how would the Afghan government deal with them? How far these Afghan Taliban would use Pakistani tribal areas as a refuge place and what would be their relations with Pakistani Taliban?

 On the Pakistani side the issue would be the relations between Pakistan’s federal government and the Pakistani Taliban. Will Pakistan’s security forces establish firm control of the tribal areas, especially North Waziristan? What kind of control Pakistan maintains on the Pakistan-Afghan border to check the movement of militants. It is generally believed that if Pakistan could not increase its control of the tribal areas by the end of 2014, Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban will develop strong organizational relations and they will support each other against their respective governments. This will add to the security problems for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  Currently, a section of Pakistani Taliban operates from Afghan territory closer to Pakistani border where the Afghan government has a limited control. Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan, is based in Afghanistan. Similarly, Afghan Taliban cross over to Pakistani tribal areas.

 If, after the withdrawal of US/NATO troops from Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban posed a serious threat to the Kabul government, it could blame Pakistan of letting these Taliban use Pakistani tribal areas or it could blame Pakistan’s ISI for supporting the Afghan Taliban.

 Pakistan will have its grievances against Afghanistan. The strengthening Afghan Taliban will embolden Pakistani Taliban, especially their leadership based in Afghanistan. They will also increase their challenge to Pakistan’s security forces in the tribal areas with the objective of expelling them out of the tribal areas. They can also invoke their networking with Pakistan’s mainland based militant groups to increase violence in Pakistani cities.

 Pakistan’s problems will increase if the Afghan Taliban threaten the Kabul government and Pakistani Taliban become strong in the tribal areas. A good number of Pakistani madrassas sharing Islamic-Maslak with the Afghan Taliban may start sending volunteers in support of Afghan Taliban with the cooperation of Pakistani Taliban. If Pakistan does not have effective control of the tribal areas it will not be able to control such support activity by some Pakistani madrassas for Afghan Taliban. In the 1996-2001 period, a good number of Pakistani madrassas used to send their students to Afghanistan for support-activities for the Taliban fighting against the Northern Alliance.

 These problems can be dealt with effectively by Pakistan if its civilian and military leaders decide to assert their commanding position in North Waziristan and other tribal areas and reinforce border control on Pakistan-Afghanistan border before the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. If this happens Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities will be better placed to cope with the pressures generated by the increased activity by Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban will not be able to use Pakistani territory for their agenda in Afghanistan. This will also make it difficult for the Afghan based Pakistani Taliban to enter Pakistan freely and engage in violent activity against Pakistani state institutions and people. The control of the tribal areas will weaken the capacity of Pakistani Taliban to engage in violence in Pakistan’s mainland.

  The Pakistan Army top command recognizes the importance of asserting its authority in North Waziristan and other tribal areas. It is also conscious of the need of increasing security control on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The top Army commanders have made up their mind to demonstrate their military power in North Waziristan. They do not want to let this summer pass without any solid action against Pakistani Taliban.

  The major obstacle to any firm and comprehensive military action in North Waziristan is Pakistan’s federal government. Nawaz Sharif and his close advisers are not so far ready to publicly endorse any military action. This is one of the irritants in the federal government’s relations with the Army top commanders.

  So far only one round of talks has been held directly between the federal government and the Taliban which was inconclusive. The Taliban have repeatedly rejected Pakistan’s constitution and law as un-Islamic. However, the federal government continues to hope that some political arrangement is possible with Pakistani Taliban.

 Over the last four weeks the Army and the Air Force have launched air and ground raids on Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan as retaliations to the Taliban attacks on the troops and others.

  An important meeting of Pakistani civilian and military authorities was held on May 20, 2014. The Army top command was said to have expressed the view that the dialogue with the Taliban was dead. A day after this meeting the military took a firm air raid and ground action in North Waziristan.

 It appears that the military will launch a major security operation in the tribal areas before the end of June. If the civil government continued with the current hesitation on the issue, the military could launch the operation by itself. 

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