Pakistan hedges on Taliban as West seeks talks

At the Asia Times, Syed Saleem Shahzad explains how the fruitless US/NATO attempts to conduct high-level negotiations with the Taliban and President Obama’s “dithering” over the path forward in Afghanistan have impacted the Pakistani military calculations. According to Shahzad, the Pakistani Army has opened channels to al Qaeda and has put off pursuing the Taliban into North Waziristan:

The original instigators of the deal, Western capitals, are silent spectators now while Pakistan’s military establishment (mis)reads the situation in the perspective of a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. It is preparing a contingency plan under which all the major players in the Taliban-led insurgency will be invited for talks.

The army has already approached powerful commanders in the Lashkar-e-Zil (Shadow Army) section of the Afghan resistance. The message is that in the event of a withdrawal of foreign troops, the Pakistan military should be viewed as a friend, as it is in no way opposed to the Muslim resistance.

The message was sent to al-Qaeda through commander Ilyas Kashmiri, and to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through his commanders, Abdul Ghafour, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Hakeemullah Mehsud. The message referenced a recent statement by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, “I have offered London as a venue in January. I want that conference to chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished. It should identify a process for transferring district by district to full Afghan control and set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010.”

Militant sources who spoke to Asia Times Online interpreted Brown’s speech as an indication that international support for the “war on terror” is waning and that it would not be possible for the US to operate alone.

A perception of this wavering has also influenced the Pakistani military. An armed forces spokesperson claimed recently that the army had reached the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan after a month-long campaign, and taken control of all key positions. The next step, under pressure from the US, was to have been to move into neighboring North Waziristan, the purported headquarters of al-Qaeda and the largest Taliban-led group, the Haqqani network.

However, the military, given the signals coming out of Britain, Italy, France and Canada, and the dithering of US President Barack Obama over sending more troops to Afghanistan, is not prepared at this point to extend its operations. [emphasis mine]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • T Ruth says:

    Bill thanks for the link.
    I am happy to see you use the word “dithering” in your intro even if it is in quotes.
    Equally interesting is Ravi Rikhey’s blog dated 11/26 where he says:
    “If President Obama were to tell me: “I must make Afghanistan secure in its freedom, and I need you to sacrifice toward this noble goal,” what do you think would be my response? It would be: ‘Sir, I ask only that you keep (in mind)other countries where freedom is needed, such as Saudi Arabia and China; promise me you will do what you can for freedom everywhere, and I will follow you.’
    Instead, what both President Bush and Obama have done is lied to me. No, I was not so naive as to think Mr. Obama would actually follow through on his promises regarding Iraq and Afghanistan.”
    One needs to read the whole piece in order to see the context
    Worth the read, while we wait with bated breath for Tuesday.

  • Aamer says:

    Since when has Hakeemullah Mehsud become a commander of Gulbudin Hekmatyar? Mr. Saleem Shahzad has a rich imagination.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I had a similar question, I think this is an issue of the wording, I have sent him an email for clarification.
    He has been extremely accurate in his coverage, I am loath to chalk that up to imagination.

  • Armchair Warlord says:

    No North Waziristan operation on account of Obama’s “dithering”? Seeing as how Obama has apparently dithered his way into 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan (and I doubt that includes support personnel so it’s probably more like 60,000) this seems extraordinarily tone-deaf, even by Pakistani standards.
    I doubt the Pakistanis ever intended to launch a North Waziristan operation in the first place, and the South Waziristan operation they did launch has looked more like a parody of a military operation than a serious attempt to attack the Taliban.
    Hopefully Obama’s new grand strategy for the war recognizes that Pakistan is a basket case fighting on all sides of this war and has real measures to do something about it. What those might be I’m at a loss to guess at.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    AW, I agree, I don’t think the Pak Army intended to go into N Waziristan in the first place. Then again Many of us didn’t expect to see them go into South Waziristan (well, part of it, but still into the teeth). I am mixed on the South Waziristan op, as are many military/intelligence types I have spoken to.
    That said, the failure to set Afghan policy in a timely fashion hurt our ability to arm-twist on North Waziristan. As does the we’re out of Afghanistan in seven years statements, we want to negotiate with the senior Taliban, etc. This has stiffened the resolve of the Taliban and gave them ample grist for the propaganda mill.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I received a clarification from Syed Saleem Shahzad, here was his response: “All messages were sent separately. To Al-Qaeda through Ilyas Kashmiri, to Gulbadin Hekmatyar through Abdul Ghaffour, and to Sirajuddin Haqqani and Hakeemullah Mehsud separately.”


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