Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the commander of XI Corps, which directs military operations in Pakistan’s northwest, poured a bit of cold water today on the prospects of an operation in North Waziristan. In an interview with the press, Malik described the reports of a impending operation as “media hype” and said Pakistan would launch an operation “when it is in our national interest militarily.” From Dawn:
Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the corps commander supervising all military operations in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told reporters: “We will undertake operation in North Waziristan when we want to.”
“There has been a lot of media hype about the operation,” said Malik in the Mohamad Gat area of tribal district Mohmand, where the military flew reporters to show off apparent progress in battles against home-grown Taliban.
“We will undertake such an operation when it is in our national interest militarily,” the general said, describing North Waziristan as “calm and peaceful as it was weeks ago”.
Asked whether there was a need for such an operation, he said only: “Maybe ultimately we will go to North Waziristan”.
General Malik’s comments come one day after Pakistani military officials told Dawn that any operation would be limited in scope and would target only the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
In background interviews with Dawn, military commanders ruled out the possibility of a full-scale operation like the one launched in South Waziristan and said it was ‘unfeasible’ because of difference in ground realities.
South Waziristan, they said, was a “no-go area” when they launched a major military offensive in October 2009 to flush out terrorists. “But the northern part has a massive presence of military and there are peace pacts with tribes that cannot be ignored.”
The army has a division of troops stationed in the agency with headquarters in Miramshah and brigade level command centres in Mirali, Dattakhel and Razmak. The other factors preventing an all-out assault are its inhospitable terrain and geographic isolation.
A senior officer said: “The operation will be very selective and intelligence led.”
The military assessment is that there are only two to three pockets having terrorist presence which need to be cleared.
Although the military officials didn’t explicitly talk about sparing the Haqqanis, one can make out from the conversation that there is still no shift in policy about the group. They are of the opinion that the Haqqani network is more of a myth and the threat posed by it has been exaggerated.
A major target, it is said, will be Tehrik-i-Taliban militants who took refuge in North Waziristan after having been dislodged from south. “It will indeed be a big achievement if we succeed in neutralising some of the suicide bomber training centres,” an officer said.
Something that lends further credence to the possibility of a very limited scope of the operation is that military commanders aren’t expecting a major displacement from the region. On the contrary, press reports have suggested that aid agencies were directed several weeks ago to prepare for exodus of over 350,000 people from the area.
I am now going to refer you back to my post from May 30 that provided a snapshot analysis of what a military operation in North Waziristan might look like. Note I said that if the Pakistani military does move, it would be a “limited operation” and would exclude the “good Taliban” factions:
1. The primary target is the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. This does not include Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network and Bahadar’s Taliban faction. This would be similar to the limited operation in South Waziristan in the fall of 2009, when the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan was targeted but Mullah Nazir’s forces were left intact (Nazir, who recently affirmed he is an al Qaeda commander, openly controls half of South Waziristan to this day, and continues to shelter al Qaeda and other terror groups).
6. As noted above, the Haqqani Network and Bahadar’s Taliban faction, both of which are viewed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence services as “good Taliban,” will be spared, despite the fact that these two groups have violated a two-year-old peace agreement with the military that prohibited them from hosting the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other allied terror groups. The Haqqanis and Bahadar’s Taliban faction have violated this agreement from the very beginning, but the Pakistani state has refused to hold the groups accountable.
The Pakistani military, if it does act, will do just enough to be able to placate the US by being able to say it has moved into North Waziristan, while not actually doing enough to reduce the threat the so-called “good Taliban” pose by sheltering al Qaeda and other terror groups as well as launching attacks into Afghanistan.
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