Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pakistan-U.S. Deal Aims at Haqqani Network

ISLAMABAD - U.S. and Pakistani officials appear to have sealed a wide-ranging counterterrorism agreement, including clauses aimed at the Haqqani network and its safe havens in North Waziristan.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar before their meeting on Sept. 18. (Stan Honda / AFP via Getty Images)
But much remains unclear about the specifics.
The deal appears to have been a major topic of conversation when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabani Khar met Sept. 18.
The following day, U.S Ambassador Cameron Munter called the deal a "substantial agreement," according to a report by the Associated Press of Pakistan.
A senior State Department official said the Pakistanis understand "the threat that the Haqqanis pose to them, and I think they recognize it's time for them to take action."
Yet the day after that, Khar played down the notion that Pakistan had been pressured to act against the network. The APP quoted her as saying the "stakes were very high in Afghanistan, and Pakistan was aware that it will have to deal with the baggage when the conflict was over."
She was alluding to the long-standing Pakistani fear that turmoil will follow a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan, as happened after the Soviets left.
Just what action, if any, Pakistan will take against the network is therefore uncertain.
Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, said he does not believe a full-scale military campaign to clear North Waziristan is possible in the near term, not least because the Army has its hands full.
"At the moment, in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and its surrounds, there are over 100,000 army troops," Cloughley said. "They cannot be redeployed from what they are currently doing, which is conducting operations and maintaining stability in the region."
He said the Army had hoped to at least hand over the Swat region to civil administration, "but there is no competent civil administration, and it will take another year at least for one to achieve even a semblance of capability in running affairs; same with Orakzai and other agencies."
He said if such an operation took two years, it would involve about 60,000 men, of which 1,000 could probably expect to be killed and 3,000 wounded, and he questioned whether Pakistan is willing to pay such a price.
Previous shortages of key equipment such as gunship and transport helicopters remain, as are mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles such as the indigenous HIT Burraq.
However, analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, said the military, having retrained and re-equipped, is now far better placed to mount an operation than it was.
He said the military is now much more experienced in fighting in the difficult terrain. Moreover, it has added helicopters, taken delivery of better Air Force munitions, linked the Navy's P-3 Orions' signals intelligence collection to Army ISAR assets, and improved coordination between the Army and the Air Force.
But Waqas Sajad, who directs the Institute of Strategic Studies here, said he believes other factors are staying Pakistan's hand. He said the Haqqani network had forged a "quid quo pro" with the Pakistani authorities. Moreover, it was well financed. Finally, it has people distributed all over Pakistan. Whether these operatives number in the hundreds, or potentially into the thousands, is unknown, but the possibility that they could open a "new front" all over the country is real, he said.
Sajad said there was, therefore, a limit to what Pakistan could do, but this did not mean it would do nothing. He said that although the "high command" of the network may now be in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military had the option of targeting an associated peripheral group.
He also said Pakistan should push to have the network included in negotiations to secure peace in Afghanistan, more so than groups and individuals who may perhaps have previously been influential but who do not hold much sway now.

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