Earlier this week a senior commander of Haqqani Network and two other militants were killed by a US drone strike in Fata. COAS casually repeated the mantra that drone strikes are ‘counterproductive‘, but for the most part the incident has been quietly ignored. Only Shireen Mazari has been beating the drum of war against America while criticising the Army Chief for being too sheepish. This raises the question, what is different about this drone strike from others that have been turned into national
For one thing, there is the obvious. Pakistan is poised to win the Champions Trophy, and against none other than India itself. The truth is right now is the perfect time to do any dastardly thing that you don’t want anyone to notice because quite honestly everyone is paying attention to one thing and one thing only and that will continue till at least the next few days.
However, there is something else going on I think which is that there is uncertainty in the halls of power about just how far to push the Americans in the Trump era. Just a few days ago, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary told the Americans that Haqqani Network ‘have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there’. Was he lying or was he merely uninformed? Either way, the fact that the Americans carried out a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in Fata just days later shows that they already knew he was trying to sell them counterfeit goods. Was this strike the Americans sending a message that the old ways were not going to be tolerated any longer?
There have been other messages sent loud and clear, such as the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announcing that ‘The president has asked the question specifically about our level of support and funding to Pakistan’ and that the US is ‘beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan’. Is it a coincidence that these announcements came on the heels of a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in a place that our government swore they could not be?
Whatever our past strategies toward the Americans have been, the election of Donald Trump as president has changed matters by creating much more uncertainty about how we will be viewed and whether our strategic concerns will be appreciated. Strategies of the past that involved turning a blind eye to pro-Pakistan militants are not going to go unnoticed today. That is something, unlike this week’s drone strike, that we cannot simply ignore.
The US Pentagon has announced that they will not pay Pakistan $300 Million in promised Coalition Support Funds despite “the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has undertaken” because it is “not yet certified that Pakistan has taken sufficient action against the Haqqani network“. The announcement did not come as a surprise as American officials warned their Pakistani counterparts about it one year ago.
In response, Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria has reiterated the position that Pakistan is taking action against all terrorist groups without distinction. However, at the same time Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar reiterated that Pakistan makes a careful distinction between who it terms as ‘terrorists’ and who is considered as ‘freedom fighters’.
There is a difference between terrorism and a freedome movement: Pakistani Interior Minister Ch Nisar at SAARC home minister’s moot in ISB
This is the point of divergence between Pakistan and US policy. We agree that some groups, like TTP, are terrorists, but other groups, like Haqqani Network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, we support as ‘freedom fighters’.
It may have been a clever and lucrative strategy to carefully manage appearances about our policies towards certain militant groups, but now that there is no financial benefit it is time to reevaluate the cost of confusion and give a complete explanation of our policies and priorities. By hiding our true intentions, we were giving unnecessary weight to our critics who say that we are playing a double game. If we support Haqqani Network and other militant groups as ‘freedom fighters’, let us at least be open and honest about it and explain our reasoning. What do we have to lose?
The US Congress has passed another law that threatens to cut off aid to Pakistan unless we take action against Haqqani network militants. Sirajuddin Haqqani was a top deputy of Mullah Mansour, and now it is expected that he will be named Amir of Taliban following Mansour’s death in an American drone strike. Haqqani is also considered by some quarters to be pro-Pakistan. Several years ago the top American military commander termed Haqqani network as ‘a veritable arm of ISI‘, secret US documents say ISI paid Haqqani to attack a CIA base in Afghanistan, and even when Army carried out attacks against the Haqqani network, they were ‘tipped off‘ in time to get away.
The death of Mullah Mansour has put Pakistan in a dangerous position. If Haqqani is named as Amir, will we be willing to carry out attacks, or will we finally put an end to our alliance with the international community in the fight against the Taliban? In 2001, US President George Bush gave the choice ‘you are either with us or against us’. It looks like we are facing the same question again. Will we make the same choice this time?
Major General Athar Abbas served as Director General ISPR between 2008 and 2012, but it is his more recent statements to the press that have really made headlines. Speaking to a journalist, the retired General has accused former COAS Gen Kayani of cowardice, suggesting that the former Army chief did not order an operation in North Waziristan out of fear. But it is not these accusations that should terrify us, after all we have not heard Gen Kayani’s explanation. What should truly terrify us is something that Gen Abbas let slip that has far greater consequences for our national security.
Despite losing over 3,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians, there was always some confidence that GHQ had a plan and that, when the final accounting was complete, Pakistan would be stronger and better positioned. Use of jihadi groups as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir may have resulted in some tallies in the liability column, but these would be more than made up for in the final summing of the assets column. Since the past few weeks, however, the wheels seem to have come off and security analysts are quietly pondering the unthinkable: Has the military lost control?