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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pakistan—plots and subplots—the story unfolds

In recent articles we have reported on the Pakistani attacks in the Northwest Territories and questioned the Army’s objectives and suggested that numerous side deals had been made with anti US militants. This drama continues to unfold. The Pakistanis are:
The Pakistanis are...
• Suggesting peace talks with the Taliban while threatening offensive action
• Saying that their offensive has been cancelled only to reverse themselves
• Rebuffing the Obama administration’s diplomatic calls for more offensive actions
• Remaining silent on recent reports of US attacks by armed Predator and other types of unmanned aerial vehicles against targets along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border
• Uncertain as to the future of the government based upon a recent Supreme Court ruling

Pakistani leaders recently signaled a willingness to conduct talks with the Taliban while the prime minister announced that military operations may be considered in a Taliban-controlled tribal area. Prime Minister Gilani said the government will talk to the Taliban before it considers launching an operation while the Interior Minister said he would discuss Taliban offers with political parties that are sympathetic to or who support the Taliban. Negotiations are allegedly on the table. Reports are that the Taliban in Pakistan had approached the government four times to offer peace talks. In the past, the Pakistani government has negotiated with the Taliban under the guise of intermediaries. These arrangements have allowed the government to deny it directly negotiates with the Taliban. The peace agreements in Swat and a multitude of peace agreements in North and South Waziristan were negotiated with "tribal elders."
The military and the government have previously signaled they are unwilling to enter North Waziristan, where three Taliban groups all shelter al Qaeda and a host of Pakistani jihadist groups who conduct attacks against Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani announcement comes as a back drop to visits to Islamabad by both General Petraeus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who conducted talks with Pakistan's powerful army chief General Kayani. President Barack Obama's plan for turning around the unpopular Afghan war topped the agenda. He is reported to have discussed the "evolving regional security situation with particular focus on the revised US strategy for Afghanistan and the region, especially its impact and short and long term implications for Pakistan," a military statement said.

The administration’s plan has been criticized in Pakistan where they fear a troop surge in Afghanistan will send more militants into Pakistan, while a draw-down date will embolden Islamist insurgents on both sides of the border. Admiral Mullen reportedly expressed concern about "growing" collusion between Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups sheltered in Pakistan. He also is reported as trying to pressure the Pak Army to dismantle Taliban strongholds in its lawless northwest tribal area and stop militants slipping over the porous border to attack NATO and US troops. Pakistan’s focus has been on homegrown militants who attack domestic targets and they have tried to make “deals” with other militants. According to reports, Pakistani Army Chief of Staff, General Kayani, told the Americans that Pakistan’s Army already had its hands full in fighting enemies of Pakistan and that Washington should take stock in Pakistan’s limitations and stop making unrealistic demands. What he didn’t say is that the Pakistani focus remains on India, but it does.

Recent reports indicate that the US military killed 17 terrorists during two airstrikes in the Taliban-controlled tribal area of North Waziristan. The first airstrike occurred when a Hellfire missile fired by either a Predator or a Reaper unmanned aircraft slammed into a vehicle parked outside a home. Two insurgents were reportedly killed in the attack. The second strike occurred when five or six unmanned strike aircraft fired upwards of 10 Hellfires in a cave complex, a compound and a vehicle. No senior al Qaeda or Taliban leaders were reported to have been killed in the strikes. These attacks against the Taliban elements that the Pakistan government is talking about negotiations with may in fact make such negotiations more difficult if not impossible by making these Taliban elements more hostile to the government and for the military’s hand. Could this have been their purpose? Islamabad has been silent on this so far.

In a possibly related event the Pak Supreme Court threw out a law that granted amnesty to some past politicians including the minister of defense and the prime minister. The implications of this court decision are still developing, but government uncertainty and the possibility of near term elections probably places more power in the hands of the Army which is the ultimate power broker in Pakistan anyway.

Pakistan is key to the Obama administration’s efforts in Afghanistan and the above tea leaves are not optimistic in predicting the direction that the Pakistani government will go.
Posted By Cindy Carnahan At 9:47 AM • Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)
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