attacks could have serious implications for Pakistan (Comment)
Three days before Pakistan elected its 14th president, on
Sep 3, at 3 a.m., two CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters
landed in the village of Zawlolai in South Waziristan with
ground troops from the US Special Forces. The troops fired
at three houses and killed over 17, including five women and
four sleeping children.
This was the second known ground attack by the US forces in
Pakistan. In 2006, US heli-borne troops had landed in the
border village of Saidgi in North Waziristan. But this was
a far more bigger and intense attack.
Besides the two helicopters carrying the Special Forces commandos,
two jet fighters and two gun-ship helicopters provided the
air cover for the half-hour operation, more than a kilometre
inside the Pakistan border.
The Sep 3 attack, and the subsequent missile attacks, raise
several issues and questions that would have serious implications
for Pakistan, the region as well as the world.
First, it is an attack carried out in a sovereign state without
its permission, and is an indication of US intentions in the
Second, the attack betrays a sense of desperation in the US
(Bush) administration and a misplaced reliance on military
offensive to cover up a colossal strategic failure in stemming
the tide of terrorism in Pakistan's tribal areas which has
been visible since early 2002. The US could have utilised
its hold over the Musharraf government in 2002-07 to counter
the growth of the Al Qaeda-Taliban network in the tribal areas.
In fact, the strategy which the US seems to be adopting in
the present round of attacks - targeting the terror leadership
- could have been easily achieved during Pervez Musharraf's
time, much before 2007, since he was chief of the army staff
(COAS) and president, and had absolute control over the civilian
Third, the killing of civilians, especially women and children,
would certainly raise the anti-American feeling within Pakistan,
not long a strategic ally in the war on terror, particularly
within its armed forces and intelligence agencies without
whose help the US-led war on terror would remain crippled.
Pakistan Army chief Pervez Kayani's uncharacteristic outburst
against the US attack reflected the growing dissent within
the top hierarchy of the military against the US and its desperate
military actions in the recent past. In 2007, when US Predators
had attacked a seminary in Bajaur, Musharraf was hard pressed
to placate his Corps commanders who were quite unhappy with
The unilateral action would certainly jeopardise the US-Pakistan
cooperation in countering terrorist groups in the tribal areas.
Fourth, the attack, protested strongly by the villagers first
who blocked the Wana-Angoor Adda road for five hours, would
only strengthen the extremist and terrorist groups in the
area and their anti-US agenda. The 2007 attack on a Bajaur
seminary, which killed over 80 people, most of them young
students, had helped the terrorist groups to enlist more recruits
to their cause. The South Waziristan attack would not only
help the terrorist groups consolidate their hold over the
areas they already occupy but, by exploiting the strong anti-US
feeling, also expand their support base in the settled areas.
Fifth, and perhaps the most critical, is the impact it would
have on the life and tenure of General Kayani and the new
President, Asif Ali Zardari, both widely seen as pro-US. If
such attacks were to continue, Kayani would come under pressure
to take a divergent stand on his army's alliance with the
US counter-terrorism strategy or else face a forced resignation
or a possible coup. Zardari certainly has far bigger trouble
on his hand with the US belligerence heralding his election
as president. Zardari's hold over his party and the country
is at best tenuous and the US attacks, either by the ground
troops or missiles shot from Predators (12 drone attacks in
2008 as compared to three in 2007), is certain to undo his
toehold in Islamabad.
The sixth fall-out is what follows naturally from weakening
the position of the new president, who also happens to be
the head of a relatively liberal Pakistan People's Party (PPP)
and the new army chief who had, till now, agreed to go along
with the Americans in going after the `bad guys`. A weak president
and a defensive army chief are not the signs of stability.
Seventh, and perhaps the least understood, is the impact such
attacks would have on the Pashtun sentiments. The Pashtun-Punjabi
divide may not be as deep as the Punjabi-Baloch schism, but
the military operations in the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas
in the past seven years have caused visible rifts in the ethnic
fabric of the area. The rift became apparent during the security
operations in 2006 and 2007 when a larger number of Frontier
Corps men, all Pashtuns, either refused to fight or surrendered.
The mutinous reaction within the paramilitary force had a
fallout in the army too where at least 15-20 percent of the
men, and officers, are Pashtuns. The American attacks on Pashtuns
and the military offensive in tribal areas, particularly Bajaur
and Swat, have driven about 400,000 Pashtuns to migrate to
safer areas in the North West Frontier Province and Punjab.
This could translate into an expanding arc of anti-American
(perhaps anti-army) sentiment in Pakistan.
(Wilson John is a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer
Research Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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