U.S. wants Pakistan to pursue Taliban-allied group
the Pakistani government has balked at going after the Haqqani network
in North Waziristan, which Islamabad considers a potential ally in
By Alex Rodriguez
December 28, 2009
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan
Pakistan forges ahead with its bid to uproot Taliban fighters from
tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, its troops are
bypassing an enemy that the Obama administration desperately wants
Rather than expand on its gains in South Waziristan and drive into
North Waziristan to tackle the Haqqani network -- a wing of the Taliban
that views U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan as its principal
target -- the Pakistani military is now focusing its attention on
driving Taliban militants from their strongholds in the surrounding
tribal regions of Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber.
One reason Pakistan has refused to go after the Haqqani network, a
senior Pakistani official says, is that it doesn't have the manpower to
fight concentrations of militants on multiple fronts. Pakistani troops
are deployed in the Swat Valley, from which they drove out Taliban
fighters in a large offensive in the summer. An additional 30,000
troops are winding down major operations in South Waziristan, the
Pakistani Taliban's primary hub.
Many of those fighters fled to nearby tribal regions, such as
Kurram and Orakzai, which is why the Pakistani military has stepped up
airstrikes in those areas to prevent militants from establishing new
bases. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani said the
army's next major deployment of ground troops may target Orakzai.
"First we would like to consolidate and stabilize, and not get
into something that overstretches us," said the official, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
The bigger reason for Pakistan's reluctance to cooperate, however,
lies in the government's ardent belief that the Haqqani network, led by
Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, does not
pose a direct threat to Pakistan.
Instead, a friendly relationship with the Afghan Taliban is seen
by many Pakistanis as a valuable hedge against Pakistan's archrival,
India, meddling in Afghanistan. Pakistanis also view the Haqqanis and
the rest of the Afghan Taliban as crucial players in Afghanistan's
future once the U.S. pulls out. At that point, Pakistan would prefer
the Taliban as an ally and not a foe.
"The Americans will leave in 18 months, and the Taliban won't be
defeated. If Pakistan has earned the hostility of the Afghan Taliban,
it will be in trouble," said Javed Hussain, a retired brigadier and a
former special forces commander. "This concern of Pakistan's is
genuine. We cannot afford to earn the wrath of the Taliban and the
In recent weeks, President Obama has sent several top officials to
make the case for going after the Haqqani network, including Gen. David
H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, Adm. Michael G. Mullen,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and James L. Jones, the national
security advisor. Although Pakistan so far has balked at Obama's
demands, U.S. officials have not given up.
"I'm not going to give a grade to a work in progress," said
Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and
Pakistan, during an appearance on PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show" on Dec.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's reluctance may prompt an increase in U.S.
Predator drone strikes in North Waziristan and the rest of the tribal
areas. On Dec. 17, U.S. drone strikes killed 16 people at suspected
militant hide-outs near Miram Shah, North Waziristan's largest town.
The next day, another drone strike killed six suspected militants in
the same area.
Drone strikes have become a cornerstone of Obama's strategy against Al
Qaeda and the Taliban in the border region. At least 10 suspected
senior Al Qaeda operatives have been killed in such strikes since
August 2008. The use of drones has angered Pakistanis, who argue that
the strikes kill mostly civilians and trample on their country's
But the Pakistani government tacitly allows the strikes, which
frequently target the Haqqani network.
"These drone attacks are disadvantageous for the U.S.," said
Fakhrul Islam, a tribal areas expert at Peshawar University. "The
Pakistani population isn't happy with these attacks, and they give the
Taliban a chance to talk about the killing of innocent people as a
result of drone strikes."
Pakistan's stance toward the Haqqani network is rooted in its
nearly 30-year relationship with Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Pashtun warlord
who organized mujahedin fighters against Soviet troops in the 1980s. At
the time, he had nurtured ties with Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence agency, as well as with the CIA.
Haqqani has maintained strong ties with Pakistan despite
Islamabad's alliance with Washington. Now believed to be in his late
50s, he has handed over control of his network to his son, Sirajuddin.
Hussain said the Haqqanis run a fighting force of about 5,000 that
splits its time between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Haqqanis' alliance with Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur,
also based in North Waziristan, further complicates Pakistan's strategy
in the area. Bahadur agreed to not interfere with the army's operations
in South Waziristan against the rival Pakistani Taliban faction led by
Hakimullah Mahsud. A military push into North Waziristan now might be
viewed by Bahadur as a betrayal of that agreement.
Some of the Al Qaeda militants who fled South Waziristan are
believed to be hiding in North Waziristan. The desolate, largely
ungoverned territory may also have become a sanctuary for top Al Qaeda
leaders. Although U.S. leaders say they have no firm knowledge of Osama
bin Laden's whereabouts, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said
this month that the Al Qaeda leader is probably in North Waziristan.
Pakistani officials say that Al Qaeda remains a priority for them
but that now is not the right time for troops to move into North
"Uzbek and Arab fighters from South Waziristan are on the run, and
there are elements of [Al Qaeda] in North Waziristan," the senior
Pakistani official said. "But when one has the plate full, one does not
want to get into a conflict where you dilute your power. Then you
2009 Los Angeles Times