ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Despite $2 billion in U.S. military aid for an offensive against militants in North Waziristan, Pakistan claims it’s too risky to launch an operation against Taliban and al Qaeda operatives in the remote tribal region, after having said for years that a lack of resources had delayed the offensive.
Pakistani officials and analysts on the region say there are two reasons for the delay: Pakistani intelligence maintains links with militants in the area, and Islamabad fears the offensive will trigger a backlash of large-scale terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, the senior military leader in the region, said recently that Pakistan will consider mounting an anti-Taliban offensive in North Waziristan only when other tribal areas are stabilized, which he said could take six months.
“What we have to do is stabilize the whole area. I have a very large area in my command. … The issue is I need more resources,” he told reporters during a recent visit to the Orakzai agency.
The general is said to be concerned about threats from North Waziristan-based militants.
North Waziristan is a key staging area for the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani Network, the Pakistani Taliban group known as the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, and al Qaeda, in addition to smaller Islamist groups.
The U.S. has pushed for several years for Islamabad to launch a major military operation in North Waziristan, particularly aimed against the Haqqani Network, which has been behind deadly attacks on U.S. and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network, headed by the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahedeen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, operates a large network of fighters in the eastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. It is based in the Danda Darpa Khel area near the border with Khost, the ancestral home of Haqqanis.
According to knowledgeable Pakistani sources, the Haqqani Network receives support from elements within Pakistani intelligence agencies that view the group as a vehicle for promoting Islamabad’s political and strategic interests in war-ravaged Afghanistan after international forces leave.
The Pakistani government previously blamed its reluctance to carry out an offensive in North Waziristan on a lack of resources.
However, the United States pledged to provide $2 billion to Pakistan’s military during the recent strategic dialogue in Washington, and Islamabad indicated that it was ready to initiate the offensive.
The militants in North Waziristan braced for the offensive and sounded a stern warning to the country’s authorities by threatening an “endless war.”
A pamphlet distributed by the Mujahedeen Shura of North Waziristan cited the militants’ “concern” about military action and noted the $2 billion aid package from the United States.
The handbill stated that if the Pakistani army launches an offensive in North Waziristan, local residents will migrate to Afghanistan “where President Hamid Karzai is the ruler.”
“Then an endless war would begin and we would continue our jihad until the end,” the pamphlet stated.
The Mujahedeen Shura of North Waziristan is really the name for the dominant Pakistani Taliban group in the district led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the Haqqani Network.
The pamphlet is unusual because the Gul Bahadur group had been considered pro-Pakistani government and was not linked to terrorist or militant attacks. But the group has been regularly recruiting, training and sending militants to fight U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Similarly, the Haqqani Network is not known for conducting attacks inside Pakistan.
In the region, the Gul Bahadur group also shields the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda and other Central Asian and European fighters, particularly German Islamists.
A tribal leader from the Utmanzai tribe of North Waziristan told The Washington Times that the Haqqanis are feeling the heat for the first time.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, the leader said the Haqqanis fear a military offensive will make them scapegoats for Pakistani authorities. To pre-empt the offensive, the Haqqanis are warning Islamabad of an “endless war” through their ally Gul Bahadur.
The tribal leader said the Haqqanis did not make a direct threat in a bid to avoid upsetting Pakistani decision makers. “However, they have made a veiled threat by telling Islamabad that if the offensive in North Waziristan is launched the militants would shift to Afghanistan and launch huge attacks against Pakistan,” the leader said.
The threat to cross the border into Afghanistan appears to be a psychological tactic by the militants to play on Islamabad’s traditional worries about its vulnerability from a hostile Western neighbor in Afghanistan.
Afghan rulers traditionally have harbored separatist Pakistani Pashtuns and Baluch ethnic groups, including militants. Former Afghan ruler Sardar Daud Khan was the architect of “Pashtunistan Movement” that sought to seize Pashtun areas of Pakistan, such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), to form “Greater Afghanistan.”
Since 1973, Pakistan has pursued a policy of cultivating Afghan mullahs on its soil as a counterweight to hostile Afghan nationalists. As a result, Islamabad has supported the Afghan Taliban, the Hizb-e-Islami of warlord Gulbadin Hikmatyar and the Haqqanis.
“However, this policy has had a huge blowback effect on Pakistan in the shape of a rise of religious extremism and unimaginable proliferation of militant groups in the country,” said Ashraf Ali, a Pakistani analyst on the Taliban.
Mr. Ali said that “wrong choices” by Islamabad have caused the Haqqanis and other otherwise pro-government Pakistani Taliban groups to begin threatening Pakistan.
The North Waziristan-based militants also signaled to Pakistani authorities through the pamphlet that they would conduct a fundraising effort to collect $2 billion for the Pakistani army so that Islamabad would not have to launch an offensive for U.S. aid.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that he was assured by Pakistan’s army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, that there will be an offensive in the tribal region along the Afghan border.
“He has committed to me to go into North Waziristan and to root out these terrorists as well. … He clearly knows what our priorities are. … North Waziristan is the epicenter of terrorism. … It’s where al Qaeda lives,” Adm. Mullen told Bloomberg Television.
Pakistani sources said the government has sought to pressure the Haqqani Network by sending key Afghan Taliban leaders currently held in Pakistan, including Mullah Kabir, Mullah Sedre Azam and Mullah Anwarul Haq Mujahed, to Afghanistan for secret talks with Mr. Karzai.
The purpose of talks, according to the Associated Press, is to weaken the U.S.-led coalition’s most aggressive enemy, the Haqqani Network. The network has stark disagreements with the Mullah Mohammed Omar-led Afghan Taliban, despite coordinating their operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan.