Tuesday 15 December 2009

The North Waziristan Conundrum

The New York Times reported today (Pakistan Rebuffs U.S. on Taliban Crackdown) that Pakistan’s army was refusing to open a new front against the 12,000-odd Taleban forces led by Siraj Haqqani, a member of the Quetta shura and erstwhile leader of North Waziristan. Three main reasons are listed for this refusal:

a. Pakistan is already engaged in open warfare in South Waziristan, and cannot afford to open a “third front”;

b. Pakistan’s intelligence service has long had Haqqani as an asset, and is positioning itself for influence in Afghanistan after the US withdraws;

c. Pakistan needs a loyal counterweight to prevent an “encirclement” by India, which is investing $ 1.2 billion in Afghanistan.

It shows just how twisted the logic has become when the article reports that

"It considers Mr. Haqqani and his control of broad swaths of Afghan territory vital to Pakistan in the jostling for influence that will pit Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran in the post-American Afghan arena, the Pakistani officials said."

Really? What could be so interesting about Afghanistan that would cause all these countries to “jostl[e] for influence?” Afghanistan has few resources, and conspiracy theories about Caspian Sea oil pipelines aside, there’s practically nothing there worth fighting for. Any benefits will be far less than the costs.

To compound the irony, Siraj Haqqani’s father, Jalalludin Haqqani, received weapons from the CIA, channelled through Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The son is now fighting against his father’s former paymasters.

But leave it to the ISI to come up with a convenient solution:

"Because Mr. Haqqani now spends so much time in Afghanistan — about three weeks of every month, according to a Pakistani security official — if the Americans want to eliminate him, their troops should have ample opportunity to capture him, Pakistani security officials argue."

Yeah, you can find him at the Khost Burger King every Thursday at 19:00.

You have to pity the United States: it bombed it’s way through Afghanistan in 2001, thinking it would be just another quick military campaign. It would now like nothing more than to withdraw, but withdrawing is perhaps a worse option than staying. In the meantime, the US taxpayer channels billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan each year, but sees the Taleban firmly entrenched on Pakistani territory, with no apparent solution to get them out, with the Taleban using this territory as a safe haven from which to attack US forces in Afghanistan. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

At one point in the very near future, it’s clear that public support for continued US and European engagement in Afghanistan will no longer be possible given the multitude of contradictions and fundamental irrationality of the current situation.

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