Indications of an army operation in North Waziristan

In an Independence Day speech that is being interpreted in certain quarters as an indication of the military’s willingness to launch an operation in North Waziristan, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Tuesday sought to take full ownership of the war on terror, adding that no state can afford a parallel system.

“The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we will be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this,” Gen. Kayani said while addressing the Azadi Parade at the Military Academy in Kakul; a stone’s throw away from the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed.

While making out a case for fighting terrorism, the COAS said: “We realise that the most difficult task for any army is to fight against its own people. But this happens as a last resort.”

Given that these remarks were made amid speculations of a possible operation in North Waziristan, analysts here saw in it a possibility of a military campaign in the tribal area.

In fact, on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta was quoted by the media as stating that “Gen. Kayani did indicate that they have developed plans to go into Waziristan”. Though he was unable to state when, Mr. Panetta said: “The indication that we have is that they are prepared to conduct that operation soon.”

Last weekend, there were reports that Pakistan had asked the U.S. to seal the border along North Waziristan on the Afghan side to ensure that terrorists aligned to the al-Qaeda and Haqqani network do not flee into Afghanistan in the eventuality of an operation against them.

Pakistan has for years resisted launching an operation against the Haqqani network — held responsible by NATO for many of the major attacks inside Afghanistan — and this has been a major strain on the country’s relationship with the U.S. The long stalemate over North Waziristan has apparently resulted in Washington calling it the “most delayed operation”.

Though Pakistan is alleged to have been providing safe haven to the Haqqanis with a view to ensuring a friendly dispensation in Kabul after the NATO draw down, Islamabad’s contention for refusing to launch a broadside against the group is that it cannot afford to open too many fronts at the same time as that would force the military to spread itself thin. Also, the Haqqanis have never attacked Pakistan. Since this has been the stated position of Pakistan, Gen. Kayani’s Independence Day address is being seen as an effort to prepare the ground for an escalation of the ongoing effort against terrorism.

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