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جمعہ، 8 اپریل، 2011

Pak sharply reacts to US assessment

The US administration in a a report on Tuesday gave Congress a highly critical assessment of Pakistan`s efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and other militants, saying that after years of work with the Pakistan military "there remains no clear path towards defeating the insurgency" that, what it claimed, thrives in the country. The semi-annual report noted a deterioration of the situation in FATA, adding that operation in Mohmand Agency and Bajaur has not yielded any tangible result for the third time in two years.

As the report comes ahead of the strategy the American President is scheduled to announce in three months about start of withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is believed that leakage of the selected portions of the document is aimed at exerting more pressure on Pakistan in accordance with the known policy of ‘do more’. The attempt to belittle achievements and sacrifices of the Pakistani people, their armed forces and law enforcement agencies, who have suffered immensely in the foreign-imposed war on terror, is regrettable and speaks for itself why there are growing anti-American feelings in the country. United States and its about two dozen allies have themselves miserably failed in Afghanistan despite huge resources at their disposal but they are expecting wonders from Pakistan, which is fighting the war at the cost of its own security and economic, financial chaos. We have been emphasizing in these columns that drone attacks are fuelling more militancy and undermining achievements of the Pakistan Army, which it has made in FATA after Herculean efforts and Washington’s own assessment of the situation in the region confirms these apprehensions. But the US remarks about Pakistan Army, though made in negative sense, are, in fact, a complement to the institution as these imply that the Pakistan Army was not blindly following American dictates and is fully aware of its responsibilities and role to safeguard security and strategic interests of the country. No doubt, Pakistan Government and Army are extending all out cooperation to the United States in the campaign against terror yet while doing so they cannot close their eyes to the national interests. Pakistan Army is rightly believed to be one of the finest, efficient and professional armies of the world and no one should expect from such an institution to play in the hands of others to harm their own motherland. In fact, it is General Ahmad Shujaa Pasha-led ISI that is bulwark against all sorts of conspiracies and intrigues to weaken and even dismember the country. We believe that American remarks would help further enhance the respectability, prestige and image of the Pakistan Army in the country.

The troubled Pak-US relationship seems headed for more choppy waters. In its latest semi-annual report to Congress, the White House has critiqued Pakistan’s lack of a robust plan for defeating the insurgency on its soil. The report says Pakistan struggles to hold areas cleared of al Qaeda-linked fighters at great cost. It quotes the example of military operations in Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies that started in January this year, the third such operation in two years. The operation has been hampered, the report argues, by underestimated terrorist resistance, poor weather (winter), the need to settle internally displaced people and the discovery of several caches of improvised explosive devices. While acknowledging the “tremendous human sacrifices” by the Pakistani forces, the report states that there seems no ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or efforts to complement the ongoing clearing operations. This means there is no clear path to defeating the insurgency despite the deployment of 147,000 forces in the area. Reports in our media say a similar situation persists in Swat, considered one of the more successful military campaigns. The reconstruction task to consolidate the hold of the authorities on the valley has gone abegging, partly because of a shortage of funds and the tawdry pace of US aid for the purpose, raising concerns about the possibility of a resurgence of the Taliban in that area. The White House report recognises the need to strengthen the trilateral dialogue with Pakistan and Afghanistan and ‘celebrates’ the survival of US-Pakistan military cooperation despite the Raymond Davis affair and strains surrounding NATO/ISAF incursions into Pakistani territory, which led to the temporary closure of the Torkham border.

On Afghanistan, the report says bloodshed, particularly of civilians, is rising because the insurgents are increasingly turning to soft civilian targets. Pakistan’s sustained pressure on the Pak-Afghan border and the denial of safe havens to Afghan insurgents remain crucial to efforts to defeat al Qaeda. Progress in the relationship with Pakistan has been substantial over the last few years, but uneven. On the other hand, absenteeism and attrition pose great risks to the quality of the Afghan national security forces, whose development is central to the US/NATO plans to begin withdrawing troops starting this June.

Meanwhile, in a reminder of the nature of guerrilla warfare, the Wall Street Journal has reported that al Qaeda is gradually returning to eastern Afghanistan, setting up bases for the first time in years in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops from the area to more populated centres. In stark contrast to the hope of the US command that the insurgents would follow the withdrawing troops to engage them in and around the more populated centres, the insurgents have stayed put and expanded their territorial influence in the vacuum left behind by the US troops.

The two reports above point to the same phenomenon: the protracted nature of insurgency and counter-insurgency, involving many such see-saw changes of control between the contending sides. If the White House report criticises Pakistan for having to conduct operations again and again in ‘cleared’ areas as evidence of a lack of ‘hold’ strategy, the same could be ascribed to the Petraeus strategy of retreating from isolated outposts to more populated centres, thereby ‘abandoning’ huge swathes of territory to the tender mercies of the insurgents. Guerrillas rely on the inherent contradiction between holding territory and conducting pro-active operations against insurgents by a conventional army. The insurgents in Pakistan’s FATA and eastern Afghanistan have imbibed this lesson well.

The White House report makes no mention of the repeated demand for an operation in North Waziristan, considered the last remaining solid redoubt of the insurgents. However, it also tilts against the civilian government, calling it weak, divided and inefficient. Combined, the strictures of the report against Pakistan’s military and civilian government will no doubt add fuel to the fire of the already troubled relationship. The military has already expressed its irritation at factual and conceptual errors it sees in the report. The civilian government so far is practising a diplomatic silence. Where this latest episode will lead is anyone’s guess. Both sides are joined out of necessity in a symbiotic embrace that does not easily lend itself to disengagement, while continuing to suffer the slings and arrows of outrage at each other’s perceived failures.
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