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A clash of unreasonable demands

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  • A clash of unreasonable demands

    Pakistan has requested Afghanistan to hand over Maulana Fazlullah, the man responsible for the destruction of Swat, and possibly the near-assassination of Malala Yousufzai. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made this demand during her meeting with the US’s Afghanistan-Pakistan special envoy, Marc Grossman, on October 20. Interior Minister Rehman Malik had sought to link the Malala incident to a plot hatched inside Afghanistan to strengthen his earlier kite-flying that the Americans could be involved in this mischief. The fact is that Pakistan doesn’t want to do anything about Malala: it is not going to attack North Waziristan, the political and economic centre of the Taliban. Instead, it wants to get America to clean up Kunar and hand over Fazlullah while the evil of the terrorist haven in North Waziristan continues.
    The Americans and, more aggressively, the Afghan government in Kabul have been asking Pakistan to take the battle against terrorism into North Waziristan and cleanse it of terrorists like the Haqqani network, who attack inside Afghanistan. In Pakistan, most analysts agree that the American-Afghan demand is unreasonable and the Pakistan Army’s stance to attack at a time of its own choosing is correct. Needless to say, the Pakistani demand for Fazlullah will also be deemed unreasonable by the other side. However, there is a difference of approach to the problem that must be noted. It is wrong on the part of Pakistan to say that Kunar in Afghanistan is a ‘safe haven’ and that the Americans will not attack it as a strategy against Pakistan. Kabul thinks that Kunar is a safe haven of al Qaeda and should be attacked. For instance, since the end of May this year, seven al Qaeda and two Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders have been killed in airstrikes there. The Kunar province and the neighbouring Nuristan province comprise the region where the terrorists from Pakistan are ensconced and they are constantly under threat from American airstrikes.
    The Pakistani demand is that Fazlullah should be handed over. It implies that Kunar-Nuristan is under the American-aided administration, somewhat like the Pakistani-administered Swat region in Pakistan. Kunar-Nuristan abut Pakistan’s tribal areas and there is constant cross-border activity from Bajaur, which Pakistan has pacified only partially just like Swat. Al Qaeda leaders including Ayman al-Zawahiri were comfortable living in Kunar and Bajaur at the same time. If the Americans want to attack Kunar to oblige Pakistan, they will also have to attack inside Pakistan to cut off the retreat of Fazlullah and his cohorts. Time and again, the Taliban have shown their ability to kill our FC men in Bajaur at will. Yet, it is not possible for the Pakistan Army and the Americans to cooperate.
    For instance, according to one report, the Americans have been after one al Qaeda and Taliban commander, Qari Zia Rahman, who “operates in Kunar province as well as across the border in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Mohmand Agency and Bajaur”. But they have failed to capture or kill him. There were American forces stationed in Kunar till 2009, but withdrew in line with the policy of handing over to the Afghan Army. Their major targets are the Arabs located inside Wahabi-dominated Kunar and they are less concerned with elements that don’t threaten America at the global level. Also, there is a game of* ‘clashing demands’ going on between America and Pakistan.
    As ever, Pakistan is on a weak wicket. The demand for attacking North Waziristan is older than Islamabad’s demand for capturing Fazlullah, a much more complicated one since it concerns one man among a large congregation of terrorists. President Asif Ali Zardari says that as commander-in-chief, he cannot order an attack on North Waziristan because there is political discord in Pakistan and that a blowback from extremist elements inside the country will be beyond the Pakistan Army’s capacity to cope with. On October 21, meeting a delegation of citizens, he said there were far too many seminaries that would stand in the way and will support the terrorists.
    Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2012.