Cross Border Attacks and US’ Inertia
It has been long in coming but the increasing frequency and viciousness of attacks launched by the renegade TTP elements and the Afghan Taleban, across Pak-Afghan borders into Pakistan, has reached a stage where the issue has acquired the status of a major irritant cable of seriously influencing the flow of trilateral relations between Pakistan Afghanistan and the US.
The issue has a serious significance for the security of Pakistan’s Western borders as it is impossible to ignore the ramifications of the attacks on the border outposts that, in routine, are sparsely manned by paramilitary troops and lack mutual support with adjoining posts in view of their generic function of keeping a vigil on the border in peacetime. They lack the capacity and capability of fighting off determined assaults and the fact that these Pakistani outposts are the objectives of insurgent’s vicious attacks has served to change the nature of deployment of troops on the Pak-Afghan borders where the Army has moved in to plug the gaping voids and buttress the strength of the first line of defence on the Pak – Afghan Border. Another aspect which stands underscored is the failure – or culpability - of the ISAF troops and the Afghan National Army (ANA), who are custodians on Afghan side of the border and whose lack of action has only emboldened the terrorists to acquire numerical strength and sophisticated weaponry to launch the cross border attacks.
As the successful 2009 Pak Army Operations to flush out the strident insurgents from Swat and surrounding areas culminated and curtailed the space of operations for these witches brew of terrorists, they withdrew across the border into the adjoining Nooristan and Kunar Provinces to recuperate and reorganize afresh. These areas are under the operational control of ISAF and ANA and turning a Nelson’s Eye to these terrorists by these forces has enabled them to regroup, rest, refit and develop local tentacles that have turned these once on-the-run depleted outfits into formidable organizations. Standout peculiarities of these devilish outfits is their Pakistan centric hostility and a skewed, hands off policy by the ISAF and ANA troops which has emboldened them to launch vicious cross border attacks into Pakistan with total impunity. Top TTP leaders; the former chief of Taliban in Swat Valley, Maulvi Fazalullah a.k.a Radio Mullah , Maulvi Faqir from Bajaur and Abdul Wali , the TTP leader in Mohmand tribal Agency have found the embrace of a welcoming shelter in these areas from where they are launching hit and run attacks on Pakistani border posts.
After a close encounter with Pakistan Army in 2009 that left him at the brink of death, Fazalullah scurried into Nuristan where he is now firmly entrenched with 300-400 terrorists and regularly flits between his stronghold and the Bajaur Tribal Agency to organize cross border strikes. His fighters are equipped with US origin sophisticated weapons and state of art communication equipment. The US troops’ withdrawal from Nooristan-North Kunar area in Feb 2011 has provided him with unfettered liberty of action, consolidating his position as the resident dominant warlord; even eclipsing the authority of the local Taliban Commander Dost Muhammad who helps him with launching attacks by lending him his fighters on a basis of reciprocity. Northern Kunar Province, adjoining Nuristan, has a toxic mix of TTP insurgents owing allegiance to various war lords. Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, is the dominant TTP commander here making the area between Kunar River and the Pak Afghan Border the hub of anti Pakistan operations. With strength of 200-300 terrorists, he is primarily engaged launching cross border attacks in Bajaur Area while elements controlled by Fazalullah maintain a strong and visible presence in the area as well. In Southern Kunar Wali Muhammad holds sway as the leading TTP Commander with his fighters receiving visible assistance and patronage from the local Afghan functionaries who retain a barely tenuous administrative profile juxtaposed to strident insurgent presence.
Such strong presence of the leading TTP commanders, working free of any pressure from the ISAF and the ANA has serious implications for Pakistan. The increasing scale and the virulence of attacks has posed a level of threat which is simply impossible to ignore even as these get a far less mention in the international press than the attacks in Afghanistan launched allegedly by the Haqqani Group. During 2011 the casualties suffered by the security forces surpassed the figure of one hundred; costliest being the attack in August last year in which 25 security men were killed in the Northern Chitral District. With the onset of summer this year the cross border attacks have recommenced; with three occurring within the month of June including the one on 26 Jun in which thirteen troops embraced shahadat. If the happenings of the last year are any guide the trend is only going to escalate in the coming months unless the safe sanctuaries and the terrorists’ leading commanders, in the ISAF controlled areas, are effectively neutralized.
Pakistan has done all within its means to draw US attention to this aspect at the highest diplomatic and military channels of available communications; regrettably without achieving any measure of success. Accurate information regarding large concentrations of TTP terrorists and their Afghan affiliates in Nooristan and Kunar Provinces has been passed to the ISAF but apparently nothing seems to have moved. Obviously the issue of the Pakistani casualties resulting from the cross border attacks emanating from areas under the control of ISAF and the ANA doesn’t command the requisite priority with these organizations who seem to be only obsessed with the attacks by Haqqani Group and consistently harping their demand for a military operation in North Waziristan. America’s ambassador designate to Islamabad. Richard Olson, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign relations Committee has reaffirmed that persuading Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani network would be his “most important priority”. He has said nothing to gauge the current and impending US policy on the cross border attacks into Pakistan. Simply because such attacks are only spilling Pakistani blood and pose no threat to US soldiers is not a good enough reason for these to be shrugged off by US diplomats and military commanders. Now, that the gridlock effectively blocking the GLOCs which was vitiating ambience of Pak-US relations has been successfully dismantled through bilateral recognition of common grounds, time may be ripe for rationalizing the untenable US narrative on Pakistan’s alleged support to Haqqani Network and a manifest inertia in the US military to block the cross border attacks from Afghan territory into Pakistan.