Pakistan has remained under US pressure to attack North Waziristan Agency (NWA), one of the agencies of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in order to destroy sanctuaries of Afghan Taliban. This pressure was being mounted by the USA and NATO because their forces are under threat from Taliban who are believed to be using this agency as their base. In spite of this pressure, security analysts were of the view that launching operation in NWA at the timings decided by the USA was not in Pakistan’s strategic interests because Pakistan Army was already deployed in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) which was a sanctuary of the so-called TTP, an organization funded and armed by India. It was feared that due to Pakistan’s imminent economic meltdown, USA could arm-twist Pakistan to do as directed, in return for some breather from the IMF.
However, according to a recent report in the New York Times, Pakistan’s refusal to attack militants may have created a magnet there for hundreds of Islamic fighters seeking a safe haven where they can train and organize attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan. But theirs is a congregation in the cross hairs. A growing number of senior United States intelligence and counterinsurgency officials say that by bunching up there, insurgents are ultimately making it easier for American drone strikes to hit them from afar.
American officials are loath to talk about this silver lining to the storm cloud that they have long described building up in the tribal area of North Waziristan, where the insurgents run a virtual mini-state the size of Rhode Island. This is because they do not want to undermine the Obama administration’s urgent public pleas for Pakistan to order troops into the area, or to give Pakistan an excuse for inaction.
Pakistani Army operations in the other six of seven tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan have helped drive fighters from Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militant groups into North Waziristan, the one tribal area that Pakistan has not yet assaulted. With several hundred insurgents largely bottled up there, and with few worries about accidentally hitting Pakistani soldiers battling militants or civilians fleeing a combat zone, the Central Intelligence Agency’s drones have attacked targets in North Waziristan with increasing effectiveness and have degraded Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out a major attack against the United States, the senior officials said.
The number of strikes in North Waziristan grew to 104 in 2010 from 22 in 2009, according to the Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been five strikes in North Waziristan so far this year.
While the overall effectiveness of the strikes is impossible to ascertain, there are many accounts to confirm that insurgent fighters and leaders have indeed been killed. But half a dozen senior intelligence, counterterrorism and military officials interviewed in the past several days said a bright side had unexpectedly emerged from Pakistan’s delay. Pounding the militants consolidated in the North Waziristan enclave with airstrikes will leave the insurgents in a weakened state if the Pakistani offensive comes later this year.
Senior United States officials praise Pakistan for carrying out operations in the rugged tribal areas, but many of these officials say they are not convinced that the Pakistani Army is willing or able to clear North Waziristan.
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