Jan. 18, 2007
Daily Times (Pakistan)
Just as the Washington bureaucracy was joining its voice with the NATO commanders in Afghanistan to protest Pakistan’s ‘double-faced’ approach to the problem of cross-border Taliban raids from Pakistani territory, the Pakistan army has attacked and killed some more ‘terrorists’ based in South Waziristan. The army spokesman says they were ‘militants’ training in some local compounds, which means they were Al Qaeda and Taliban elements along with their local Waziristani facilitators. Predictably, however, the tribal member of parliament from the region, Maulana Mirajuddin, says they were simply ‘locals’ working in the compounds with the help of Afghan ‘powindas’, or migratory labourers. Unfortunately, such is politics in Pakistan that everyone who is anyone in the opposition will say that the government is lying while those who support the government will feel unsure because the government mysteriously fights shy of supplying sufficient proof whenever the army goes on the offensive and ‘takes out’ foreign militants. It has happened twice in Bajaur, and one can safely declare that more people disbelieve the official story than believe it. In fact the opposition made such a big show of its anger that it made its MPA resign from Bajaur in protest. Thus, despite the fact that there is no earthly reason why the government should lie and deliberately kill its own people needlessly, most people will be inclined to believe that the eight ‘foreigners’ (read the Taliban) were all ‘innocent’ local people.
Why is Pakistan able to show the NATO commanders evidence that it has ‘taken out’ foreign miscreants and terrorists holed out in Pakistani territory but is unable to provide the same evidence to the people of Pakistan? When Ahmad Shah Massoud used to catch Pakistani-intelligence officers in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban, he used to put them on TV and then show close-ups of their documents. India, too, has been ready to show Pakistani ID cards carried by the ‘freedom-fighters’ it killed in Kashmir. But Pakistan, which is said to have killed a lot of foreign terrorists in Waziristan, has not been able to consistently give credible proof that they were indeed ‘foreigners’.
According to ‘intelligence reports’ put out by the army spokesman, there were “25-30 foreign terrorists and local facilitators occupying a complex of five compounds in the area and three out of the five compounds have been destroyed, killing most of the terrorists present in those compounds”. But the fact that Pakistani helicopters raided the distant thickly forested village on the border of North and South Waziristan when US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not lost on anyone. Although non-partisan sources in the area say the camps belonged to the local mercenary pro-Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and only eight people were killed, no one in Pakistan is going to swallow the story.
With good timing, President General Pervez Musharraf told a gathering of corps commanders in Rawalpindi that Pakistan would “destroy any hideout used by militants that it finds on its territory” and that “we shall not allow any illegal cross border activity or any terrorist to take refuge in our area, and if it happens it shall be dealt with by direct military action”. While he said this, however, thousands of people gathered in Tank in Waziristan and protested the killing of ‘innocent people’ by the Pakistan army.
The fact, however, is that there are many telltale signs pointing to the presence of Al Qaeda and its supporters in Waziristan. The entire world knows that after the 2001 invasion the Taliban fled across the Durand Line and took refuge in this tribal area. The locals denied it because they were either on the take or simply scared. Steadily all the elders opposed to giving shelter to Al Qaeda were shot dead by these dangerous elements. The most convincing proof came after Bajaur One and Bajaur Two. Since the first Bajaur raid was carried out by American drones, Al Qaeda took its revenge inside Afghanistan near Spin Boldak by killing many troops of the Afghan army. And since Bajaur Two was claimed by the Pakistan army, the revenge was taken in Dargai in Pakistan through a suicide-bomber. How is Pakistan’s credibility to be upheld at home and abroad? Why is the government not willing to make a public show of the evidence it has of foreigners killed in the raid?
The fact of the matter is that the US-Pakistan disagreement over what really goes on this side of the Durand Line has reached a dangerous level. The Americans are now increasingly inclined to accuse Pakistan of complicity in the trouble that Afghanistan is having with the Taliban. Indeed, from the latest statements in Islamabad one can infer that a ‘hot pursuit’ type of pre-emptive strike from NATO forces could actually take place. That would create more problems for Pakistan than it would solve for America.
On the American side, there is a need to be careful while relying on Afghan reports of foul play by Pakistan. There is a lot of easy twisting of facts going on in the region. This should be apparent to the NATO command. When it claims that 50 Taliban have been killed in a showdown, the Taliban retort that not a single man from their hordes has been killed. It all depends on how many people believe you.