October 19, 2011

Don't mess with N-power Pak, Gen Kayani warns US

Omer Farooq Khan & Chidanand Rajghatta , TNN | Oct 20, 2011, 01.10AM IST

ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has warned Washington to "think 10 times" before launching any unilateral offensive in the restive North Waziristan tribal region even as an angry and frustrated US is lining up its artillery on the Afghan border facing Pakistan.

The Obama administration is also initiating fresh diplomatic efforts to persuade Pakistan to reel back its "self-destructive" policy of seeking strategic depth through terrorism before more aggressive military action. US secretary of stateHillary Clinton is heading for Islamabad this weekend in a trip that is officially secret but is being discussed animatedly in diplomatic circles because it is said to represent last-ditch US efforts to address Pakistani concerns and change its mindset.

A growing number of US analysts, including Bruce Riedel who led a review of the Af-Pak policy for the Obama administration, are urging Washington to adopt a "hostile", if not punitive, stand against a recalcitrant ally if it does not reverse its sponsorship of terrorism.

But in a defiant riposte on Tuesday, Kayani told Pakistani lawmakers at a rare briefing that the country would go for a military action in North Waziristan-home to the Haqqani group that his army is said to sponsor-keeping in view the situation and capabilities, not under any pressure. "If somebody convinces me that military action in North Waziristan will resolve all the problems, I am ready to go for it tomorrow," he told members of the Parliament's standing committees on defence at the army's General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi.

Amid reports that the US was massing troops on the Af-Pak border across North Waziristan, Kayani insisted that the problem lay within Afghanistan and "we have made it clear that some principles governed relations between states and nobody would be allowed to cross the red line". A member of the senate who participated in the meeting said Kayani had been asked to comment on the possibility of a US strike inside Pakistan and how he would respond to any such action. "Gen Kayani did not say what would be Pakistan's response in such an eventuality, but reminded that Pakistan was a nuclear power and must not be compared with Iraq and Afghanistan," the legislator, requesting anonymity, said. "Kayani added that the Americans will have to think 10 times before going for this."

The relevance of Pakistan being a nuclear power was not immediately clear in this situation. The country risks being decimated if it as much as rolls out its nuclear weapons against US troops in Afghanistan. In the past, some Pakistani generals and analysts have suggested India would be its target if Pakistan is attacked from any quarters.

In Washington, there has been growing frustration that on the one hand Pakistan concedes it has no control over the situation in North Waziristan and on the other hand it refuses to act, and also prevents the US from taking action.

However, the Obama administration now appears to be turning on the heat militarily too even as Clinton arrives in Islamabad, most likely on the October 21, according to sources. Government officials based in the border area of Ghulam Khan in North Waziristan said that US forces had established their military camp in a 10 km area and brought gunship helicopters, tanks and long-range artillery guns to the border area three days ago.

The abrupt deployment of the US forces near the border had raised tension in the tribal region. In the US, the American media has been boiling with reports of firing and attacks aimed at US troops in Afghanistan by Pakistan-based terrorists acting with support from the Pakistani military.

Hours before Kayani's statement, Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak had said that the Afghan security forces and their Nato allies have launched operation "Knife Edge" along the Pak-Afghan border. Quoting anonymous Afghan official, AFP reported that the operation was against the Haqqani network. There has also been a spurt in drone strikes aimed at the Haqqani group.

Acknowledging that the US was pressing Pakistan for military offensive in North Waziristan, Kayani said that the ongoing build-up of Afghan and Nato troops along the Pak-Afghan border is a tactical move to intensify that pressure. But he doggedly insisted that Pakistan could not act against its own interests.

In Washington, many influential analysts are coming around to the view that Pakistan is a lost case as long as the army is in control of the country. "We must recognize that the two countries' strategic interests are in conflict, not harmony, and will remain that way as long as Pakistan's army controls Pakistan's strategic policies," Riedel said in a commentary this week.

"The generals who run Pakistan have not abandoned their obsession with challenging India. They tolerate terrorists at home, seek a Taliban victory in Afghanistan and are building the world's fastest-growing nuclear arsenal," he said.

Advocating a "policy of containment, which would mean a more hostile relationship," Riedel said it should be a "focused hostility, aimed not at hurting Pakistan's people but at holding its army and intelligence branches accountable." This should include putting any Pakistani intelligence official involved in terrorist activities under sanctions, wanted lists, and on occasion even "track him down."

Clinton is expected to read out the riot act along these lines if the visit comes through. There is still some doubt about it with Pakistan seeking written assurances about "rules of engagement" and other concessions before it considers a policy shift.

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