JACQUES FOLLOROU, Special Correspondent, Le Monde, Miranshah– Islamabad, which is engaged in a full-fledged offensive against the Taliban, considers the suspension of US aid as unfair. (Pakistan’s army chief told a top U.S. general the nation “felt betrayed” by criticism that it was not doing enough to fight terrorism, the Pakistani military said on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit” – PKonweb)
“When God finished creating Paradise and the Earth, he threw the remnants in North Waziristan.” This Waziri proverb is true. On the fringes of the Pakistani semi-autonomous tribal areas along the Afghan border, North Waziristan, seen by helicopter, is an arid and tortuous landscape where the earth resembles the swell of the sea. Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001, this region has been the refuge of major jihadist and insurgent groups – Taliban, Al-Qaida, Haqqani network, Uzbeks and Chechens. A nightmare for intelligence services around the world.
The Pakistani authorities, having considered until 2014 that the region did not represent an “imminent” threat, resumed full control at the end of 2016. In 2017, they set up their headquarters in Miranshah, its nerve center. “Just at this very moment, when we can tell the whole world that we, on our own, have reconquered the tribal areas, the US is suspending its aid and accusing us of not doing enough against terrorism. It’s paradoxical,” Brigadier-General Jawad, commander of the troops securing North Waziristan, said in Miranshah.
For Pakistan, the suspension of military aid by the US because the country “houses terrorists”, according to President Trump, comes at the wrong time. The Pakistani authorities are very proud to show the fruits of their victory against “terrorism,” which in 2014-2016, claimed the lives of as many as 815 soldiers and injured 3,263 others.
In the vast military enclave of Miranshah, the army has turned a small fort into a museum of jihadism. The soldiers serve as guides and comment on the discoveries made in combat: explosives, weapons and ammunition. We visit the torture room, reproduced “identically”, and the room where the suicide bombers expressed their last vows in a floral velvet décor, under the gaze of two photographs of women they were told they would find in Paradise. They do not fail to recall also that, to ward off attacks by American drones, underground labyrinths weave pathways under houses and mosques in the villages.
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The grip of the Pakistani Taliban in Miranshah and their Al-Qaida allies increased between 2003 and 2008 after the elimination of 150 local tribal leaders who refused to pledge allegiance to them. Relations with the authorities in Islamabad alternated from 2005 onwards, between periods of agreement and repression. In 2008, only one-third of the seven tribal areas had been brought under control. From 2008 to 2014, the army concentrated its efforts on the recovery of the Bajaur and Khyber zones and certain districts of the Northwest Territories. In 2014, only North Waziristan remained out of control. “Again, we tried to negotiate with these groups, but it was unending, and they continued the massacres, so the Prime Minister launched the operation,” said Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, the Governor of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Peshawar, the capital of the tribal areas.
The sanctuarization of North Waziristan is the source of US wrath, as this district hosted groups such as the Afghan Haqqani network, long linked to the Pakistani secret service, but also organisations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (MIO), today allied to the Islamic State organisation.
This is also where Moez Garsallaoui, the head of French-speaking networks of Al-Qaida, operated. “We acted according to the urgency,” said Brigadier General Asif Ghafoor, spokesman of the Pakistani army, in Islamabad. “The Haqqani network at the time was not a direct threat to Pakistan, now it is.”
In Miranshah, the American sanction is seen as an injustice. “Lawless zones don’t exist anymore,” said Brigadier General Jawad. He proudly spoke of civilian programs such as de-radicalization, copper extraction, drinking water, agriculture and construction of schools, medical centres and roads. “We must not just win the war, we must also win the people to our side,” he added.
The challenge is to bring an entire territory back within the fold of common law. But, facing pitfalls like those encountered by the US military in Afghanistan, 46 kilometres away, Pakistan has not yet won. On December 24, 2017, three Pakistani soldiers were killed in an explosion of a homemade device. “The desire to see every child in the tribal areas go to school and ban weapons, which is an ancestral right, will raise strong cultural resistance,” said a Western diplomat in Islamabad.
The other concern is the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which is not recognized by Kabul, where the same Pashtun community lives on both sides. “Our priority is to prevent Afghan insurgent groups from infiltrating Pakistan, the exact opposite of what we are being blamed for,” said Brigadier General Jawad. Over 830 kilometers at the border, the army is erecting a fence topped with barbed wire. It is expected to be completed by December 2019, with surveillance systems in even the most remote areas. Although the White House is getting tough, the US military is familiar with the situation on the ground. General Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command CentCom (Middle East Command), came to Miranshah in August 2017 to see for himself. In North Waziristan, the road between Bannu and Ghulam was built with American money. And according to Pakistani Lieutenant-General Asim Bajwa, Head of the Southern Command based in Quetta, Balochistan,”Exchange of intelligence between the United States and Pakistan has not stopped since January 4.”
“How can we be a threat to peace when we won the war against the Soviets and the tribal areas?” exclaimed Brigadier General Ghafoor, in Islamabad, adding, “The United States lost the war in Vietnam, and in Iraq, and in Afghanistan they are fighting the longest war in their history.”
Gen Bajwa said that entire Pakistani nation felt betrayed over U.S. recent statements despite decades of cooperation.
China, already a big supporter of Pakistan, where it has launched major infrastructure projects must be delighted, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman of the Defence committee and head of the Sino-Pakistan Economic Corridor Parliamentary Committee (CPEC) said. The case illustrates “The decline of US power and influence in the world. Peace comes more through economic development, as the Chinese are doing.”
The original article appeared in French Newspaper Le Monde on Jan 12, 2018.
http://www.lemonde.fr/asia-pacifique/article/2018/01/12/le-pakistan-deplore- to-be-abandoned-by-the-united unis_5240795_3216.html # I4jbRtzFh1O8OhZi.99