Ten militants, including a local coordinator of the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani group, were killed by U.S. drones yesterday in Pakistan as Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy for Pakistan-Afghanistan affairs, arrived in the country, agencies reported yesterday.
That was just one of the many U.S. military operations in Pakistan since the start of this year, the biggest of them being the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a farmhouse near the country’s capital, Islamabad.
The United States “is fighting a war” in Pakistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Oct. 11 in response to a question after a speech he delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
“They [the Pakistani government] have given us cooperation in operations in trying to confront al-Qaeda,” Panetta was saying. Then came the crucial part: “But at the same time, we have great differences, particularly with regards to the relations they maintain with some of the militant groups in the country.”
The Haqqani group is one of the groups that Panetta implied. There are others linked to Taliban factions and all of them are fighters in Afghanistan. The South Waziristan region of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, is the bases for tens of thousands of Islamist militants.
The Haqqani group, whose key members were hit yesterday by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-coordinated drones, is regarded as one of the most dangerous by the U.S. The former U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told Congress recently that Washington regards this group as “a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-services Intelligence (ISI).
The ISI is practically controlled by the army and the government doesn’t exercise effective control over the organization. Last year, powerful (among the most powerful 20 names of the world, according to Time magazine) army commander Gen. Ashfaq Parwaz Kayani had objected to a $1.5 billion slice of a $7.5 billion U.S. support to Pakistan over the next five years just because it suggested civilian control over the ISI.
It was not a coincidence that after delivering a statement that there was no point in carrying out peace talks with the Taliban and other groups and that one should talk to Pakistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a security cooperation agreement with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on Oct. 4. India and Pakistan have a border conflict over Kashmir and are nuclear rivals because of that.
Panetta also said in the same occasion that the U.S. “cannot resolve the issues of Afghanistan without resolving the issues of Pakistan.”
The message delivered by Grossman to Pakistani authorities was probably in parallel to what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in Washington, D.C. It was like an ultimatum to Pakistan.
Clinton said the U.S. could not “abandon Pakistan.” “But,” she said, Pakistan has to be part of solution in Afghanistan, “or they will continue to be part of the problem.”
It is clear that the U.S. has no reluctance to carry the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan.
But that is not the whole story.
In his Wilson Center speech, Panetta highlighted an interesting correlation between the fight against terrorism and nuclear weapons. “The situation in Pakistan,” he said, “is likely to remain volatile and fragile as we try to reduce terrorist safe havens in a nation that continues to expand its nuclear arsenal.”
It is not difficult to come to the conclusion that what the U.S. is actually afraid of involves the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, whose long-range missiles might fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda-linked groups with ISI backing and then be used against American targets.
Therefore, the real target of the NATO-backed U.S. missile shield project, under which early-warning radar sites will be deployed in Turkey, might have less to do with Iran and its intentions regarding Israel. But Pakistan could be regarded as the weakest link.
After all, Iran might not have long-range rockets or nuclear warheads at the moment, but Pakistan certainly does.