June 20, 2011

Predators Hunt For Haqqanis in Kurram

Prior analysis on North Waziristan’s military condition explained why a major invasion by the Pakistani army is relatively pointless: the Haqqani network has already moved out. Sometime between December 2010 and February 2011, a collective effort from the family brokered a truce with Shia tribes in the neighboring Kurram agency. Since then the Haqqanis have attempted to settle local grievances with rival Sunni tribes, hoping to ingratiate themselves enough that their host won’t mind the impending destruction.

They know U.S. Predators will follow them where the Pakistani military won’t.

On Monday Kurram witnessed its first strikes of the year, leading U.S. media to dredge up the Shia truce. The 35th and 36th strikes overall in 2011, Kurram reportedly saw only one strike out of 110 in 2010. The missiles struck the Khardand area in Lower Kurram, territory belonging to Haqqani ally Fazal Saeed. These appear be the first volleys of a larger barrage.

Complicating the situation is Pakistan’s shifting military, which has avoided a costly incursion into North Waziristan in order to protect loyal Taliban elements. Lt. Gen Asif Yasin Malik, commander of the XI Corps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was one of several Pakistani commanders who refuted rumors of North Waziristan’s operation. "We will undertake operations when we want to," he told reporters. "I can't undertake multiple operations at the same time."

He then cited a “full-scale operation” into Kurram as a major factor in his decision cycle.

Whether a potential operation into North Waziristan and Kurram serve to cancel each other out remains to be seen. Malik directly countered the Haqqanis’ truce by claiming an influx of militants has increased the violence Kurram’s Shia minority; it’s possible that Pakistan’s military will target Kurram first. The logic behind this move is to seal North Waziristan’s border for a future operation. Yet if an operation were undertaken in Kurram, North Waziristan may take additional years to recharge for.

By then the Haqqanis could have moved out again.

Malik says that he opposes U.S. drone strikes out of civilian casualties and local resentment. He would rather see the Pakistani army protect its own territory and people. The general explained, "Obviously there is some trouble brewing up in Kurram. I'd like to stabilize it.” At least two things are certain: Washington’s drones will travel where Islamabad can’t (or won’t), and they won’t stabilize Kurram by themselves.

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