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Pakistani ambassador: We’ll attack North Waziristan when we are able — and not before

One of the two biggest problems identified in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy Review released Thursday (PDF) is the Pakistani military’s failure to crack down on some of the terrorist groups using Pakistan’s tribal areas as a safe haven from which to launch attacks across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan launched a major offensive, involving approximately 30,000 ...

One of the two biggest problems identified in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy Review released Thursday (PDF) is the Pakistani military’s failure to crack down on some of the terrorist groups using Pakistan’s tribal areas as a safe haven from which to launch attacks across the border into Afghanistan.

Pakistan launched a major offensive, involving approximately 30,000 troops, against extremists in South Waziristan in October 2009, and its military has also undertaken efforts to stamp out militants in other border areas. However, the military has yet to launch offensive military operations in North Waziristan, where insurgent groups wreaking havoc in Afghanistan reside.

Pakistan’s envoy in Washington, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, reacted to the report by saying that Pakistan will engage Islamist groups in North Waziristan, including the Haqqani network (no relation), but only when there is sufficient support in all areas of Pakistan’s government for the effort, and not until they are confident that the mission can be completed effectively.

"Pakistan has made it very clear that we are fighting terrorists because they are a threat to our own existence as a modern democratic nation. We will fight all groups in all parts of our country," Haqqani said in an exclusive interview with The Cable. "But we will follow timelines that suit our own capabilities and can lead to success."

Haqqani said that the Pakistani army, which has taken the fight to six out of the seven regions inside Pakistan in which domestic militant groups operate and suffered thousands of casualties in the process, is simply not in a position to expand its war on the extremists now.

"Right now, it’s only a question of operational capability and readiness. Our armed forces have been engaged in dealing with flood relief work," he said. "We have to see what resources we will allocate in which part of the country, and those rather than any political factors are responsible for any waiting period."

He also noted that "there is a fragile consensus in Pakistan in favor of military action against regional elements," and that Pakistan’s government has no choice but to make the decision to attack North Waziristan groups on a timeline that prioritized Pakistani considerations over American ones.

"Sometimes it’s easy for our allies to tell us what to do and for us to tell our allies what to do. But everyone makes decisions based on their own perceptions and analysis of on ground realities," Haqqani said.

In several discussions with other Pakistani officials, an even more complicated picture of the Pakistani position on attacking groups in North Waziristan emerges. The Pakistanis largely believe that the U.S. government is being unrealistic in terms of the timelines it wants for cracking down on terrorist safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which have existed for decades.

"There will always be a gap between our two countries because the Americans want things things done quickly and done their way," another Pakistani government official said.

A third senior Pakistani official said that many Pakistanis feel that the Obama administration is placing too much of the blame on Pakistan for the lack of progress in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

"The U.S. keeps telling Pakistan to do more, but Pakistan keeps telling the U.S. to do more on certain questions such as speeding up building up of Afghan army, establishing a real process toward reconciliation, and providing Pakistan the means for large scale operations," the official said.

The United States has provided Pakistan with several billions of dollars in military and economic aid to support its war against domestic insurgents. But many in the Pakistani government have criticized what they say characterize as the slow arrival of these funds, which they say are in any case too small to address Pakistan’s severe problems.

"It’s very simplistic to measure success in amount of assistance provided to Pakistan," one Pakistani official said.

In remarks delivered during the rollout of the strategy review Thursday, President Obama was diplomatic when discussing his administration’s ongoing drive to push Pakistan to do more in North Waziristan.

"Increasingly, the Pakistani government recognizes that terrorist networks in its border regions are a threat to all our countries, especially Pakistan. We’ve welcomed major Pakistani offensives in the tribal regions. We will continue to help strengthen Pakistanis’ capacity to root out terrorists," said Obama. "Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough. So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with."

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy acknowledged in an interview the same day that there was more work to be done on the relationship before the Pakistanis were willing to fully support the U.S. and NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

"Given the ups and downs of our historical relationship with Pakistan, they fear our abandonment," she said. "Their calculus is very much affected by the long-term commitment they feel from us and in working in a strategic partnership."

The White House recognizes that its efforts have fallen short so far. "The bottom line is that Pakistan is a country where we have little influence, little access and little credibility," one of Obama’s aides told The New York Times.

The administration’s official line, therefore, is to agree with the Pakistani government and express sensitivity to its claim that they simply can’t expand their war against extremists at this time.

"We would like them to move tomorrow, we would like them to take out these people tomorrow," said the new U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter. "But we understand they’re telling us honestly about the capacity of their military, and when they are able, we are convinced they will move in."

But for many in Washington, the open-ended delay in Pakistan’s promise to expand military operations into North Waziristan represents a strategic choice, and is not just a result of the military’s operational limitations. But whatever Pakistan’s reasons, the delay  doesn’t inspire confidence that the Obama administration can meet its timelines for making progress in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan, meanwhile, is hedging its bets, supporting proxy actors like the Quetta Shura Taliban and Haqqani Network that might counter Indian interests in Kabul after the United States and its allies eventually withdraw," wrote Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security. "The insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan are one of the two Achilles heels in the NATO strategy."

One of the two biggest problems identified in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy Review released Thursday (PDF) is the Pakistani military’s failure to crack down on some of the terrorist groups using Pakistan’s tribal areas as a safe haven from which to launch attacks across the border into Afghanistan.

Pakistan launched a major offensive, involving approximately 30,000 troops, against extremists in South Waziristan in October 2009, and its military has also undertaken efforts to stamp out militants in other border areas. However, the military has yet to launch offensive military operations in North Waziristan, where insurgent groups wreaking havoc in Afghanistan reside.

Pakistan’s envoy in Washington, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, reacted to the report by saying that Pakistan will engage Islamist groups in North Waziristan, including the Haqqani network (no relation), but only when there is sufficient support in all areas of Pakistan’s government for the effort, and not until they are confident that the mission can be completed effectively.

"Pakistan has made it very clear that we are fighting terrorists because they are a threat to our own existence as a modern democratic nation. We will fight all groups in all parts of our country," Haqqani said in an exclusive interview with The Cable. "But we will follow timelines that suit our own capabilities and can lead to success."

Haqqani said that the Pakistani army, which has taken the fight to six out of the seven regions inside Pakistan in which domestic militant groups operate and suffered thousands of casualties in the process, is simply not in a position to expand its war on the extremists now.

"Right now, it’s only a question of operational capability and readiness. Our armed forces have been engaged in dealing with flood relief work," he said. "We have to see what resources we will allocate in which part of the country, and those rather than any political factors are responsible for any waiting period."

He also noted that "there is a fragile consensus in Pakistan in favor of military action against regional elements," and that Pakistan’s government has no choice but to make the decision to attack North Waziristan groups on a timeline that prioritized Pakistani considerations over American ones.

"Sometimes it’s easy for our allies to tell us what to do and for us to tell our allies what to do. But everyone makes decisions based on their own perceptions and analysis of on ground realities," Haqqani said.

In several discussions with other Pakistani officials, an even more complicated picture of the Pakistani position on attacking groups in North Waziristan emerges. The Pakistanis largely believe that the U.S. government is being unrealistic in terms of the timelines it wants for cracking down on terrorist safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which have existed for decades.

"There will always be a gap between our two countries because the Americans want things things done quickly and done their way," another Pakistani government official said.

A third senior Pakistani official said that many Pakistanis feel that the Obama administration is placing too much of the blame on Pakistan for the lack of progress in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

"The U.S. keeps telling Pakistan to do more, but Pakistan keeps telling the U.S. to do more on certain questions such as speeding up building up of Afghan army, establishing a real process toward reconciliation, and providing Pakistan the means for large scale operations," the official said.

The United States has provided Pakistan with several billions of dollars in military and economic aid to support its war against domestic insurgents. But many in the Pakistani government have criticized what they say characterize as the slow arrival of these funds, which they say are in any case too small to address Pakistan’s severe problems.

"It’s very simplistic to measure success in amount of assistance provided to Pakistan," one Pakistani official said.

In remarks delivered during the rollout of the strategy review Thursday, President Obama was diplomatic when discussing his administration’s ongoing drive to push Pakistan to do more in North Waziristan.

"Increasingly, the Pakistani government recognizes that terrorist networks in its border regions are a threat to all our countries, especially Pakistan. We’ve welcomed major Pakistani offensives in the tribal regions. We will continue to help strengthen Pakistanis’ capacity to root out terrorists," said Obama. "Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough. So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with."

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy acknowledged in an interview the same day that there was more work to be done on the relationship before the Pakistanis were willing to fully support the U.S. and NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

"Given the ups and downs of our historical relationship with Pakistan, they fear our abandonment," she said. "Their calculus is very much affected by the long-term commitment they feel from us and in working in a strategic partnership."

The White House recognizes that its efforts have fallen short so far. "The bottom line is that Pakistan is a country where we have little influence, little access and little credibility," one of Obama’s aides told The New York Times.

The administration’s official line, therefore, is to agree with the Pakistani government and express sensitivity to its claim that they simply can’t expand their war against extremists at this time.

"We would like them to move tomorrow, we would like them to take out these people tomorrow," said the new U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter. "But we understand they’re telling us honestly about the capacity of their military, and when they are able, we are convinced they will move in."

But for many in Washington, the open-ended delay in Pakistan’s promise to expand military operations into North Waziristan represents a strategic choice, and is not just a result of the military’s operational limitations. But whatever Pakistan’s reasons, the delay  doesn’t inspire confidence that the Obama administration can meet its timelines for making progress in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan, meanwhile, is hedging its bets, supporting proxy actors like the Quetta Shura Taliban and Haqqani Network that might counter Indian interests in Kabul after the United States and its allies eventually withdraw," wrote Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security. "The insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan are one of the two Achilles heels in the NATO strategy."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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