CECIL VICTOR. Editorial. XXVIII.I.XVIII
By Cecil Victor
Since December last year, there had been a series of terrorist attacks on high-value Afghanistan targets. The frequency was greater and their lethality worse. In January itself there were three strikes. The January 20 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul killed 40 (including four Americans) and injured 22 persons. The Taliban warned Afghans not to assemble in areas frequented by foreigners. Till then, these developments showed up the US President Donald Trump’s twitter messages as just impotent chatter of a twit. (Already his own countrymen had expressed grave doubts about his mental ability to rule the US of A).
Then Donald struck. A drone aircraft fired two rockets into a house in the Khurram province of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan (south-east of Kabul). Soon an anonymous Intelligence officer let it be known that a mid-level commander of the Haqqani outfit and two companions had been executed in the attack. It was all well orchestrated to a “T”.
The identification of the dead Haqqani crony as “mid-level" indicated that he had been especially selected to send a clear message to the Haqqani outfit on the one hand and its mentor the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence which has, over the years, been accused by Afghanistan of masterminding terrorist attacks on targets in its territory (including the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008). The message was: We know where you are and know how to deal with you. Notable too was that this was without any help from Pakistan which had shut sharing of Intelligence with the US Central Intelligence Agency after Trump had announced a cut-off of military aid because Pakistan had not stopped providing sanctuaries and military assistance to global terrorists. Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had instructed the Armed Forces to shoot down US drones if they violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. The US drone that took down the Haqqani minions kept circling the strike zone for fifteen minutes apparently hoping for Pakistan to react.
Now that Donald Trump has acted, it remains to be seen how far he will go. Will he dismantle the Haqqani network piecemeal or will he decide to take out the scion Sirajuddin Haqqani now that his father Jallaluddin has retired. It needs to be recalled that the network then headed by Jallaluddin Haqqani was a favourite conduit for military equipment to fight the Soviet troops. Also, the US had long hoped that the family, the ethos of which has been purely to ensure the establishment of shariah laws and to rid Afghanistan of western influence could be persuaded to join a coalition government in Kabul preparatory to the total withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces.
After his scathing renunciation of Pakistan for not doing enough to curb the incubation of global terrorism on its soil Trump announced that nearly two billion dollars of military assistance would be withheld. There has not been any hint from US sources whether the January escalation of terrorist attacks at several places in Afghanistan with a concentration on Kabul is in any way a sign that the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence is trying to get back on Washington. But it is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. The drone strike has shown, once again, that the targets were well within Pakistani territory even though the Haqqani network professes to “feel more secure” within Afghan territory.
Now that Donald Trump has finally acted directly against the Haqqani network it is possible to discern a method in his strategy in dealing with Pakistan. The cut-off of military assistance by Washington was ameliorated to some extent by the Chinese stepping into the breach. But the American financial squeeze will persist as is evident from the decision to apply sanctions on six “financiers and facilitators” of the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Donald Trump has signaled his approval of Senator Rand Paul’s move to introduce a bill intended to divert civilian aid allocated to Pakistan by the State Department and the US AID to the construction of infrastructure within the US. This adds up to an additional two billion dollars bringing the total to about four billion dollars. It should burn a big hole in Pakistani pockets.
The Pakistani military establishment’s counter is to demand the repatriation of the Afghans who had become refugees when the US launched its blitzkrieg against the ruling Taliban in Kabul after the 9/11 attack on the US mainland. Through this ploy it hopes to be able to pump in more terrorists from the Haqqani, al Qaeda, Taliban and Islamic State remnants disguised as refugees into Afghanistan to rip up that country once again.
Now that he has a roadmap in his hand Donald Trump must accelerate the drone attacks and let the sanctions bite. Releasing the pressure on either of these actions will only prolong the pain.
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