New York Times reports that President Parwez Musharraf has rebuffed a US plan to launch joint military operations in Pakistan’s volatile tribal territories along the border with Afghanistan. The US plan was discussed during an unannounced visit to Islamabad on Jan. 9 by Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, and General Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. Director.
Realizing the political fallout for his shaky regime, President Musharraf explicitly rejected this proposal. Two days after Mr. McConnell and General Hayden’s departure, he told the Straits Times of Singapore that U.S. troops would "certainly" be considered invaders if they set foot in the tribal regions.
On Jan 25, he amplified this theme at the World Economic Forum in Devos, Switzerland: "The man in the street will not allow this, he will come out and agitate." Later on the same day he told the Royal United Strategic Institute (RUSI) in London that the man in the street in Pakistan would see any attempt by foreign troops to enter Pakistan to fight the terrorists as an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Why President Musharraf is so impatient to reject the US plan publicly? Perhaps, the recent editorials in Pakistan’s three leading newspapers best reflect the sentiments of Pakistani masses on the joint military operations.
Pakistan’s leading English newspaper Dawn says that the foreign powers have their own perception of a given issue, they have their own interests to advance, they may have a secret agenda which they would not like to share with the host government, and their reading of the ground realities may be totally superficial….. The president must listen to the people of Pakistan and put more reliance on political steps to follow the military operations…. Fighting the Taliban in Pakistan is our business, and, instead of accepting unsolicited advice, the government would do well to develop a national consensus on the war on terror to deal with the threat that militants pose to our way of life.
Another leading newspaper, the Nation, pointed out that the US suggestion is highly dangerous and could lead to the destabilization of Pakistan… “Islamabad maintains it is conducting operations in tribal areas in its own national interest and not at US bidding. With American troops stepping in, the militants are likely to succeed in convincing fellow tribesmen that they are fighting foreign invaders. An American military presence would send a wave of resentment all over the country.”
The Nation also took note of the impact of the present bloody combat in FATA and urged the government to revise its single-point strategy of combating terrorism with force. “Excessive use of force in populated areas invariably causes disaffection, which spreads wide with the rise of collateral damage. It is time the Army extricated itself from the quicksands of the tribal areas. Someone in Islamabad should tell Washington that it is not in Pakistan's interest to fight its war.”
At the same time, the News, another national newspaper, expressed concern over the effect on the civilian population of FATA that suffered as a consequence of the recent fierce fighting. Thousands have been forced to abandon their homes, and head for Peshawar or other safe locations. “While armed action is necessary to win back territory lost to militants and ensure that the already shattered writ of state is not further damaged, eventually the war against terrorists can be won only by winning over the hearts and minds of people.”
These comments follow a recent survey of Pakistanis which says the any US covert operation would be opposed by an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. The survey, which was funded by the semi-official U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) also found that a strong majority of Pakistanis consider the U.S. military presence in Asia and neighboring Afghanistan a much more critical threat to their country than al-Qaeda.
Only five percent of respondents said the Pakistani government should permit U.S. or other foreign troops to enter Pakistan to pursue or capture al-Qaeda fighters, compared to a whopping 80 percent who said such actions should not be permitted, according to the poll, which was based on in-depth interviews of more than 900 Pakistanis in 19 cities in mid-September 2007.
While the survey found that a large majority of Pakistanis hold negative views of radical elements, including the Taleban and al-Qaeda, and strongly reject their use of violence against civilians, their views of the United States and its intentions toward Pakistan appear to be considerably more hostile and distrustful. A whopping 84 percent said the U.S. military presence in the region was a critical threat to Pakistan’s vital interests.
In this atmosphere of mistrust and misgivings about American policies in the region, it is difficult for President Musharraf to yield to US pressure for joint military operations in the volatile FATA region. Already Pakistan army’s bloody operations, which are now spilled into the interior of the country in the shape of suicide attacks, have damaged its image. Many in Pakistan see this operation as against their own people.