Amidst the latest round of Pakistan’s much touted peace talks, a chapter of the Taliban announced that it had beheaded 23 Pakistani soldiers it had kidnapped in 2010. In response, the army has been bombing outposts in the tribal region of North Waziristan since this past week. Much of the senior leadership of many militant groups resides in the region, including the Haqqani network. All told, the bombing has killed almost 100 militants, the government said.In a press conference that offered little in the way of clarity about the government’s policy, Pakistan’s Interior Minister said that to continue talks would be an “injustice” to the victims of terrorist attacks. But he stopped short of saying either that the talks would actually stop or that a military operation was about to begin, but it is likely that the military is increasing its pressure on the civilian government to wrap up the talks and prepare for war.There are a few factors hinting that there is now actually military, if not civilian, resolve to fight the Taliban. First, the Taliban has consistently targeted military installations and personnel, with the beheadings being only the latest example. Second, the Haqqani network, once a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency (the ISI), is no longer an asset. The News, a local newspaper, reports:
Security analysts believe that the military option in North Waziristan should have been exercised years ago. However, it was the presence of the Haqqani network (which was considered a strategic asset) in North Waziristan, which had stopped the establishment from proceeding against the TTP network there.But as things stand, analysts say, “strategic depth” [Pakistan’s policy of using Afghanistan and militant groups as proxies in its rivalry with India] will no longer be a consideration of the security establishment because of the fact that the Haqqanis are no more considered to be “strategic assets”, especially after they decided to throw their weight behind the TTP in the ongoing conflict instead of siding with the state of Pakistan.
All this has happened before, more or less. Just a month ago, in fact. It looked like the army was gearing up for an operation, and then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made the surprise announcement that he was pursuing talks (again).That option seems exhausted this time around. But as always when it comes to Pakistani politics, the facts are uncertain. But you can be that in the coming weeks the Taliban will stage attacks against the military, and that the military will respond in kind.[Update: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Pakistan’s Interior minister claimed that the military was increasing pressure on the civilian government.]