Zeenia Satti on the future of US policy in NWFP

There are two op-eds by Zeenia Satti in the Pakistani press — one in The Dawn1 and one in the News.2 The best order to read them is probably Dawn first, the News second. Her Dawn op-ed summarizes the causes of the current crisis, arguing that it is largely the consequence of Operation Enduring Freedom on the NWFP. She argues that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border should have been sealed before OEF, that modern technology has made it possible to seal the border,and that now it is too late because “As a direct consequence of this oversight, instead of decimating terrorism in Afghanistan, an expanded regional version of it has been created and Pakistan has been engulfed in it.”

The key argument of her op-ed in the News is that there is a very strong chance of massive US-led airstrikes on FATA and that the federal government, distracted by the post-election political maneuverings, is completely ignoring this possibility. The consequences of such airstrikes will be devastating to Pakistan’s security. Additionally, she is skeptical that Pakistan can unilaterally negotiate peace with the Taliban.

As Damadola exemplifies, Pakistan’s peace deal with the militants in FATA is meaningless if Islamabad cannot ensure the security of FATA against US aerial attacks. Removing its forces from the area means nothing if a much larger force, allied with Pakistan, is going to strike with far more lethal weapons instead. Troop withdrawal in such a situation in fact jeopardizes Pakistan’s sovereignty. The situation calls for Pakistan to approach the matter of peace in FATA in a multilateral manner through engaging General McNeil, General Patreus and Hamid Karzai, along with Baitullah Mehsud and the Taliban representatives in a multilateral process that satisfies NATO as well.

Satti had a much longer article in Energy Bulletin3 in February in which she presents several scenarios concerning Pakistan’s long-term future. One such scenario presented in the article clarifies her position on why US airstrikes in NWFP present such a threat to Pakistan’s future:

Scenario two could plausibly entail heavy bombardment of Pakistani tribal areas by the U.S forces, causing a flood of internal migration, which will also mean the spread of militants into the Pakistani mainland. This could provide the U.S with a reason to lead an international demand, possibly through the U.N Security Council, for Pakistan’s denuclearization.

In all of these articles, she stresses the fact that it is unlikely that the Frontier Corps, with its strong ethnic links to the Taliban militants, will be able to successfully neutralize the Taliban. On this issue, she has the following to say:

The operation against tribal militants is a Catch 22 for Pakistan’s military. The Frontier Corps, due to its ethnic affinity with the Taliban, has no faith in this battle, hence it is unfit for the purpose. The deployment of Punjabi battalions, or overt military collaboration between the U.S and Pakistan, will be perceived as a genocide and could lead to a Mukti Bahini-like insurgency for Pakistan’s military in the NWFP and Baluchistan, augmented by the street mood in the rest of the country where economic grievance is widespread. Under the postulated circumstances, Pakistan military’s strategic capacity to resist U.S led international demand to relinquish its nuclear arsenal will decrease by the day.

1 Satti, Zeenia. (May 21, 2008). Will Fata’s truce succeed?. The Dawn.
2 Satti, Zeenia. (May 21, 2008). Peace that unleashes war. The News.
3 Satti, Zeenia. (February 11, 2008). Pakistan problem: Washington’s perspective. Energy Bulletin.