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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

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August 16, 2012

Karma attack and Pakistan army’s
operations in volatile tribal areas

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

On August 16, 2012, nine militants dressed in uniforms and armed with guns and rocket launchers stormed Kamra air force base that assembles Mirage and JF-17 fighter Thunder fighter jets in collaboration with China. All the attackers were killed while one air force official also lost his life. It took five hours to eliminate the attackers. Among those who were injured included the base commander Air Commodore Mohammad Azam who oversaw and took part in the operation.

Officials said that only one of aircraft at the base was damaged in the attack. Several squadrons of fighters and surveillance planes are believed to be housed at Kamra’s Minhas base. Officials also confirmed that over 30 planes were parked at the base, including state-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder fighter jets.

According to reports, at least 11 Chinese engineers were working at the Kamra Aeronautical Complex.  Chinese and others foreign engineers and technicians involved in co-production of Chinese and Pakistan JF-17 Thunder aircraft project were shifted to a high profile secure location, official sources told, adding that the engineers were not present near the attack area.

In May 2011, Naval Base PNS Mehran located in Karachi was attacked in a similar manner. At least 10 military personnel were killed and 20 wounded in the 16-hour assault. Two P-3C Orion aircrafts were destroyed during the attack.

This is not the first time that Kamra has been the target of a militant attack.  On Oct 23, 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra. Two security officers and six other people were killed in the attack.

The Daily Dawn quoted Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan as saying that nine heavily armed TTP militants stormed the airbase, located about 70 kms from the capital Islamabad. “The attack was launched from two different sides. A team of four members entered from one side and five from the other and than they launched a collective attack inside the camp,” Ehsan told, speaking from an undisclosed location, confirming that all nine attackers were killed in the assault. The militant spokesman further claimed that they had achieved their targets and killed “more than a dozen security personnel” inside the base.

Pakistan military operations opposed

The terrorist attack on heavily guarded Kamra aeronautical complex came days after  US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement that Pakistan military plans to launch combat operation in Northern Waziristan. Kamra attack and Panetta’s statement have sparked heated debate on Pakistan military’s operations in the volatile tribal territories along the Pak-Afghanistan boarder.

Tellingly, all major political parties, except the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, are opposed to any new military operation.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan while commenting on the Kamra attack suggested that it may be a reaction the reports that the army was planning to launch another operation in Northen Waziristan. Khan said the PTI opposed the idea of a military operation in North Waziristan from the very first day. Last month Imran Khan announced that he will take a peace caravan to Waziristan by late September. “We will take representatives of human rights organizations and the media with us. We will march for peace,” Khan told a rally in the border town of Peshawar. He said that the party wants to show the government that ‘innocent people’ are being killed in the area. According to Khan, the party is holding protests to force the government to come out of the US war. “This is not our war, this is not Pakistan’s war,” Khan said.

The main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has warned the army against launching any operation against militants in North Waziristan, saying it might prove counter-productive and result in further increase in terrorism. Opposition leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali cautioned military not to push the country into a war at the behest of foreign powers.  He lamented over the ongoing war, saying the country had been suffering due to the US-led war and that a new operation in North Waziristan would augment the situation, increasing terrorism in the country.

Leader of another major political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Syed Munawar Hasan has also expressed his deep concern over the reports that military leadership has decided to launch a military operation in North Waziristan. In a statement, he said the decision had been taken under US pressure. “At last, the military leadership has yielded to the US pressure and decided to launch a military operation in North Waziristan,” he said adding that the decision had been taken soon after the DG ISI visit to the US which indicated that the operation in North Waziristan was being launched under US pressure. He warned that military operation in North Waziristan would result in further destruction of the country. “It will prove a fatal decision and inflict harm to the security and integrity of the country,” he added.

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was alive to the mounting opposition to its operation when he said on August 14:  “The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we’ll be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this.”

Pakistan army remains under US pressure to launch operation

Pakistan’s mercenary army, which is paid by Washington for its operations in Pak-Afghan volatile border areas, remains under intense US pressure to launch an operation in Northern Waziristan. In a move to increase pressure on Pakistan, last week President Barack Obama signed into law a congressional bill requiring the administration to declare the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organization. Once a group is placed on the State Department’s FTO list, all US allies are also required to join the fight against the designated group. A failure to do so allows the US administration to declare that country a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The Haqqani network, accused of carrying out a number of attacks against American interests in Afghanistan, is understood to be based in Northern Waziristan.

The army launched an operation in Northern Waziristan in 2004 that ended in a peace deal with the tribal militants after two years of fierce fighting. In October 2009, the army launched Rah-i-Nijat military operation in Mehsud area of South Waziristan. But three years later officials said this month that out of six sub-divisions declared as conflict zone only one subdivision was cleared and the internally displaced persons from the area are allowed to go back to their homes. 

Successive waves of conflict in Pakistan's tribal areas mean that today there are around one million people displaced, including almost 140,000 people from Mohmand agency. Of these, most live among host communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some 147,000 live in three camps in the province with most (138,000) at the Jalozai camp in Nowshera district.

According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), conflict between insurgents and government armed forces, and local sectarian and tribal conflicts have displaced millions of people within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in Pashtu-dominated Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) in north-west Pakistan since 2007. Many of the people displaced returned home between mid-2009 and mid-2011, in particular to northern and central areas of FATA, but information on the outcomes of these returns has remained limited.

US, Pakistan appear to make little headway in intelligence chiefs talks

The Kamra attack came weeks after Pakistani and US intelligence chiefs held their official meeting in Washington on August 2, 2012 but it was unclear if the two uneasy allies made any progress to end deep divisions on militants living in Pakistani tribal areas or on US drone strikes. Lieutenant-General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was named to head the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in March last, on his first official visit to Washington met with CIA Director David Petraeus at CIA headquarters.

The US State Department said that the US and Pakistani spy masters held “substantive, professional and productive” talks Thursday on ways to work together to fight extremists, in a new sign of easing tensions between the two countries. “The talks provided an opportunity to discuss a number of proposals for how we can enhance our joint efforts against terrorism.”
“Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to work together to counter the terrorist presence in the region that threatens both US and Pakistani national security,” the department said without going into further details.

Commenting on the talks between the two intelligence chiefs, the Voice of America radio noted that “little is expected to come out of the latest closed-door discussions on anti-terrorism cooperation”.

Underlining the differences between the two sides, the official VOA reported that “Washington refuses to stop using drones against militants in Pakistan or share the technology with Islamabad. At the same time, US officials continue to pressure Pakistan to go after militant safe havens in its territory.”

Writing in a leading English newspaper The News, retired Vice Admiral Taj M Khattak pointed out that the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, currently on a visit to the US, has a difficult brief. “Whatever else he does, it is hoped that he will reject out of hand any offer of trainers (read the CIA’s spies) on ground in Pakistan,” Admiral Khattak added.

Another Pakistani newspaper, Dawn reported from Washington, although details of Gen Islam’s meeting with US officials on Thursday were not released, the Pakistani side is believed to have asked for an end to drone strikes in FATA. Official sources said the Pakistanis wanted “a clear understanding on the drones, no wink and no nod”.

The Pakistanis argue that the strikes had become counter-productive because they also killed a large number of civilians. The Pakistanis also argue that the strikes are increasing anti-American feelings in their country, and thus are not helping in “winning over hearts and minds”, the stated main objective of the war against terror.

The United States and Pakistan are seeking to repair relations that have suffered over the past 20 months. US-Pakistan ties really took a nosedive in January 2011 when Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor, shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. A Pakistani court acquitted Davis of murder charges in March 2011 after a deal that involved the payment of compensation, or "blood money," to the families of the two men he killed. The ties further worsened because of the unilateral US raid that allegedly killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011 and a US air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November prompting Pakistan to close supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan.

After months of wrangling, on July 31,2012, Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU)  with the US to keep the border open to convoys until the end of 2015, by which time the United States plans to withdraw most forces from Afghanistan. The reopening in turn cleared the way for the release of some $1.1 billion in U.S. funds under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The CSF money, designed to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of counter-insurgency operations, had been withheld due to tensions between the two countries and Islamabad’s closure of the supply routes.

Retired Vice Admiral Taj M Khattak has described the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Pakistan and the US “a less than even-handed with total disregard to parliament’s recommendations.”

Under the agreement, Pakistan will provide facilities for the safe and rapid transit of cargo, the cost of which will have to be borne by Pakistan. There will be a minor custom charge of $250 per container, but no transit fee. The US has been paying nearly $500 a year in transit fees to the Central Asian Republics.

The MoU makes no mention of any mechanism as to how smuggling through containers destined for Afghanistan will be prevented. This is important since nearly 11,000 containers had gone missing on their way to Afghanistan in the past. It is a general perception that proliferation of sophisticated weaponry in Karachi and Balochistan is linked with the missing Nato containers. Additionally, the Federal Tax Ombudsman has reported a loss of Rs37 billions ($400 million) in taxes on account of this scandal.

Meanwhile, the decision of the US client government of President Zardari to reopen the routes for supplies to US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan has sparked countrywide protests. Major political and religious parties are mobilizing masses to press the government to reverse its decision and earlier last month Pakistan witnessed its largest protest ever against the reopening of the supply lines.

Not surprisingly, on July 24, 2012 gunmen attacked a convoy of container near Peshawar carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan killing one of the drivers of the truck and injuring few others. Officials said that it is the first such attack since Pakistan reopened its border to NATO supply convoys three weeks ago.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America