While global attention is focused on a possible US or Israel strike on Iran's nuclear facility, the actual attacks may well be launched on Washington's closest ally in the, 'War on Terror', Islamabad. The weeks gone by has seen an increase in this possibility which may well take the form of selective air strikes in the Western badlands of Pakistan, the Waziristan, Khyber and Mohmand Agency belt bordering Afghanistan followed up by targeted Special Forces operations.
The US would avoid insertion of ground troops, given that it neither has the resources nor the will to tackle the complex militancy in this tribal belt. It probably also believes that it may be better for the Pakistanis to do this part, however badly they are doing it at present.
But it can no longer wait for lack of control of the Taliban and Al Qaeda groups in Pakistan are now directly impacting on the situation in Afghanistan. In the past week there have been two deadly suicide bomb attacks, one on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and another in Uruzgan in which close to 80 people have been killed.
What is of direct concern to the United States, is the deadly attack on one of the posts in Wanat in northeastern province of Kunar resulting in the death of 9 soldiers and wounding 15 just yesterday, (13 July). The attack was a deliberate fire assault on a post by militants with heavy weapons such as mortars, rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. This demonstrated new capacity and will in the terrorists. The support that they have across Kunar from Pakistan has obviously buttressed their resolve to combat well equipped and trained US forces on the ground
It is not just the US but NATO forces have been facing the heat of the upsurge in casualties after the mix of peace deals and military operations in Bara, alleged by some Pakistani media as the News as fake and doctored. In the southern Helmand province for instance in the past three months of April to June, the British encountered 150 IED attacks, almost two every three days and had 13 casualties in June that is one every two days or so.
There are other indications of possible increase in active US engagement in Pakistan. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen till recently a proponent of the Thousand Ship Navy, or cooperation across the seas, has had a difficult meeting with the Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani, on 12 July. Dawn News seemed to indicate that Pak army chief told Mullen that they would not accept any more air strikes and this issue is affecting Pakistan ' US relations. While this is the public stand taken by the Chief, one would know what actually transpired in a few days if the US stays off Pakistan which is quite unlikely.
What is certain though is that Mullen would have demanded firm action by the Pakistani forces to ensure that security on the border was increased and flow of Taliban into Afghanistan comes down. The Pakistani forces will not be able to deliver, which is obvious from their performance over the past many years now and more so with continued kidnapping and killing of security forces by the Taliban with impunity, the writ of the militants seems to be running high in these areas.
Pakistan's former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao never one to mince his words, states, 'There is an imminent danger of [a] US attack on Pakistan.' While his intent was obviously to score political points, the sentiment of lack of control leading to US intervention seems to be growing at least in the opposition.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi writing in the Daily Times indicates the multiple levels of militant instability in Pakistan. In Khyber Agency, three hard line Islamic groups are fighting each other, Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), holds sway in Waziristan and Bajaur virtually replicating the state in the area, Swat remains under the TTP sway, while sectarian conflict is impacting the Kurram agency. The spill over from these areas is increasingly occurring into Eastern Pakistan including deadly suicide attacks.
Recent reports also indicate the banned groups in Sindh, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Sipah-e-Muhammad and Mukhtar Force raising their heads with the serial blasts in Karachi a few days back indicative of this trend. In Balochistan, militants fired rockets at the Bolan Express denoting that recent moves of release of political leaders in the region may not have had the desirable impact. Obviously the Pakistan army as well as the government has its hands full.
With many critics talking of lack of leadership in government in Islamabad, poor consensus on military action, incompetence of the security forces in holistically managing the militancy, instability in Pakistan is foreordained.
The US unlike countries as India, has the global clout as well as the military might to conduct cross border attacks. More over US policy and public opinion may not accept soft pedaling by the government once casualties due to strikes by Taliban from Pakistan increase. Under the circumstances it is inevitable, that the US will have to take strong action which for the present may be air strikes, up scaled to Special Forces attacks and even sporadic ground intervention.
While Pakistan may avoid this ignominy for some time through negotiations with the TTP and others, unless the State firms up its resolve to eliminate rather than negotiate with the militants, anarchy will rule the country's western borders.