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International Relations

Pakistan agrees on Haqqani operation, claim media reports

The Pakistani media has reported that the country's powerful army has finally succumbed to US pressure and is ready to launch a military operation against the Haqqani network in its troubled north-west region.

Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, the newly-appointed chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), returned from his first official US tour on Sunday. It was the first time in about a year that the head of Pakistan's powerful spy agency had visited the US.

The Pakistani media reported that Islam had a "constructive" discussion with CIA chief General David Petraeus, and that he agreed on launching a joint military attack with the US against the militant Haqqani network in Pakistan's semi-governed Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the agreement between Islamabad and Washington to go after the Haqqanis had been reached during the meeting between Islam and Petraeus.

Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam

General Islam succeeded General Pasha as the ISI head in March

US officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani authorities of supporting the Haqqani network.

US-Pakistani ties started to deteriorate after the assassination of al Qaeda's former head Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in a covert operation. A series of events, including the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO border attack last November further exacerbated relations between the two countries.

In retaliation, Islamabad blocked key NATO supply lines to Afghanistan. But after the reopening of the lines in early July, relations have slowly begun to improve.

"In best interest"

Asad Munir, a Pakistani defense analyst, told DW that the joint US-Pakistani military operations were not a new occurrence.

"The US and Pakistani armies have worked in collaboration in the past as well," said Munir. "These joint military operations are even more crucial now because the US-Pakistani ties need to be improved."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar

US officials had been pressing Islamabad to go after the Haqqanis

Observers say that the agreement was a result of numerous meetings between the US and Pakistani officials, and was not easy to achieve. They add that Pakistani authorities, in particular the ISI, have been very reluctant to fight the Haqqanis, whom they consider "strategic assets" for maintaining influence in Afghanistan.

Another defense expert Talat Masood told DW that joint military operations were in "best interest of all parties."

"Pakistan had always maintained that it would launch a military operation against the Haqqanis at the right time," said Masood, adding that the time was ripe for such an operation.

Policy change

Prior to General Islam's US visit, some Pakistani experts hoped that the new ISI chief would be different from his predecessor General Shuja Pasha, and that the Pakistani establishment was ready to be more flexible on its policy vis-à-vis the Haqqanis.

Washington-based Pakistani journalist Anwar Iqbal told DW that both the US-envoy designate to Pakistan, Richard Olson, and the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, had also hinted at the policy change.

Supporters of Pakistan's religious parties burn a banner with President Barack Obama's image on it

Anti-US sentiment runs high in the Islamic republic

"Richard Olson and Sherry Rehman have hinted that Pakistan is rethinking its decades-old policy of 'strategic depth' for Afghanistan, through which it counter-balances India's influence in the region," said Iqbal, adding that the Pakistani military seems to be ready to look for alternative options for maintaining influence in Afghanistan other than supporting the Taliban.

But Ali K Chishti, a Karachi-based political analyst, says individuals do not matter when it comes to state affairs.

"The Pakistani military is an institution, hence, while there is a change of command, there won't be a change of policies," he told DW, implying that Islamabad might be using delaying tactics with the US.

Author: Shakoor Rahim/ Shamil Shams
Editor: Michael Knigge

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