SINGAPORE – Last month, after years of indecision, Pakistan’s military launched a full-scale military operation in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency aimed at eliminating terrorist bases and ending the region’s lawlessness. In particular, the army wants to clear out foreign fighters who are using the territory as a base for various jihads around the Muslim world. But, by triggering yet another refugee crisis, the operation risks spreading the terrorist threat to other parts of Pakistan, including its largest city and commercial center, Karachi.
Operating from sanctuaries established in the tribal agency, various terrorist groups, in association with organizations elsewhere in the country, have already attacked Pakistan’s four neighbors – Afghanistan, China, India, and Iran. Of the region’s foreign fighters, Uzbeks belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have recently become the most visible threat, taking responsibility for the June 8-9 attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, in which 30 people, including all ten of the militants, were killed.
In launching the North Waziristan operation, General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s new Chief of Army Staff, stated that his forces would draw no distinction between supposedly “good” and “bad” Taliban. The former, including the Haqqanis – named after Jalaluddin Haqqani, who led the Islamic resistance against Soviet forces in Afghanistan – had been trained and equipped by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s main security agency.
Following the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Haqqanis created a sanctuary in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency. The ISI countenanced this in the hope that the Pashtun group would later act as Pakistan’s proxies in Afghanistan after US combat troops depart at the end of 2014. But the Haqqanis, it appears, did not keep to any such bargain, and allowed their Uzbek guests in North Waziristan to launch the Karachi airport attack.