Ever since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad with a check-list of counter-terrorism actions the United States expects in return for shoring up Pakistan’s flailing state, the strife-torn country’s army seems to have made a significant turn in the war on terror. Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda linked jihadist commander who is alleged to have planned a series of terror plots targeting India and the west, was reported killed in a drone strike soon after Ms Clinton’s visit. Pakistani media have since reported that the army would soon launch operations targeting jihadist bases in North Waziristan, from where Kashmiri and other jihadists have launched a string of attacks targeting the country and the west. Humanitarian agencies, in turn, are said to be preparing for the inevitable exodus of refugees. Less than a month ago, Pakistan was demanding a cessation of drone strikes, following the death of 44 tribal elders in a bombing in March. Although their lethal operations have steadily increased over the past few weeks, Islamabad has been silent. Osama bin-Laden’s killing in Abottabad and the suspicions of the Pakistani state’s complicity in his presence there appear to have radically limited the military’s ability to resist U.S. pressure.
The Pakistan-U.S. pas de deux, however, remains a fraught one: each partner fears, not without reason, that the other has a knife held to their back. First, there is the matter of Kashmiri’s fate. The Brigade 313 commander has emerged from the grave before — in 2009 — mocking at reports of his death. Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, has said he is “98 per cent” certain that Kashmiri was dead; he did not explain the source of his arithmetic exactitude. Maulvi Nazir, a jihadist commander, has also confirmed his death — but it bears mention that he has been fighting alongside Pakistan’s armed forces to expel the Uzbek, Chechen, and Arab jihadists Kashmiri cultivated. Local residents of the Ghwa Khwa area, awhere Kashmiri is said to have been killed, are reported to have no knowledge of his presence in the area; Brigade 313 itself has been silent. Even if Kashmiri’s death is confirmed, and proves a precursor to a full-scale assault in North Waziristan, the results are uncertain. Islamabad’s public declaration of intent has given time for jihadist cadre to melt into villages, and across the Afghan border. Insurgents linked to Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan warlord with close links to Pakistan’s intelligence services, have vacated the area in anticipation of the offensive. Pakistan’s military establishment, for its part, fears that acceding to the U.S.’s calls will accelerate armed conflict between Islamist insurgents and the state. Like so many other purported turning points in the war against terror, this one too could prove to lead nowhere.