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Why Pakistan may be more willing to help US target Taliban than it appears

A briefing on what the US wants from Pakistan – and why Pakistan might be more willing than it publicly indicates to help the US tackle the Afghan Taliban hiding in Pakistan.

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Second, it wants to expand drone attacks from the tribal areas into Pakistan proper, specifically to Balochistan Province, where it says the Quetta Shura, Afghan Taliban’s central leadership led by Mullah Omar, is hiding.

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The US believes Pakistan is sheltering these Taliban as a strategic asset in case the US withdraws from Afghanistan in defeat and these groups reassert themselves next door.

What is Pakistan willing or able to do?

Military analysts often stress how much Pakistan is doing already. The Army is overstretched patrolling the eastern border against archrival India and battling the Pakistani Taliban in the west, they say, and cannot open another front.

Since October, some 30,000 troops have cleared the Pakistani Taliban’s stronghold of South Waziristan and are now chasing the many militants who fled to nearby tribal areas – an effort that could take several months.

• Haqqani network

But after that, some analysts say the Army may turn its attention to the Haqqani network, moving carefully to avoid provoking the tribes in North Waziristan.
The alternative – to wait around for the US to leave Afghanistan and let the Afghan Taliban take over and remain a controllable asset – is “a little naive,” says Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. He, Mr. Hussain, and other analysts believe the Army is not betting on that scenario.

“There’s no way around” acting against these factions, Mr. Gul continues. “It’s because of these groups there’s so much pressure on Pakistan.”

Meanwhile, the military is developing human intelligence in the tribal area that is critical for US airstrikes like the one that killed three people Friday – a tough undertaking in a place where “everybody knows everybody” and collaborators are actively hunted, Gul adds.

The Army can also use its high-level contacts within the Haqqani group to coax it to negotiate with the US about joining a powersharing government in Kabul that the US hopes can help stabilize Afghanistan.

• Quetta Shura

Acting against the Quetta Shura is trickier, because Pakistan fears a massive popular backlash for allowing US drone attacks in its “settled areas.” Airstrikes in this more densely populated location are likely to kill more civilians than in the tribal areas, and be seen as a gross violation of sovereignty.

But US pressure looms large, Hussain acknowledges. The military will have to “either act unilaterally or risk provoking an American response, which will have pretty serious domestic political consequences.”

What does Pakistan want in return?