An edited version of the following article has been published today in UPI Asia (http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/21/pakistan_army_too_rigid_to_beat_fluid_taliban/7281/)
The much awaited and much vaunted Operation Rah-i-Nijat, chose the propitious moment of October 17 to get itself launched by the Pakistani military. With the ‘not so successful’ previous operations against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) acting as apparitions in the background, the military elite must have taken a conscious decision to go about the duel against its ‘erstwhile ally’.
The military backed by the secret agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); had to act under US pressure and also in order to curb the malicious pre-emptive attacks heaped upon by the TTP on its major cities in the form of suicide bombings.
The rugged topography, former ‘abject’ failures and the fear of loosing its stooge against the ‘childhood enemy’ India; acted as potent parameters in creating a sense of ‘uneasiness’ in the mind of the Pakistani military. But Obama’s cry against terror, albeit asymmetric; somehow propelled them to launch the ground offensive. Nay, not only launch it but continue it for the last two months.
Serious questions that come up are how the military is continuing its journey through the inhospitable terrains of South Waziristan (the southern-most agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA) and why it could not achieve this before? Furthermore, is the Taliban really being destroyed?
On Saturday December 12, the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani proclaimed that the army had ended its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan and was shifting focus to Orakzai. Well, does this mean that the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan have really been demolished and the Army has a new destination?
Actually, the Taliban has started guerrilla warfare and are prolonging this battle. Moreover, they have scattered into other agencies of FATA and the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). A glance at the map of the region shall lead one to understand that the Orakzai territorial agency of FATA is separated from South Waziristan by the Kurram and North Waziristan agencies. Logically speaking, the militants should have regrouped there by directly crossing through the other two provinces. Or they may have taken a circuitous route to reach Orakzai by NWFP and Punjab. The second scenario is an even more dangerous situation for the greater Pakistani landmass and the results are showing.
When Rah-i-Nijat commenced, it was said that South Waziristan was the epicentre of the TTP, and amusingly, now the focus of the military has shifted to Orakzai. In fact, incidents of violence have also been reported from other agencies like Khyber and Kurram.
So, what is the upshot of the situation?
The fact of the matter is TTP is a wily contender and has enhanced its fluidity. It is distributing itself all over Pakistan and the military shall consequently find it bothersome to achieve success in this battle.
Indubitably, this time round, the Pakistan Army has a stronger conviction to uproot the Taliban menace but the enemy ‘is not a baby’. At the same time, the civil-military combo is not excluding the option of ‘talks’ with the insurgents.
After all, they shall not altogether want to alienate their ‘erstwhile ally’, more so in the event of a possible American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Compounding the aforementioned problems is the presence of the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Muhammad Omar at Quetta (capital of the Pakistani province of Balochistan). This ‘haven’ maintains the constant supply-line to TTP in FATA and NWFP, both in terms of logistics and ideology.
The Los Angeles Times reported on December 13 that senior US officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond FATA and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in the city of Quetta. Interestingly, after much dilly-dallying, Pakistan has confirmed the existence of the alleged “Quetta-Shura Taliban” network. Moreover, they have also admitted the use of the Shamsi airbase by US for predator-drone strikes on Taliban at FATA.
Shamsi airfield, also called Bandari, is a small airfield located in Balochistan, about 320 km southwest of Quetta, near the town of Washki.
Top leaders of the TTP like Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain et al. are still at large. Then has the military achieved anything substantial in South Waziristan? Neither Rah-i-Nijat has thwarted the suicide attacks on the urban areas : though the military claims on the contrary.
And on the same cacophonous note, Pakistan’s civil administration keeps on shifting the blames on their ‘childhood enemy’ India; which means that ‘real success’ against the TTP and other ‘lumpen elements’ is hard to come by.
There are reports of Taliban-elements sneaking into India to commit many more 26/11s. Is this the extended arm of the TTP-Al Qaeda duo acting on its own or ISI has re-activated its machinery? And there has been the biggest bank robbery in the history of Pakistan in Karachi on December 13. Is the bank robbery in any way related to TTP?
Well, working out a coefficient of correlation may not turn out to be a formidable exercise.